Xcel Energy on Sunday reported new heavy rain storms in already flooded areas in Colorado, further hampering efforts to assess the condition of natural gas pipelines and equipment. On Sunday, the combination utility said there were approximately 4,070 customers without gas service, up from the 2,500 total last Friday (see related item).

The record rainfall also was having an impact on oil/gas operations with drilling and production activity being curtailed in the Wattenberg field. Encana Corp. shut in its production last Thursday and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has shut in more than 500 operated wells in the Wattenberg and drilling activity in the area has been scaled back, according to report from Wunderlich Securities Inc.

Based on aerial assessments that Xcel made Friday, the utility now estimates it eventually will have to replace thousands of gas utility meters and 20 miles of distribution pipeline as a result of heavy rain storms that have engulfed the Front Range region for the past week.

“We are ensuring we have all the equipment and resources needed to start restoration work when waters have receded, roads are opened or rebuilt, and areas are declared safe for our crews to enter,” said a Denver-based Xcel spokesperson. “Once that occurs, we will inspect lines and equipment for damage. Sometimes this involves hand-digging to uncover lines that can be 15-20 feet below the surface.”

Once the rains stop and the area begins to dry out, Xcel’s spokesperson said the utility will inspect every piece of equipment that has been underwater or covered by mud and debris to determine if it can be used or, more likely, repaired or replaced.

“Before any service is safely restored, we must also ensure natural gas valves in homes and businesses are shut off before repressurizing lines,” the spokesperson said. “After that occurs, our crews go door-to-door to relight natural gas appliances.”

On Friday, Xcel was reporting that very few outages were the result of breakage of distribution pipelines. Instead, most of the outages were ordered by the local fire officials or on the utility’s own initiative because of exposed parts of the system that are inaccessible to utility crews.

However, on Sunday, the spokesperson said there was a ruptured gas pipeline at the intersection of two highways (257 and 60) in Milliken, CO, resulting in outages to hundreds of surrounding customers in the area.