Ed Longanecker: Texas Producers Are Ready For Winter

Mon, December 06, 2021

Despite the misdirected, and often politically motivated, scrutiny of the Railroad Commission of Texas and oil and natural gas industry, the Lone Star State should be commended for its recent work to protect the health and safety of Texas citizens from energy disruptions in the face of unexpected extreme weather.

Texas energy regulators with the RRC recently adopted new rules aimed at fortifying oil and gas operations ahead of severe weather and protecting Texas energy consumers. These rules follow the omnibus Winter Storm Uri legislation, Senate Bill 3, and other substantive policy measures passed during the 87th Legislative Session, which will help ensure the state is better prepared for future extreme weather conditions. The new rulemaking includes mandatory weatherization requirements for facilities designated by the Texas Electricity Supply Chain Security and Mapping Committee and steps to maintain power to natural gas facilities directly tied to electric generation. 

Texas oil and natural gas operators continue to proactively prepare for all weather conditions with a heightened awareness and focus on what transpired during Winter Storm Uri. Texas producers are accustomed to operating during freezing temperatures and the blistering Texas heat during summer months, utilizing a long list of industry best practices to prepare accordingly. These measures are intended to protect employees and the communities in which they operate, and to ensure that companies can get their product to market. 

For instance, many Texas operators add temporary insulation to key equipment and proactively evaluate locations for the installation of line heaters – mobile units designed to protect natural gas systems against freezing – starting in September before temperatures dip. Companies typically focus this equipment on the highest impact wells to maximize and maintain production levels. This is just one of many steps operators have adopted to ensure continued operation. 

The weatherization measures taken by operators truly are extensive. This can include adding walls around compressor stations to limit the ability for wind to contribute to freezing equipment and then removing those walls in the warmer months for wind to help cool compressors down. Methanol is also injected into the gas stream by chemical injection pumps or enters the pipeline by methanol drips and effectively lowers the freezing point of the gas. Methanol injection is also sometimes used to prevent freezing in pneumatic controllers, as well as to prevent liquids from reaching small openings and passages in these instruments. Operators will also often drain surface lines to remove accumulated water to prevent freezing, or ice plugs, while fueling generators and charging batteries for control systems and for communication purposes, among other proactive measures when facing significant weather events.

While operators can – and do – diligently prepare for worst-case weather scenarios, there simply isn’t a fool-proof strategy that will allow them to operate at 100 percent under all circumstances. If roads are impassable, and personnel cannot get onsite, or if power is lost, operators may be forced to shut-in production despite all the onsite weatherization investments being made. These factors were evident in February, with many prominent operators in West Texas producing at 80 to 90 percent capacity during the storm, until power went out, forcing them to shut-in some or all production for safety purposes. Reports from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Enverus also both acknowledged that a loss of power to natural gas facilities was one of the leading causes for a decline in supply during the tragic storm in February.  

The legislative reforms passed this year will effectively address many of the challenges faced in February, including improved communication among agencies and stakeholders, utilizing weatherization best practices for facilities that are critical to power generation, and a prioritization of maintaining power to those facilities during extreme weather events. Expanding pipeline infrastructure in Texas, improving access to available natural gas storage, and having a greater emphasis on clearing county roadways in oil and natural gas producing areas of the state during significant winter weather events will also help to strengthen the reliability of the state’s power grid.

The data from Winter Storm Uri is clear – natural gas ramped up to meet demand in a way no other resource could. In fact, a Texans for Natural Gas analysis found that to meet rising demand during the storm, natural gas provided over four times the output it normally covers. If not for the flexibility of natural gas-powered generation, the effects of the storm could have been far worse. What we need is more – not less – natural gas supply to meet growing, and at times unexpected, demand. The Texas oil and natural gas industry, legislature and key state agencies are all committed to taking the necessary steps to prevent the devastating circumstances experienced during Winter Storm Uri from ever occurring again.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Midland Reporter-Telegram. Author Ed Longanecker is president of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO). Texans for Natural Gas is a project of TIPRO.