GUEST VIEW: Texas’ natural gas sector is winter ready

By Todd Staples

As the inevitability of colder weather begins to draw near, every sector of the Texas oil and natural gas industry begins preparing months in advance to ensure the production and transportation of oil and natural gas can continue no matter the temperature.

From producing fields to pipelines and refineries, operators have extensive resources in place to monitor and prepare for inclement weather on an ongoing basis and utilize best practices and operational plans to maximize product flow.

Seasonal weatherization techniques vary based on the type of operation and equipment but generally include methanol injection, temperature activated pumps, steamer units, equipment shelters, wind walls, insulated critical lines and valves and, for many assets, around the clock monitoring. Additional offsite measures allow operators to better respond during inclement weather by pre-positioning personnel and equipment to safely address critical needs.

Further, actions taken by the 87th Texas Legislature and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) established critical load designation for the most critical natural gas assets and related systems and operators with facilities that are required to weatherize must share their emergency preparedness plans with the RRC. Plans include considerations for how each operator will protect their employees, the environment, and their equipment in extreme weather. These requirements extend to external support operations such as water disposal wells, a necessary function to continue oil and natural gas production.

In addition, the RRC and Public Utility Commission of Texas together recently announced several enhancements to the Texas Electricity Supply Map, which include new layers and updated information such as water and wastewater facilities, as well as roads leading to critical infrastructure sites. These changes will assist state emergency officials in preparing for, responding to and recovering from weather emergencies or other disasters. The map also identifies critical infrastructure facilities that are in the state’s electricity supply chain, including electric generation plants and the natural gas facilities that supply fuel to power the generation plants.

Even with winterization techniques in place, production fluctuations are expected not only during extreme weather conditions but even on mild weather days, according to the RRC. For example, daily production variation can occur with sudden temperature changes because these are field operations, not controlled factory settings.

Prudent users of natural gas consider these factors when establishing agreements for natural gas and plan appropriately. For example, we know that power generators with firm contracts for natural gas supply, storage, and transmission for the volumes they need during extreme weather prove more reliable and resilient. Further, some electricity generating plants have on-site back up fuel capabilities for extreme circumstances.

Texas is more fortunate than most states due to the sheer volume of natural gas produced here and our vast natural gas storage infrastructure, both of which deliver for Texas no matter the weather.

Every day, Texas produces significantly more natural gas – 84 percent more – than we use for electricity. Over the past year, Texas’ natural gas marketed production has averaged over 31 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), and natural gas used for electricity generation has remained around 5 Bcf/d. Beyond daily production, Texas has 860 Bcf of underground natural gas storage capacity, enough to fuel 5 Bcf/d of power generation for approximately 164 days or all of Texas’ average natural gas consumption for 64 days. End-users of natural gas are encouraged to prepare for emergency conditions where production could be interrupted by securing rights to and transportation of stored natural gas.

Clearly, natural gas is available in abundance. Just as natural gas delivered this summer, providing the fuel source for more than half of total power generation during the afternoon and evening heat, natural gas will play an indispensable role in our cold weather energy mix. The oil and natural gas industry is doing its part to ensure that no matter the weather, we are winter ready, and we urge all Texans and Texas industries to likewise prioritize planning and preparation.

Todd Staples is president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association.