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New Mexico Wildfire Threatens Gas Pipeline

New Mexico regulators late Wednesday were closely monitoring the troublesome Track fire in rural parts of the state, which was threatening natural gas services in areas in and around Raton and Las Vegas, NM.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) late Wednesday said the fire had damaged a transmission pipeline operated by Zia Natural Gas and that an estimated 11,000 residents in the Raton/Las Vegas area were threatened with having their service cut off for up to 24 hours or longer. However, the PRC said its efforts, along with the local gas operators in northeastern parts of the state, have averted the shutoffs for the time being.

On Thursday, the PRC said a Raton Natural Gas representative reported the pipeline had been successfully repaired without any outages. "Pipeline pressures from Trinidad to Raton are normal; delivery pressure to Zia at the Raton interconnect is normal," the representative told the PRC.

The gas utility, owner of the pipeline, reportedly told officials that there was enough pressure already in the 100-mile pipeline to sustain the area's natural gas customers for three to five days, meaning that city gas service would continue. Nevertheless, reports surfaced that in order to conduct gas service repairs, the main pipeline that provides gas to the city of Las Vegas was to be shut down as of 7 p.m. MDT Wednesday.

At midday Wednesday, the fire had burned more than 24,000 acres near Raton and had damaged at least one gas valve on the pipeline serving Las Vegas. PRC officials were strongly urging area residents to limit their natural gas consumption as a precautionary measure.

PRC Vice Chairman Jerome Block, whose elected commission district includes the fire-scarred area, continued to closely monitor the situation. Block said the regulators so far had headed off the need to stop gas service, something that parts of the state experienced in the midst of a severe freeze at the outset of February this past winter (see Daily GPI, Feb. 23).

Last winter New Mexico Gas Co. was strongly criticized for its alleged lack of preparedness, the interdependence of natural gas and electricity infrastructure drew much attention during a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee informational hearing held in Albuquerque, NM.

Zia Gas is much smaller than New Mexico Gas, serving a little more than 24,000 customers in the state, covering homes and businesses in four counties. It is owned by New Mexico Natural Gas Processing Co. Zia operates more than 900 miles of distribution pipelines and 132 miles of transmission lines.

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