The natural gas lines that serve much of Taos County briefly went without a critical safety feature last week.
According to a Feb. 14 press release from the New Mexico Gas Company, the only natural gas utility in Northern New Mexico, the natural gas distribution system in and around Taos, Red River, Questa and surrounding areas experienced a "low odorant level."
Natural gas is both colorless and odorless. To make the gas detectable in case of a leak, companies inject a chemical odorant called mercaptan. It has the distinctively sulfurous smell of rotten eggs. Because the odorant levels were low, the natural gas had no smell, meaning a leak would have been less obvious.
While the odorant levels in and around Taos County were restored by Thursday morning (Feb. 15), Lauren Rodriguez, a spokesperson for New Mexico Gas Company, told The Taos News the problem was discovered during a routine installation of a meter the previous afternoon.
"We traced the cause to an odorant injector. Our team noticed that the confirmation on one of our odorant injection systems was not sending a signal to the odorizer to inject mercaptan," Rodriguez said.
"This has been corrected. Our team manually injected the odorant [near Española] and began blending it into the natural gas that is transported north to Taos," according to Rodriguez.
Typically, odorant is injected for the system at sites where natural gas is diverted from the interstate pipelines, according to the gas company. For the northwest system, which serves Taos and other communities, these locations are in the Farmington area and at the Rio Puerco connection west of Albuquerque.
According to an email from Tim Korte, another spokesperson for the gas company, sent later on Thursday, "All systems have been repaired and are functioning as designed."
The gas company said the odorant issue was not related to the installation of a new natural gas line in the Rio Grande Gorge and did not impact the normal flow of natural gas to customers.
According to the gas company, signs of a potential gas leak other than smell include hissing or blowing sounds, standing water continuously bubbling, dirt or water blowing in the air or a decay in vegetation. If a leak is suspected, the gas company advises calling (866) 664-2726.