Todd Staples: Texas must fix the natural-gas-power-generation supply loop to prevent another blackout

Natural gas producers need electricity to supply fuel to power generators, so they can make that electricity.

May 16, 2021

This op-ed appeared as part of a series published by The Dallas Morning News Opinion section to explore ideas and policies for strengthening electric reliability. The original op-ed can be found here. The full Dallas Morning News series can be found here: Keeping the Lights On.

As Texans move past the damages of February’s winter storm, we must not move on without making meaningful changes that guarantee increased reliability. No Texan should have to endure deadly conditions again because the electricity supply chain failed to sufficiently reform.

The immediate action that would ensure natural gas facilities can operate during emergencies is to map the supply chain to determine which natural gas production, distribution and storage facilities feed into the natural gas electricity generation and local distribution companies. Then, facilities can be designated as critical load. Maintaining power to the most critical assets will help keep the system operating.

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 also agree that proper weatherization of both power-generation and natural gas facilities directly connected to power generation are key elements of reform. 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 already weatherize at various levels. Yet without power, no amount of weatherization matters. To truly increase reliability, the research all points to focusing on the necessary infrastructure, contracts, weatherization, and storage that will help ensure power generation continues through the next storm.

To fix any problem, a proper evaluation of the cause must first be undertaken. The oil and natural gas industry called for a forensic analysis from the beginning and made a commitment to do its part in reform. Fact-finding is fundamental to focus on solutions that work.

A report from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas confirmed that power-generation units from just about all sources faced outages, and the report named weather-related issues as the primary cause. Fuel limitation caused only 17% of the challenges. An independent analysis commissioned by the Texas Oil and Gas Association through the research firm Enverus makes clear that the issues with natural gas production and transportation began with outages originating at power-generation units.

Once power outages began, natural gas production was impacted because facilities and infrastructure rely on electricity. The outages, in turn, impaired the ability to deliver natural gas supplies to power generators.

Even with these challenges, Texas natural gas production exceeded the state’s 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.

Not all natural gas facilities provide natural gas for electricity generation because natural gas is also used for direct home heating, LNG exports and raw materials in manufacturing.

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 a serious evaluation of what really went wrong and reforms that will increase reliability in future emergency situations.

Todd Staples is president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association and former Texas agriculture commissioner. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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