As Texans move past the damages of Winter Storm Uri, we must not move on without making meaningful changes that guarantee increased reliability. No Texan should ever have to endure such dangerous and deadly conditions again because the electricity supply chain failed to sufficiently reform.
Moving forward, the most immediate action to ensure natural gas facilities can operate during emergencies will be supply chain mapping to determine which natural gas production, distribution and storage facilities feed into natural gas electricity generation plants. Once the supply chain is mapped, appropriate facilities can designate as critical load. If power can stay on to the most critical assets, the system will work. In Texas, 80% of the natural gas produced daily is not used for the production of electricity, so it is imperative we focus on the most directly impacted assets to ensure those products and services are accessible and available to generators.
We agree proper weatherization of both power generation and our industry’s natural gas facilities directly connected to those generators are key elements of reform and proper steps must be taken to ensure compliance. We also support tools to ensure generators have access and availability to the fuel they need in extreme emergency conditions. Some have suggested that all natural gas infrastructure — including 86,000 natural gas wells and another 164,000 oil wells that produce associated natural gas — should weatherize. In fact, many operators do already weatherize at various levels. Yet without power, no amount of weatherization matters.
To truly ensure increase reliability, the research all points to the need to ensure power generation units stay online and we want to ensure that happens through necessary infrastructure, contracts, weatherization, and storage needed to maintain power generation through the next storm.
To fix any problem, you need to know what happened.
A preliminary report from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) confirmed power generation units from just about all sources faced outages, and named weather-related issues as the primary cause, with fuel limitation causing only 17% of challenges for natural gas power generators. An independent analysis commissioned by the Texas Oil & Gas Association through research firm Enverus makes clear that the issues with natural gas production and transportation cascaded with outages originating at power generation units. Once power outages began, natural gas production became seriously impaired because facilities and infrastructure rely on electricity, which then impaired the ability for power generators to receive natural gas supplies.
Even with these challenges, Texas natural gas production exceeded Texas demand during the storm, yet matching supply with demand proved challenging. Texas has almost 550 billion cubic feet of working natural gas storage capacity — more than 40 times the state’s typical total daily usage. Beyond storage capacity, Texas produces more than twice the amount the state needs for daily natural gas usage of all types and five times the amount needed for natural gas-powered electric generation. Texas is awash in natural gas and with proper planning, there is ample natural gas to meet our energy needs even during extreme circumstances.
Improved communications, supply chain mapping, designation of critical load, storage, and weatherization of power generation and those natural gas facilities directly connected to generation are all keys to ensuring natural gas does its part to keep Texans warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It is imperative that lawmakers focus on reforms that will actually improve the reliability of our power grid.
The oil and natural gas industry remains committed to working with legislators to pass these dependable solutions. With an issue of this magnitude, Texans deserve meaningful reforms that will produce effective results and reliability in future emergency situations.
— Todd Staples is president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association and former Texas agriculture commissioner.