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Natural gas industry adapts to ‘new normal’ of pandemic

Rich Thompson, gas operation supervisor for Dominion Energy, discussed how the pandemic has impacted the gas industry. (Photo by Candice Black)

PARKERSBURG — Behind the hot water, warm homes and clean clothes is a natural gas employee who tirelessly works to make sure people have what they need for a comfortable life.

Nothing, not even a global pandemic, can stop them from doing their job.

Rich Thompson, gas operation supervisor for Dominion Energy, has been in the business for 33 years, but the pandemic is unlike anything he’s experienced before.

When the virus became more prevalent, Dominion executed its pandemic plan which involved drastically limiting contact with customers and co-workers.

“We focused our energy on emergency and compliance work to keep gas flowing safely to our customers. We started working in two shifts, rotating with a ready reserve group who was able to step into the field at a moment’s notice,” Thompson said. “We also focused on preparing a special team to go into homes who indicated possible exposure to the coronavirus. This meant extra PPE and training to keep our employees and customers safe. The employees serving in this group selflessly volunteered because they knew when a customer needs us, in sickness or health, we need to be ready to help.”

He said the biggest difference is a lack of face-to-face interaction with familiar customers.

“Not having as much face-to-face communication has been a big change for me. I’ve also always felt very welcomed into our customers’ homes during service calls but now both sides need to take a few extra minutes to make sure we’re safe before walking inside,” Thompson said.

To maintain the safety of employees, the company has relied more on technology to video chat and phone conferencing.

“On the bright side, these times allow companies and individuals to become innovators of this new world. We have all been challenged to look for ways to stay safe, become more efficient and to live another day,” Thompson said.

As the world begins to tackle the ‘new normal,’ the gas industry is adapting, too.

“Lately, we’re supporting WV-811’s utility marker program to help prevent damage to our gas lines as homeowners and contractors begin more projects,” Thompson said. “The new normal also means employees are using separate vehicles to go to job sites, we’re using face masks when we can’t observe social distancing and we’re keeping more distance from the public. We miss getting to have more contact with our customers but know this is what’s best to keep us all safe.”

Candice Black can be reached at cblack@newsandsentinel.com.

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