I often times catch myself thinking something along the lines of this:
I wish my stove were natural gas, that way I could still cook and boil water in an emergency.
But, is that an accurate thought? I mean just how long can we expect to have natural gas during a power outage? Is it something we should count on?
To answer this, I reached out to a plumber friend of mine, who said:
You need to check with your specific gas company. They may not divulge their emergency plans, but they all have them. Each gas company will handle different emergencies in a different way. For something simple like a short term (7 day-30 day) power outage, you can probably count on having natural gas. Any longer than that, or any more severe an emergency will depend on your gas companies policies.
That makes perfect sense to me. One size rarely fits all, so what my natural gas plant does in a given scenario, may be very different than what yours does in the same scenario.
At this point, I decided my best bet was to call my natural gas company and start asking questions. Below is my interview with the unsuspecting Customer Service Representative (skipping the boring introduction stuff):
Q: If we were to lose power today, how long could we expect to get natural gas service?
A: If it’s just a simple power outage, natural gas service can be maintained indefinitely. Anyone close to the plant will have good pressure all the time, and for those further out, we have multiple redundant power back up systems that run on a variety of fuels, to include natural gas. We can run a generator to power pumps that increase line pressure off of the very gas that we’re pumping.
Q: So basically, as long as you have people working to maintain the generators and lines, you can provide natural gas?
Q: Let’s say there was an earthquake, flood, tornado, or some other heavy-damage natural disaster, should we expect natural gas service to continue?
A: No, in those situations service is suspended for fear of leaks and fires due to ruptured lines. Once lines are inspected and any damage is repaired, we can begin restoring service.
Q: Hypothetically speaking, if some terrible tragedy occurred where we no longer had Rule of Law (WROL), and all of the engineers who maintain the natural gas pipelines and plants stopped showing up to work, how long could we expect to receive natural gas service?
A: I can’t really answer that. Alot of the system is automated, but does require human interaction to keep things within specs. If everybody just stopped showing up, service might continue for a few days, a few weeks, maybe months. I just don’t know.
Keep in mind that these questions were answered by a Customer Service Representative, not an Engineer. The accuracy of the answers given may not be perfectly spot-on, but they’re certainly more knowledgeable about their systems than I am, and therefore, I still learned a few things.
I found the responses quite interesting. It certainly made me reconsider my idea that I didn’t need to prepare for heat because I have a natural gas furnace. What about cooking fuel? Our gas fireplace?
This opened a whole new can of works for me.
Being in Northern Utah, having heat in winter is crucial. Heat from our fireplace and furnace are natural gas. Our stove is electric. What will I do if there is an earthquake and we lose natural gas service and power?
Ultimately, I think natural gas is an excellent short-medium term resource for smaller emergencies/disasters. Counting on it may be false security. Being able to convert my gas fireplace to wood log as needed would be ideal, and swapping the electric stove for natural gas would still be a good idea.
Natural gas is obviously quite dangerous, so a few key items you should have on hand are:
In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that natural gas is a good resource, that is far more reliable than electricity in an emergency. It however, is not a system that is immune to failure, and is not something we should take for granted and expect to have in a dire situation.
In the military we used to say: 2 is 1, and 1 is none. This just emphasizes the need for redundancy. Make plans for when your plans fail, have wood for fire when your natural gas goes out.