New Mexico – The full New Mexico State Senate listened to testimony from New Mexicans who spent nearly a week in the cold after losing natural gas to heat their homes in recent days. The outage left more than 30,000 homes and businesses without heat for six days in more than a dozen communities across the state.
Many residents have complained of long delays by New Mexico Gas Company in re-lighting their heaters, and said the outage left them with frozen water lines in their homes and other expenses.
Now that the emergency is over and the gas back on, the Committee of the Whole gathered to find out what happened and what will be done to prevent the gas outage from happening in the future. The Committee gathered in response to Senate Memorial 30 (SM30) sponsored by Sen. Carlos Cisneros (D-Questa) and Sen. Richard Martinez (D-Espanola) whose districts were hit hardest by the natural gas outage. The Memorial asks for the Public Regulation Commission and Legislature to convene a task force to investigate how and why New Mexico Consumers lost their natural gas service.
Sen. Cisneros said, "Going forward, we need to determine what was the damage and to whom." Sen. Cisneros added, "We need to make sure this never happens again, ever." Sen. Martinez said many of his constituents were elderly and living on fixed incomes and suffered during the outage. Others were forced to wait for help. "Are my constituents going to get compensation for staying home and waiting for the gas company" to re-light their heaters Sen. Martinez said.
"More should have been done to repair our communities," Sen. John Sapien (D-Sandoval) said. Sen. Sapien expressed concern for the amount of time it took the gas company to respond, and why there wasn't a plan of action already in place.
Sen. Eric Griego (D-Bernalillo & Valencia) said, "This was a hard lesson for us about the need for strong oversight especially for basic public services. We can't assume companies will prioritize public safety over business as usual."
The Mayor of Questa, Esther Garcia said residents of her village were not given warning of the outage and faced minus 28 degree temperatures without natural gas to heat their homes. She said many had to buy electric heaters to survive the cold, "A lot of seniors and disabled can't put food on the table now because of the expense," she said.
Representatives of New Mexico Natural Gas Company told the public and Senators they had to make the painful decision to cut service to some customers to make sure the majority of people kept their natural gas service. A company spokesman said industrial consumers went through voluntary and mandatory cuts, but there was a threat that the entire system would crash so they took drastic steps.
Representatives of New Mexico Natural Gas Company, El Paso Natural Gas Company, the Public Regulation Commission, the New Mexico Senate, and the Governor's Office took part in the hearing.