New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) Thursday began shutting off gas flow to a part of its system that served customers on the barriers islands that were ravaged by Hurricane Sandy on Monday.

The gas distribution company took this action after responding to reports of more than 1,300 gas leaks over the past three days. By shutting down the system, it will extinguish any fires that still are burning, according to the utility. Approximately 28,000 customers will be impacted by the shutdown of the system on the barrier islands south of Johnson Street in Bay Head to Seaside Park.

Earlier in the week, NJNG spokeswoman Renee Amellio said NJNG had survived Sandy relatively unscathed, with no major power outages or damages. However, she said at the time that flooding had prevented crews from accessing some coastal areas of NJNG service territory (see Daily GPI, Oct. 31).

“Our crew did everything we could to save [that part of] the system,” said NJNG COO Kathleen T. Ellis. “We were only able to gain access to some of the most damaged areas within the last 24 hours, and the devastation is nothing that could be seen from the air. It is beyond the imagination. The only safe thing to do is shut down the system.”

NJNG expects water to infiltrate its pipelines once natural gas pressure is cut. This will damage the pipes and require the infrastructure to be rebuilt before service to the barrier islands can be restored. Amellio was unable to say how long reconstruction could take.

“It will take time to get life back to normal for our customers; but make no mistake, we will not rest until it is done,” Ellis said. NJNG, a subsidiary of Wall, NJ-based New Jersey Resources, supplies natural gas to a little more than 500,000 customers in the southern, central and northern parts of the state.

NJNG said it has received assistance from a number of utilities, including Washington Gas Light, Columbia Gas, New England Gas and Delmarva Power and Light. It said additional crews from PSE&G, South Jersey Gas and UGI Utilities are on their way to help.

The American Gas Association (AGA), which represents gas utilities, said its members participate in a mutual assistance program for disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy. In preparation for Sandy, and its aftermath, more than 20 natural gas utilities have held daily calls to offer assistance and guidance to utilities and safety officials in the communities where gas service has been interrupted.

In New Jersey alone, it said there are more than 400 personnel on the ground, including crews from eight other gas utilities from surrounding areas. AGA said its staff has worked with the Northeast Gas Association to coordinate utility assistance to companies in need and has been in contact with the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and other federal and local regulators.

On the power side, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) said Thursday afternoon that utility crews from recently restored areas are now being redeployed to regions that are still in the dark. EEI said more homes and businesses lost power as a result of Sandy than from any other storm in history. Approximately half of all affected customers have been restored, with 1.5 million brought back online in the last 24 hours.

“We are in the midst of a great American story,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn. “This is a national response, and today we are still in action, flying crews in from the West Coast, Canada, and now companies that have restored power to their customers are lending a hand to their neighbors. We have utility companies sending crews, which make up the 65,000 line and transmission workers, tree resources, assessors, network personnel, and substation experts clearing the way for power.”

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