Warm Weather Eases Natural Gas Shortage

Times Staff Writer

The warm weather this week has eased the natural gas shortage, prompting Southern California Gas Co. to resume full deliveries of gas Wednesday to about 1,000 industrial customers that had been cut off, the utility said.

But gas company officials said they are continuing to restrict deliveries to the region's electric utilities to save enough gas for next summer's smog season, when electricity makers are required to burn gas instead of oil for environmental reasons.

The current cutbacks have forced the electric utilities to switch to oil the past two weeks. Oil is not only dirtier but in recent months has been more expensive than natural gas.

The gas company cut back its shipments of natural gas Feb. 7 after cold weather here and in the Southwest, where the utility gets much of its gas, caused demand for heating gas to surge and deliveries to fall.

It was the third time in 13 months that Southern California Gas has quit selling natural gas to big customers in order to conserve enough for private residences and other small users that do no have the ability to readily switch to other fuels.

The cutbacks have heated up a race among developers to build natural gas pipelines into California to boost delivery capacity for gas and to diversify the out-of-state sources of the fuel.

The restriction on shipments of gas to customers that have the capability to switch to other fuels, usually oil, enabled the gas company to slow the rapid rate at which it was withdrawing gas from its underground storage reservoirs.

Fred John, senior vice president at Southern California Gas, said the curtailments and the turn in the weather mean that the utility is receiving more gas this week than it is sending out. That has enabled it to boost the level of stored gas, John said.

He said that if warm weather continues, the utility will end the month well above its end-of-February target of 12 billion cubic feet of gas in storage. The reserve Wednesday was 17 billion cubic feet, up from a low on Feb. 17 of 15.8 billion cubic feet, he said.

Summer Outlook

Despite the improving outlook for now, John said the gas company is continuing the curtailment to electric utilities because of concern over the adequacy of gas supplies for this summer. That is when electricity use peaks and the electric utilities are required to power their boilers with gas instead of oil.

A summer gas shortage is threatened partly by the expected continuation of the drought that has dried up the supply of hydroelectric power to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in San Francisco. A regular gas supplier to Southern California Gas, PG&E; has been unable to deliver its normal complement because it needs more gas itself to replace the shortfall in hydroelectric power.

Affected by the continued curtailment are Southern California Edison Co., the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and several small electricity makers, including municipal utilities in Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank.

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