SoCalGas urges consumers to conserve natural gas during cold snap

(Reuters) - Southern California Gas Co (SoCalGas) urged consumers to reduce natural gas use until further notice to avoid straining the utility’s system as cold weather blankets parts of its service area.

In addition to asking homes and businesses to cut back, SoCalGas, a unit of California energy company Sempra Energy, also issued a voluntary curtailment notice to electric generators for Monday-Friday.

Gas supplies are expected to remain tight in Southern California this winter due to limitations on several SoCalGas pipelines and reduced availability of the utility’s biggest storage field at Aliso Canyon in Los Angeles, following a massive leak between October 2015 and February 2016.

High temperatures in Los Angeles are expected to reach the mid 50s to low 60s Fahrenheit (14-17 Celsius) Tuesday-Thursday, according to weather forecaster AccuWeather. The normal high in Los Angeles is 68 degrees at this time of year.

During periods of cold weather, local demand for gas for home heating, hot water and cooking can increase rapidly, the utility said.

Consumer gas demand is expected to reach a high this week of around 3.6 billion cubic feet (bcf) on Tuesday, according to SoCalGas, after demand averaged about 2.9 bcf per day last week. One billion cubic feet is enough to supply about 5 million U.S. homes for a day on average.

State agencies forecast SoCalGas’ pipelines and storage facilities could send out up to 4.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this winter before the utility would have to tap Aliso, according to a report in October.

During the first week of January, SoCalGas said it pulled about 1.2 bcf out of Aliso. In September, the utility said Aliso had reached its full capacity of around 34 bcf.

After the leak, the state mandated Aliso only be used as an asset of last resort to maintain system reliability after all other storage facilities and pipelines have been exhausted.

SoCalGas can get about 2.7-3.3 bcfd from its pipes and the rest from storage, according to the state’s most recent Aliso Canyon 715 report in July.

In total, SoCalGas has about 61.4 bcf of gas left in storage, according to its website, compared with 63.1 bcf at this time last year and a five-year (2013-2017) range of 51.3-102.8 bcf, according to federal data.

If needed, Aliso can deliver around 1.0 bcfd. But like all storage facilities, the amount of gas it can deliver will decline rapidly as pressure in the cavern decreases when the utility pulls fuel out.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Andrea Ricci