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Gas use sets mark in the cold

Demand for heat stresses the system

The Rogue Valley's cold spell has kept the heat on WP Natural Gas.

Several days of low temperatures in the single digits has put demand for gas in the valley at its highest levels ever, and the system has struggled some under the strain.

It's like a hose, said Scott Morris, WP's regional manager. If everybody turns the tap on at the same time, the pressure goes down. We've just taken more through our system than we ever have before.

Keeping enough gas flowing through the lines to keep pace with everyone's furnaces was especially difficult Monday morning as overnight temperatures fell to 7 degrees.

About 100 customers in the east Medford area -- most around Lone Pine Road and Cedar Links Drive -- complained of low pressure, in some cases too little gas to run furnaces and water heaters. Some customers in Ashland and Eagle Point had similar problems.

To meet the demand, WP took several big industrial users off-line for several hours Monday, including Providence Medford Medical Center, Medite Corp., Harry and David and Timber Products.

Morris said 40 or so bigger Medford-area companies pay lower rates to be interruptible users, meaning that WP can interrupt service if necessary to serve smaller users. The businesses generally have backup heating.

Demand in Grants Pass also had WP taking several industrial users there off-line for a few hours Monday.

Most customers had gas pressure restored on Monday, though the company has been taking steps to keep it flowing. For each of the last three mornings, WP workers have been stationed in the problem areas, manually pumping gas into the system. Morris expected that to continue at least through this morning.

Until the temperature gets above single digits, we need to do that to ensure that customers get the gas, he said.