Gas Shortages and Potential Health Emergency

I sent this out to some of my colleagues a couple of weeks ago…


I would like to share my concerns with you about the possible public health consequences if we do have serious gas shortages this winter, and especially if it is a prolonged very cold winter and there are periods and/or areas where the gas is restricted entirely, or the price of gas skyrockets.

  • people tighten up air leaks in the home, and use alternative heating sources such as kerosene or briquettes.  This results in carbon monoxide poisonings.  What are we doing to prevent that?
  • home fires are likely to increase due to inappropriate use of alternative heating sources such as open flames from various sources. What are we doing?
  • For a variety of reasons more and sicker people are managing their health conditions at home.  Do we know who and where they are?  Do we have the ability to evacuate them?  Do we have alternate places, warm and well-stocked and equiped, to evacuate them to?cook inlet contingency letter

We know the issues, and we don’t want an Alaska Katrina for future students to study.  What are we doing? What should we be doing, and who exactly should be doing it?  And by the way, I don’t think our responsibility ends with a consideration of these issues.  Shouldn’t we be involved with the longer term issues of year-round gas supply for Anchorage?

David Dunsmore, one of my colleagues on the Anchorage Health and Human Services Commission, sent back this thoughtful and informative response…

Good points.  There is also a lot of misinformation floating out there about the gas issue.  For one, if there is a gas shortage this winter it will most likely be because of an equipment malfunction not that there was not enough gas.  (Chugach estimated that without an equipment malfunction it would take three straight weeks at 30 below before we would have to worry about deliverability issues.)  Enstar has talked about running out of gas in 2011- but that is only that they don’t have enough gas under contract after 2011- so far all the contracts they have submitted to the RCA have been rejected (rightly in my opinion) as unfair to consumers.  The real risk is having eqiupment malfunction during peak demand (cold weather).
We certainly should plan for a possible gas shortages due to equipment malfunctions- and it is outrageous that no one has planned for them in the past, but I am afraid that creating the false sense that their is any issue with the actual supply of gas could encourage people to do more of the potentially risky alternatives you mentioned.  In my day job we are working to make sure the state creates a plan for possible gas shortages- which currently the state does not seem prepared for- and I would be happy to brief the Commission on our work when we get the meeting rescheduled.  We also may want to review the mayor’s color-coded plan- I have concerns that the public relations part of the plan may have the unintended side effect of encouraging the risky activity you mentioned, while not addressing the real issues.
…and this communication was sent by Jayson Smart, Deputy director of the Anchorage Dept. of Health and Human Services:

To provide you with a brief response to the questions that you raise, I can tell you that the Muni is undertaking a significant effort around these issues of which DHHS is participating. Our department has a representative who sits on the Mayor’s Energy Crisis planning group and the Department has a seat on the “Crisis Action Team” that has been developed through the Office of Emergency Management to respond to energy crisis events. This has enabled DHHS to provide input on the public health implications of an energy shortage. The specific points you raise below are part of the overall planning and public education efforts. In addition, MOA Office of Emergency Management maintains a “Vulnerable Populations” Registry that is used as part of emergency planning and response to identify individuals with health and disability concerns who may be vulnerable to disasters and energy shortages. Information about the registry can be found here:

Finally, this letter was sent to the Governor by a few of our notable legislators in September.

About ACPP_archive

formerly Alaska Center for Public Policy

Posted on October 25, 2009, in Oil and Energy, Public Health Policy. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. A part of the “answer” is in our attics, most of which are not adequately insulated. Despite weatherization programs even nice homes in the subdivisions of the 70’s are often insulated only to R-11 (and that often with gaps or leaks around recessed lighting etc) while today’s building code is R-38 and R-49 is what we should have (and code should be revised for this era)

    R-11 in the attic leaves the wood making up the bottom chord of the roof truss exposed to ambient air temperatures which means that 15% of the ceiling is “insulated” at only the R-4 of the 2×4 and worse, since the interior sheet rock is tightly fastened to the ceiling heat is rapidly conducted out of the home.

    In many even moderately old homes just repairing air infiltration problems could make a 15% improvement. For example if the weatherstrip at the bottom of an exterior door is worn out or torn away leaving 1/8 to 1/4 inch gap, across the typical 36″ door that adds to a hole in the door the size of a baseball……. or equivalent to leaving the door open 20 minutes a day. Repairing worn weatherstripping and caulking around all window and door trim, both inside and out can be done for very little cost and make a big difference.

    Many of our commercial buildings have even more wasteful problems. Weatherization programs have not targeted them for the most part, and often there is the problem of the tenant paying the energy bills while the building owner would have to extend the capital to make the improvements.

    It would be an interesting experiment to cross Enstar’s gas usage data with the borough’s square footage data to get a benchmark of average fuel usage/ft and perhaps notify those with buildings in the high consumption range.

    At a later time, as we’ll all have to pay more if we require more energy and the infrastructure to deliver it, along with global warming concerns, building efficiency might become a part of our property tax formula.

    In short, if we’re worried about the boat sinking let’s plug the holes!

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