AUSTIN (KXAN) — Amid extremely low temperatures, several natural gas customers in Central Texas reported low or no gas pressure Friday morning.
The company Atmos Energy has also issued a conservation alert.
Several people in KXAN’s viewing area submitted emails reporting they’re experiencing low or no gas pressure, leaving them without heat and other necessities in their homes.
“ATMOS gas is currently having an ‘outage’ and it appears to be over a large area. Gas line pressure is insufficient for most furnace heaters and as a result, not functioning,” one person wrote. “So while gas is on for stoves, it won’t work for pressure sensitive furnace heaters. No idea on actual wait times but was on hold for over 70 minutes on the emergency line for ATMOS with no response.”
Atmos tweeted Friday morning its customer service line is closed for the day and on Monday because of the holiday. The tweet also said if customers smell gas, they should leave the area and call 911 and Atmos’s 24/7 emergency line at (866) 322-8667. On Friday afternoon, the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas in the state, said Atmos’ call center is open and it has more help to respond to customers.
KXAN reached out to Atmos Friday morning to ask about the reports of a disruption in gas service in the Austin-Round Rock area. The company responded it is asking customers to conserve due to extreme temperatures and high natural gas usage but did not specifically address the outage reports.
An Atmos spokesperson also said the company is experiencing high call volumes and there may be a significant wait time for customers wishing to speak with an agent.
Atmos said if it’s not an emergency, or if you’re calling about the status of a previous order, it is “working as quickly as possible to get a service technician to their home.”
If it is an emergency, stay on hold to speak with an agent.
The Railroad Commission said it’s “aware of some localized low-pressure issues due to extremely high demand in areas served by Atmos Energy, Mid-Tex Division.”
The Railroad Commission said Atmos is working to increase system pressure and respond to customers.
“Atmos Mid-Tex reported there is no gas supply issues overall in the system at this time. The Commission remains in close communication with Atmos and will provide updates as we get them,” it wrote.
NBC 5 in Dallas is also reporting a conservation alert, and a newspaper in Plainview said Atmos personnel are investigating outages that happened in the area Thursday.
Natural gas throughout the state
Texas’ natural gas pipelines are “reporting good pressure and plenty of storage even with some production declines,” the Texas Oil and Gas Association said in a release Friday morning. TXOGA is the statewide trade association for the industry.
It added it expected some decreases in production and that has happened, but there aren’t any major issues. A few power issues “are being quickly resolved” and it has notified the Public Utility Commission and Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It noted in 2022, all aspects of the natural gas process in Texas prepared for increased production and storage, and many took steps to further weatherize.
How to conserve gas
Atmos Energy shared the following tips:
- Do not use your natural gas fireplace.
- Lower your thermostat to at least 68 degrees. Consider wearing additional layers of clothing and turning down the thermostat even lower.
- Businesses should minimize energy usage as much as possible.
- Lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees, because it can account for as much as 25 percent of the energy consumed in your home.
- Unplug electronic devices and turn off lights that are not in use. By conserving electricity, you are also helping to conserve natural gas which keeps the power on.
- Reduce shower time and avoid baths. Showering accounts for about 40 percent of your home’s hot water use.
- Refrain from using large appliances like your washer, dryer, oven, and dishwasher for the next few days. When in use, limit opening the oven door to prevent wasted energy.
- If you have a pool, do not use the pool heater. Instead, run your pool pump during the coldest part of the day to circulate the water and prevent freezing.
Trust in Texas grid waivers
Lilly Chilton who lives in far northeast Round Rock lost pressure in her home’s gas lines on Friday.
The inside of her home grew colder as her gas-powered heating slowly puttered out. Leaving Chilton and her small dog to bundle up in robes and start making phone calls to her property owner.
“Inside the house it got down to 31 degrees,” Chilton said.
Chilton was one of the many Williamson County residents to call Atmos Energy – to no avail.
“I call, and I call, and nothing. Nothing. It just rings and that’s it. You can not get connected to a human being right now,” Chilton said.
Chilton says this latest outage made her feel abandoned by utility providers and state agencies meant to keep homes powered.
“I feel like we’re just alone here like. We’re gonna die and the government will say oh it’s not our fault,” Chilton said.
Leander Mayor Christine Deisle says she heard from Atmos Energy representatives earlier this week about some of their preparations for the storm.
The company sent gas trucks to feed the resource directly into lines in the Travisso neighborhood which had been hit hard in the 2021 February freeze.
“They used those trucks quite a bit and we got word from them this [Friday] morning that they’re still having pressure issues. It’s just not enough,” Deisle said.
Mayor Deisle said she was frustrated with the lack of communication from the energy provider once lines started to fail.
She stresses that energy leaders must do more to secure power for citizens during emergency weather events.
“I’m just extremely disappointed that even after the freeze of 2021, that we’re still in this position,” Mayor Deisle said.
A warming center set up at Life Church for those still without heat Friday afternoon.
Leander emergency operations personnel said as of 4:30pm Atmos Energy reported to them that 171 customers had been impacted by this natural gas outage, though they speculate that number is much more.
The areas affected most were Leander’s southwestern Travisso and Grand Mesa neighborhoods.
Why do gas lines freeze?
Michael Webber is an energy resources professor for the University of Texas.
He explains that natural gas outages like those seen Friday happen when water is pulled out of the ground alongside oil during freezing conditions.
If it’s cold enough, the water can freeze inside of natural gas lines, completely blocking or interrupting it.
Because natural gas is used and replaced simultaneously, these blockages put more strain on the natural gas system- and during times of high-demand, like when people need to heat homes, the gas is used faster than it can be replaced.
Webber says this leads to reduced pressure for users or no output at all.
Webber says these instances have become more frequent in Texas as gas companies fail to update and weatherize their lines.
“It’s a reminder for us to take our infrastructure more seriously as the weather changes, as the climate changes,” Webber said.