Southcentral Alaska shatters record for natural gas use during subzero cold streak

The largest utility in Alaska delivered a record amount of natural gas this week as customers cranked up the heat to warm buildings and homes during a brutal cold snap that has lasted more than a week.

The huge demand has strained the gas supply system in Southcentral Alaska, and prompted some elected officials to ask residents to conserve energy and heat as a precautionary measure.

Enstar broke its record around midnight on Wednesday, delivering 268 million cubic feet of gas a day to its 150,000 customers, said Enstar president John Sims.

That beat the previous record of 254 million cubic feet, set on Jan. 19, 2017 during a frigid spell then.

Enstar’s average January gas throughput is about 160 million cubic feet a day, Sims said.

Enstar provides natural gas across the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna areas, and portions of the Kenai Peninsula.

Anchorage hit a record daily low of minus 18 on Wednesday just before 11:30 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. That beat a 1989 low of minus 17.


On Thursday night, Anchorage temperatures dropped to minus 16 at the gauge at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, tying a daily record set in 1993, the weather service said. Temperatures on Thursday fell below minus 30 in parts of Mat-Su.

Sims had expressed concerns this week that reduced gas output at a gas-storage reservoir in Cook Inlet, due to two poorly functioning wells, was adding to the tremendous pressure on the gas supply system in Southcentral Alaska.

On Friday, he said Enstar’s gas system is “stable.” He said different parties have come together to help meet the demand for natural gas.

The dominant gas producer in Cook Inlet, Hilcorp, provided additional gas beyond what’s called for in Enstar’s gas supply contract, Sims said. And relatively inexpensive electricity generated in Southcentral Alaska has not been shipped to Golden Valley Electric Association in Fairbanks, reducing demand on gas used to make that power.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Thursday asked the commander of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to turn down thermostats to 65 degrees and unplug unused electronics, and the commander agreed, as first reported by the Alaska Landmine. And Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said Thursday he had asked municipal departments to turn down heat and turn off lights when possible.

The situation underscores growing concerns that the overall supply of gas in Cook Inlet could fall short of demand as early as 2026 or 2027, after Hilcorp warned utilities it may not be able to renew gas supply contracts in the coming years.

Sims said that gas customers have implemented conservation measures in recent years that help lower gas use.

But Enstar adds around 1,250 customers annually on average, adding to the demand.

He said the gas consumption by Enstar customers in January hit 5.6 billion cubic feet. That’s about 30% higher than last January.

The huge variability highlights how difficult it can be to predict gas use, he said.

With the cold streak easing starting Saturday, Sims said the gas supply system should soon get some breathing room.

“Assuming nothing operational happens, we’re in a really good place right now,” he said.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or