FOX 7 Austin received numerous calls and emails early Friday morning from customers without heat, who have no hot water, and are unable to use their stoves.
A water freeze up along a Cedar Park roadway, caused by an irrigation system, is an indication of just how cold it got Friday morning. Another was the thermostat in the Hutto home of Ryan Pugh.
"Well, woke up to a house that was 58 degrees. Immediately came over to the range, turned it on. We had zero to none gas pressure, so I knew the furnace was basically turned off at that point. I immediately called Atmos Energy and couldn't get a hold of anybody even through the hotline," said Pugh.
Those who did get through, got a long wait. Ryan Pugh isn’t the only one with a low thermostat. Other residents reported low flow rates into their home. HVAC repairmen say that also prevents furnaces from working properly.
On social media the mayor of Leander posted: "This is unfortunately a widespread issue. Parts of Leander, Cedar Park, Lago Vista, Round Rock, Hutto, & Sun City are all impacted. We have set up a warming center at Life Church."
Atmos Energy, on its website, urged customers to conserve energy. In a statement sent to FOX 7, a company spokesperson said: "Atmos Energy is closely monitoring the weather and staging its employees across the system."
An Atmos worker was seen at a gas connection site in Cedar Park. Gas could be heard flowing through it, apparently thanks to a large wrench connected to a valve. Officials in Cedar Park, indicated the problem was caused by a drop in pressure.
Atmos Energy, like other natural gas providers in Texas, is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission. In a statement sent to FOX 7, an agency spokesperson said: "Atmos is working to increase pressure in the system."
The Railroad Commission was also told that Atmos had brought in extra personnel to handle the calls. As for what caused the pressure problem, state officials only said the company, "reported there is no gas supply issues overall in the system at this time."
The shortage has only fueled doubts in the state utility system. As for Ryan Pugh, that includes the electrical back-up system he got for his home.
"When we lost electricity in the ice apocalypse, I basically purchased the generator thinking, you know, if it happened again, you know, we would be safe. I bought a bunch of, you know, heaters for the floor in case we did, for whatever reason, to lose it. But obviously, if, you know, we don't have an abundant supply of natural gas, I mean, that's a useless $10,000 that I just spent," said Pugh.
The Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and natural gas production in the state, released a statement to FOX 7 Austin:
"The Railroad Commission is aware of some localized low-pressure issues due to extremely high demand in areas served by Atmos Energy, Mid-Tex Division. Atmos is working to increase pressure in the system and to continue to work tickets for customers who experienced low-pressure issues. Atmos’ customer call center is open. Additional resources have been added to handle the call volumes and work customer tickets. Atmos Mid-Tex reported there is no gas supply issues overall in the system at this time. The Commission remains in close communication with Atmos and will provide updates as we get them."
Atmos Energy is urging customers to conserve natural gas usage during these extreme winter temperatures to help maintain gas service:
- Do not use your natural gas fireplace.
- Lower your thermostat to at least 68 degrees. Consider wearing additional layers of clothing and turning down the thermostat even lower.
- Businesses should minimize energy usage as much as possible.
- Lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees, because it can account for as much as 25 percent of the energy consumed in your home.
- Unplug electronic devices and turn off lights that are not in use. By conserving electricity, you are also helping to conserve natural gas which keeps the power on.
- Reduce shower time and avoid baths. Showering accounts for about 40 percent of your home’s hot water use.
- Refrain from using large appliances like your washer, dryer, oven, and dishwasher for the next few days. When in use, limit opening the oven door to prevent wasted energy.
- If you have a pool, do not use the pool heater. Instead, run your pool pump during the coldest part of the day to circulate the water and prevent freezing.
Atmos Energy also reminds everyone that if you smell natural gas or suspect a leak, to leave the area immediately and from a safe distance call 911 and the Atmos Energy emergency number at 866-322-8667.