January 30, 2013

Gas outage affects 1,000 area residents

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

Natural gas service to Watford City and Arnegard was lost when a natural gas transmission line about 2½ miles east of Alexander was struck by a contractor who was working in the area on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 26.
According to Mark Hanson, a spokesman for Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU), the transmission line was not owned by MDU, but it was a natural gas supply pipeline for Watford City, Arnegard, and Alexander.
“When the accident occurred, the men were able to close the valve that supplied Alexander, which prevented any loss to Alexander residents, but it also eliminated the flow of natural gas to Watford City and Arnegard,” states Hanson.
Immediately, Hanson states that the company who owns the transmission line brought in a crew to fix the problem. In addition, men were brought in to shut off the valves that led to each resident’s home.
“It’s not like an electrical outage,”  states Hanson. “You can’t just fix the transmission line and re-energize everyone all at once. You have to make sure and re-introduce the natural gas safely into each home and place of business.”
Hanson states that technicians came from all over to help shut off valves and re-introduce natural gas to each affected home and business, roughly 1,000 in all.
“Workers came from Billings, Glendive and Wolf Point, Mont., as well as Watford City, Williston, Dickinson, Minot and Bismarck, N.D. And some came from Rapid City, S.D., as well,” Hanson states.
To make sure the Watford City and Arnegard communities were made aware, MDU contacted McKenzie County Emergency Manager Jerry Samuelson.
“We were fortunate that the temperature that day was warm for the winter and never got below 20 degrees,” states Samuelson. “When things like this occur, the quickest way to get the word out is to use the National Weather Service.”
Samuelson states that he used the National Weather Service Emergency Alert System, but he also states the need for a bigger awareness in the area.
“The people of this area need to be prepared for these types of emergencies,” Samuelson states. “In two weeks’ time, Watford City lost its electricity and its natural gas supply. It can happen, and we need to be better prepared for this kind of emergency.”
Samuelson is citing the incident that occurred over two weeks ago when Watford City lost power and it affected an ongoing high school basketball game.
Samuelson feels that not only do area residents need to be prepared, but institutions like the hospital and the Good Shepherd Home need to have emergency power and heat sources as well.
All in all, service technicians visited every affected home and business, and by 9 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27, more than 95 percent of Watford City and Arnegard homes and business’ natural gas service had been restored.
“Someone had to go to each meter twice,” states Hanson. “Once to turn the valves off and a second time to turn them back on once the transmission line was fixed. It was lengthy and time-consuming, but it could not be avoided. If someone wasn’t available, the technicians left a door hanger with instructions on who to call to have service restored.”
According to Hanson, in the event of a natural gas outage, customers should not attempt to relight their furnaces until an MDU representative has been to their home or place of business.
“An MDU service tech needs to ensure that everything is operating safely before any pilot lights can be relighted,” states Hanson. “Once they have done that, they will relight all the pilot lights in the residence.”
For any questions or if anyone does not have service and did not receive a door hanger, call MDU at 800-638-3278.