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Patrick Springer, Published January 26 2014

Xcel expects natural gas shortage to ease by Monday night

FARGO – Xcel Energy expects the shortage of natural gas cause caused by a pipeline explosion to ease as early as Monday night.

The picture should clarify by Monday afternoon, but as of Sunday night Xcel expected the shortage to ease by Monday night, when one of three affected pipelines is expected to return to service, said Mark Nisbet, Xcel’s principal North Dakota manager.

One of three TransCanada pipelines serving 100,000 Xcel customers exploded Saturday south of Winnipeg, and two nearby pipelines were taken out of service as a precaution and to assess damage.

The Xcel natural gas customers are located in eastern North Dakota, northwest Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Xcel has asked customers to conserve gas to keep the system stable by lowering their thermostats to 60 degrees or cooler until further notice.

So far, residential and commercial customers have complied with the conservation request, allowing the natural gas supply system to remain stable, Nisbet said Sunday night.

“If people keep up the good work, we’ll be in better shape,” he said. “We’ll know more tomorrow, but they’re (TransCanada) making lots of progress.”

Contingency plans

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Sunday that the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and other state agencies are working with local officials, health-care providers and utility companies in the event of potential heat shortages in eastern North Dakota.

“The state is fully committed and prepared to help keep our vulnerable population safe in the event of heat losses,” the governor said in a statement.

State officials are helping prepare contingency plans for hospitals and nursing homes that lack a secondary source of heating fuel.

Without conserving natural gas, the worry is that gas supplies in the system could drop to a level that some furnace pilot lights would go off, and would have to be re-lighted, Dalrymple said.

In preparation for that possibility, Xcel has brought in additional crews to be on standby in strategic places to dispatch where needed, Nisbet said.

“We’re going to have a pretty sizeable crew if we have to get in there to re-light customers,” he said.

TransCanada pipeline crews have made encouraging progress on restoring one of the pipelines, which must be pressurized before it can deliver gas to Xcel’s distribution system, Nisbet said.

“Our engineers are watching the flows,” he said, adding that a valve has been turned in preparation to restore service.

Meanwhile, Xcel is getting natural gas from the area around the Twin Cit-ies and Michigan to supply the areas in North Dakota, northwest Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

'Good response'

Starting late Saturday night, Xcel natural gas customers started receiving automated phone calls asking them to turn their thermostats to 60 degrees to conserve fuel, unless doing so would pose a danger to their health or safety.

“We’ve gotten good response from the customers to help us do that,” but continued conservation will be required, Nisbet said.

Xcel has asked almost 600 commercial customers in North Dakota and Minnesota, as well as 250 in Wisconsin and Michigan, to lower their natural gas usage. The businesses are part of the utility’s “Interruptible Gas Rates” program.

The National Weather Service predicts the overnight low temperature tonight will be 21 below zero. Monday’s high is expected to be 14 below, with the low Monday night dropping to 25 below.

Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522