Xcel faces 'unprecedented situation' over disrupted natural gas service due to flooding

DENVER - Xcel Energy says it faces an "unprecedented situation" trying to repair and restore natural gas to customers after the massive flooding hit Colorado.

"While we continue to work where access is available, we are also transitioning from an emergency response mode to a broader 'repair and restore' mode to ensure we can quickly mobilize crews and equipment," Xcel said in a statement issued Friday. "Because the Colorado Department of Transportation and local authorities are likely to need time to clear, repair and rebuild roads, we will make some temporary repairs in some areas so customers will have natural gas service as cooler weather arrives. We will need to return to those areas later, possibly in the spring, to make permanent repairs after new roads and other infrastructure are in place."

Xcel said restoring service to customers affected by the floods is a top priority. The change in focus may affect some planned work in other communities.

Xcel issued these tips for its customers:

-- Stay Safe --

If you are in an area that may be flooded or if you may be evacuated from your home, please do not attempt to disconnect your natural gas or electricity service yourself. Our crews have the training and skills to do that safely.

If you are returning to a home or business that was affected by floods, please take extra precautions. If your natural gas meter was submerged in flood waters, we must check it prior to restoring gas service. Please do not attempt to turn on the natural gas yourself.

If the controls or any operating components on natural gas appliances were submerged in water, a trained service professional must inspect it. Manufacturers warn that these appliance components will corrode over time, causing gas valve failure, improper combustion and dangerous natural gas leaks.

Please remember that if you detect a sulfur or "rotten egg" smell inside your home, it could be the odorant we put in natural gas to help detect leaks. If you notice that smell, leave your home immediately. Do not turn any electrical devices on or off and never use any phone until you are outside and safely away from the area. Then call 911 or call us at 1-800-895-2999.

Stay away from downed power lines and assume they are energized. Call 911 or call us at 1-800-895-1999 to report downed or damaged power lines.

More information about how to stay safe during natural gas and electric outages caused by floods is available on xcelenergy.com.

-- Xcel's efforts to restore natural gas service --

We are ensuring we have all the people, equipment and resources needed to start restoration work when waters have receded, roads are opened or rebuilt and areas are declared safe for our crews to enter.

Once that occurs, we will inspect miles of natural gas pipelines and hundreds of pieces equipment for damage by water, debris, fallen trees, mud and even vehicles that have been washed into them by floods. It is likely much of the equipment will need to be repaired and replaced.

We know that some pipes that were buried underground are now exposed as roads have been undermined by water. In other areas, we must dig by hand to uncover lines that are 15-20 feet below the surface. Lines are generally inspected on foot, and can occur only when areas are deemed safe. We can do a limited amount of aerial surveying by helicopter to obtain photographs, but "walking the lines" and inspecting them closely provides a more complete and accurate picture.

When damage has been assessed, plans for repair are deployed. In some areas we will need to not only re-build entire sections of pipeline and install new equipment but we may need to relocate parts of the system to more stable areas and land not affected by current or potential future floods and washouts.

After work on the pipeline system is finished, we will turn to service for homes and businesses. This process involves first shutting off the natural gas valves so gas can be safely brought back into the system without adversely affecting gas appliances. This is often a door-to-door procedure.

When completed, we begin to slowly flow natural gas into the pipeline, increasing pressure until the correct amount of pressure is achieved. This is also an opportunity for us to check the pipeline once again for leaks.

Following the leak survey and repairing any leaks discovered, we will again go door-to-door to re-light appliances for customers. Please be aware that there must be a person at least 18 years of age at the home who can allow our crew to enter to perform re-lights. If no one is available or at home when our crews stop by, we will leave a notification card so residents can call us to arrange an appointment.