SOU steam plant

Pipeline explosion affects SOU, not students or employees

Tuesday night’s massive explosion of a ruptured natural gas pipeline near Prince George, Canada, will affect operations at SOU for at least the next few days, but students and employees should notice minimal if any issues.

SOU’s natural gas-fueled boilers – which produce steam to heat most of the buildings on campus, along with hot water for everything from showers to dishwashers – are being temporarily converted today to burn diesel fuel.

The university’s heating plant is an industrial-quantity consumer of natural gas, which means SOU gets the fuel at a discount. But it also means the university is subject to either voluntary or mandatory curtailments of its natural gas use, if there are disruptions to the supply line.

That happened in Wednesday’s early morning hours, when Avista Corporation contacted SOU’s Facilities Management and Planning Department with a request to voluntarily curtail natural gas use.

The university will do that by temporarily running its boilers on diesel fuel – which is not as clean-burning and is more expensive than natural gas. However, it is a backup system that prevents significant disruptions in situations such as this one.

With recent warm weather in southern Oregon, which is expected to continue at least into next week, minimal impacts to the campus community are expected. SOU will continue to use its boilers – fueled by diesel – to provide steam for campus-wide domestic hot water uses and nighttime heating.

Because of this fall’s mild weather, only a few buildings have required daytime steam to maintain comfortable temperatures – the Student Health and Wellness Center, Computing Services and the Art Building. SOU has voluntarily turned off steam to the Computing Services and Art buildings to reduce boiler use, while continuing to heat the Student Health and Wellness Center.

Avista has advised SOU to expect the natural gas disruption to last at least a couple days, and the university is planning on the curtailment lasting three to five days.