ACC wants answers on Tucson gas outage

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By Bryce Potter By Bryce Potter

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The chair of the Arizona Corporation Commission has fired off a letter to the chief executive officers of Southwest Gas and El Paso Pipeline Company demanding answers for the gas outages that plunged thousands of customers in Southern Arizona into no heat and no hot water for five days.

Gary Pierce sent the letter Monday detailing six very specific questions he wants answered.

Pierce pointed out both companies appeared before the commission in October and assured the members that both companies had adequate gas supplies for the winter.

Southwest Gas has pointed the finger at El Paso Pipeline for failing to pump enough gas into the single pipeline that brings the product to Southern Arizona. 

But Southwest Gas is also being criticized by customers for a poor job of communication during the crisis.

A Fox 11 News investigation that aired Monday evening showed warnings that El Paso Natural Gas, the pipeline company owner, put out to Southwest Gas and other companies on the morning of Wednesday, February 2, that a "critical situation" was happening and it was likely the company would not be able to meet the high demand for gas due to unusually cold temperatures.

Even though Southwest apparently received those warnings, it made no effort to communicate to its' customers to try and conserve by lowering the thermostat or the temperature on the hot water heater.

The first public mention by Southwest gas there was a problem came only after more than 18,000 customers in the Tucson and Sierra Vista areas had already lost service on Thursday, February 3.

There was more criticism of the company after one of its' executives said it would be too difficult to try and notify each customer when crews would show up at their homes to re-establish service.  That forced many to not leave their cold homes for days waiting for the technician.  According to postings on social media outlets, many customers decided to take it upon themselves to turn gas service on at their meter and re-light pilot lights.

Southwest Gas spokesperson Libby Howell told Fox 11 Monday she was not aware of any warnings from El Paso Natural Gas prior to Thursday morning's outages.

Pierce told Southwest Gas CEO Jeffrey Shaw and El Paso Natural Gas CEO Douglas Foshee that he planned to schedule an "open" meeting before the five commissioners in the next few weeks to get answers to questions.

In the meantime, Southwest Gas said on Monday it has completed a "first pass" at all customers who lost service.  They are in the process now of trying to reach out to customers who were not at home when they came by the first time.  If you are still without gas service in Southern Arizona, you're asked to call 1-877-860-6020.