Alaska’s Natural Gas Dilemma
July 21, 2009
Everyone agrees Cook Inlet needs help. No one agrees on how or where to get it.
Just to get your attention, here’s the worst-case scenario: A mid-winter cold snap hits Southcentral Alaska, bringing temperatures of 20 below zero. People from the Matanuska Valley to the Kenai Peninsula turn up their heat in unison, sucking natural gas from the Enstar Natural Gas Co. distribution grid buried beneath the city streets. This network is fed by transmission lines leading back to wells that pump natural gas from underground reservoirs across Cook Inlet. As more people turn up the heat, engineers search for additional molecules of natural gas to manage the increased demand. But the cold doesn’t let up. Then, a compressor trips at one of the major gas fields, and the pressure in the pipeline system drops below the threshold needed for making electricity. So the lights go out. System operators worry the drop in pressure allowed air to get into the grid, and federal regulations require them to stop delivering to customers. So the heat goes off.