Gas supplier blames 'rogue' code for Channel Island outage

CEO claims bug had millions-to-one chance of disrupting supply – but it did

The small island of Jersey's natural gas supply is still switched off five days after a software problem caused its main facility to failover to a safety mode, leaving engineers struggling to reinstate supplies to homes and businesses.

On Saturday, the island off the coast of northern France lost its gas supply. The following day the CEO of supplier Island Energy said the La Collette plant automatically switched off to protect the wider network – and then backup systems also failed. The energy firm warned it might take two weeks to restore the supply of gas.

Jo Cox told the BBC that "rogue code" caused the power failure at the plant.

"Initially, all we knew was that the power had seized in the plant, which meant the plant turned itself off to protect the network," she said.

At the same time, backup systems also failed, she said. "All of them failed at exactly the same time because of the code," Cox said, describing the probability of the occurrence as "like winning the EuroMillions" lottery.

The Register has contacted Island Energy for more details.

Jersey – for which the US state of New Jersey was named – is a British crown dependency which is not part of the UK, the EU or France.

The La Collette plant was run by Shell until 2008, when it was sold to Rubis, a French energy group. Its subsidiary Rubis Terminal developed safety-sharing software [PDF] in 2017 to exchange safety-related information across the group.

La Collette Terminal is a subsidiary service provider but does not own or sell fuel or stock. The Register has contacted the biz for further comment.

Pull the lever, residents asked

Speaking to local news, Cox called on local residents to pull the lever next to their gas meters to cut off the supply of gas to their home and to then register that they had done so with the company. Although meters have built-in failsafe systems, the supplier wanted to assess how safe it would be to return the supply by considering the number of individuals responding. If enough responded that they have turned off their supply, it can opt for a "self-restoration" – which might take days. On the other hand, if the risk is too high, a safer "engineered" approach might take weeks.

"My key message is that customers can help us with the speed of restoration by pulling that lever and registering that they've pulled it. It's really easy and there is a video on our website showing how it's done," she told a local news service. ®

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