In the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri and its devastation in February, attention is focused on the source of the state’s energy – the wellhead – and the producer of the end product – the power generators – and their readiness for another winter.
But those in the middle that gather, process and carry that energy are also getting attention and they want to assure Texans they are working to keep energy flowing in the event of severe weather.
“People in the natural gas industry have a good story to tell,” said Thure Cannon, president of the Texas Pipeline Association. Jennifer Coffee, the association’s general counsel, agreed, noting that approximately 99.95 percent, or 4.6 million, Texas homes remained powered by natural gas during the deep freeze.
Cannon pointed out that the midstream sector must prepare not only for extreme cold but extreme heat, which also sends demand soaring. But for the winter, he said companies are doing what he called ‘line packing’ of their pipelines, packing natural gas into their lines so that additional volumes will be available if needed.
James Mann, a TPA attorney who joined Cannon and Coffee said that since a similar winter storm – but on a smaller scale – hit Texas in 2011, midstream companies had begun hardening their facilities, implementing heat tracing and applying heating elements and wraps to valves and controls that might freeze.
More enclosures around controls have been built since February, and back-up generators, including some that run on diesel, have been installed.
“Since February, we have stockpiled chemicals to keep water in pipes from freezing. They’ve always done that, but in preparation for this winter they’re stockpiling at facilities so they’re not as dependent on trucks bringing it to us,” Mann said.
“We also have plans to man facilities in the field, more than we ordinarily do. At some of those facilities with surface equipment that aren’t normally manned 24-7, we’ll send personnel in case of emergency and have them stay there.
“We’re doubling personnel so no one will be by themselves and stranded. They’ll need enough gasoline to keep their trucks idling, there’ll be food, water and blankets at processing plants. Most of these things we’ve always done, we’re just doubling up and doing more.”
Those preparations show the perception that “the industry is doing nothing to prepare for the upcoming winter or trying to get out of the requirements isn’t true,” said Coffee. “It doesn’t benefit them when operations go down. They have every incentive to prepare.”
Cannon praised the Railroad Commission’s work in implementing the requirements of Senate Bill 3, creating a critical infrastructure division and ensuring that energy companies fill out forms to register their assets as critical infrastructure.
“They are taking seriously all the forms everyone is filling out,” he said.
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