A serious shortage of natural gas appears to be developing in some parts of Virginia because severe winter weather is exhausting supplies, a spokesman for the State Corporation Commission said in Richmond yesterday.
Shortages also are occurring elsewhere across the nation, forcing some communities to close schools and threatening factory operations. In metropolitan Washington large-volume users of natural gas - including government buildings and universities - have had the supplies cut off since Dec. 27 and all have switched to fuel oil for heating.
Large users of natural gas in the Baltimore area were cut off Nov 1 by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and, with some exceptions, large users in various parts of Virginia also have had their supplies curtailed since early November.
At a hearing here today, the Federal Power Commission will consider pleas from state and local government leaders - as well as from affected businesses - for approval of "emergency" natural gas purchases to keep supplies flowing to such communities as Danville, Va., which does not have adequate supplies for residential heating without additional purchases.
Dan River Mills, a major textile manufacturer, has been told that natural gas to its two plants in North and South Carolina will be shut off next Tuesday. The company continues to operate in Danville with the benefit of emergency gas purchases permitted to date by the FPC in an interim order but might not be able to make it through the winter without the extra supplies, its executive vice president for manufacturing, Roy Stephens, said yesterday.
In Danville, which is served by a municipally owned gas company, Dan River has 9,000 employees. The plants in the Carolinas employ about 1,200 persons, Stephens said. The company was preparing applications to federal officials yesterday seeking approval to use stored propane for continued operations in the Carolinas.
All of the Dan River plants and many of the communities facing shortages receive their natural gas from the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp., which along with United Gas Pipe Line Co. appears to be facing the most critical shortage this winter. The two firms serve Tidewater Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey and some Gulf Coast points.
Transco and United are seeking approval from the power commission to buy expensive gas on an emergency basis - unregulated natural gas normally sold in intrastate markets without federal price ceilings.
According to a spokesman for Danville's gas company, the emergency gas now being purchased costs about $2.40 per thousand cubit feet compared with a normal price of about $1.06 and the FPC's maximum of $1.42 for interstate sales.
A Washington lawyer for the North Carolina public utilities commission and the State of North Carolina, Morton Simons, yesterday said that the sharply higher emergency gas prices could mean an additional cost this winter of $15 million for North Carolina consumers. All of the price increases are being passed along to comsumers as fuel price increases.
"North Carolina is in very bad shape . . . Transco's old supplies are off drastically while other pipelines have been seeking new supplies," Simons said. He urged the FPC to manage the available supplies around the country so certain localities aren't affected adversely simply because their pipeline supplier faces a greater curtailment, while low-priority consumers in other regions have ample natural gas.
Lone Star Gas Co. of Texas said the greatest winter demand in 42 years forced a cutoff of gas to 400 industrial users in Texas and Oklahoma, and Columbia Gas of Ohio forecast some school and factory closings. Some schools in Kansas City were closed, and thermostats in Wichita schools were turned down to 50 degrees.
Responding to such reports yesterday, five members of the Senate Commerce Committee sent letters to 19 gas pipeline firms, asking how they plan to cope with a possible supply emergency. They also urged the FPC to explain its own plans for dealing with any curtailments that could affect homes, schools and hospitals.
Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson (D-Ill.) said he is prepared to reintroduce legislation giving the FPC standby authority to order gas-rich pipelines to share supplies with companies that have shortages. The pipeline industry has opposed such legislation.
Ryland Bailey, of the Virginia SCC, said his agency has asked all utilities in the state ot provide information by Friday on consumption and supplies, and he forecast that several categories of users may have to be cut off. Shortages have occurred in the Tidewater area served by Virginia Electric & Power Co., and in the southwestern part of the state by Colonial Natural Gas Co.
While large users with alternate sources of fuel already have been cut off, future curtailments in Virginia could affect smaller customers as well as schools and hospitals that have alternative energy systems, Bailey said. Northern Virginia appears to have the most adequate supply, he added.
Washington Gas Light Co., which provides gas to metropolitan Washington, shut off large, "interruptible" users from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9, from Dec. 21 to Dec. 23, and from Dec. 27 through yesterday. "We're in pretty good shape" for firm customers such as residences, said Washington Gas spokesman Charles Krautler.
Among the 250 large gas company users with alternate fuel sources in case they are shut off are the University of Maryland, Georgetown University and the National Bureau of Standards, a Commerce Department unit.
John W. Dorsey, vice chancellor for administration at Maryland, said gas normally is used to heat and provide hot water at 200 College Park Campus buildings. The university is buying No. 6 heating oil at 32 cents a gallon to fuel its main boilers. The oil is about 11 per cent more expensive than natural gas in terms of overall efficiency.
A spokeswoman for the National Bureau of Standards said her agency has a "plentiful supply of fuel oil" to replace the natural gas this winter in contrast the situation to several years ago during the oil embargo. She also said the agency has used conservation methods to cut fuel costs sharply.
The National Bureau, in Gaithersburg, is the largest Washington Gas customer during periods when supplies are adequate. Washington Gas shutoff its large users only briefly during last winter, which was warm, but has curtailed their supplies for relatively long periods in colder winters during previous years.
Baltimore Gas has about 190 interruptible customers who were shut off Nov. 1 and advised that no supplies would be available until after April 1, unless there is a dramatic change in weather conditions. Even with large users cut off, BG&E gas sales jumped 10 per cent last month.
According to Washington Gas weather was 21 per cent colder during December than in the same month a year ago. During the first 11 days of this year, the weather has been 15 per cent colder than early 1976.