El Paso Puts Off Maintenance to Meet CA Demand

El Paso Natural Gas has decided to postpone what it called "routine" maintenance projects on its system in order to maintain the flow of natural gas into the California market to meet the surge in demand there. The higher demand has been created by a shortfall in energy imports from the Northwest region, which has been gripped by cold weather.

The pipeline deferred indefinitely two maintenance projects on the South Mainline --- at Wenden Station in Arizona and the Wenden A turbine --- that were scheduled to take place today and Friday. It also deferred indefinitely work on the North Mainline at Hackberry 2 turbine in Arizona, which was to have occurred Dec. 10-17.

If El Paso had gone forward with the maintenance projects, the company said throughput would have been cut by about 150 MMcf/d on its South Mainline, by 50-75 MMcf/d on the Havasu Crossover, and by 80 MMcf/d on its North Mainline.

The maintenance work at the Wenden Station, which is located on the south end of the Havasu Crossing, involved replacing batteries. "It has been agreed to by our operations people that those batteries are still in decent enough shape, [so] it's not a concern to continue running like this. And with the throughput situation and high gas prices [in California], it's in everybody's best interest that we not do this maintenance at this time," said Charlie Mathis, an administrator for pipeline control at El Paso.

He estimated the El Paso system presently is running at 85-90% of the throughput level it had prior to the explosion near Carlsbad, NM, last August. That blast reduced the pipeline's operating capacity by 200 MMcf/d.

Mathis said about 1.2 Bcf/d presently is being delivered into California over El Paso's South Mainline, and 1.5-1.7 Bcf/d is being delivered at Topock, AZ, over its North Mainline.

In addition to the deferred maintenance projects, El Paso took a Waha GE turbine off line last Sunday to investigate a vibration problem. That has reduced capacity on the South Mainline by about 50 MMcf/d, said Mathis. He noted the turbine is scheduled to be back in service Friday.

To offset the impact of the turbine outage on the market, El Paso decided to put off until this weekend work it had planned to do on Line 1100 between the Pecos River and the Guadalupe Stations --- a line that was affected by the explosion last August. The line will be taken out of service Dec. 8 and returned to service on Dec. 9, reducing the capacity of the South Mainline by 50 MMcf/d each day.

In the near term, El Paso is scheduled to run a smart pig through Line 3222 on its North Mainline on Dec. 12, which will reduce capacity out of the San Juan Basin by about 50-100 MMcf/d, Mathis said. Pigging also is planned for Line 3201, which will cut capacity by about 150 MMcf/d. The reductions will affect points upstream of the Bondad Mainline and Gallup.

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