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A cause for concern? | Texas natural gas providers aren't facing weatherization requirements

Texas power plants have faced weatherization requirements from the state but natural gas providers, which the plants need to function, are not. What does that mean?

TEMPLE, Texas — Texas Power generators had until Dec. 1 to weatherize and provide a progress report to ERCOT. The legislature made it possible for ERCOT to inspect these generators and even levy million-dollar penalties if they continue to fail standards. Now eight generation companies have failed inspections and the Public Utility Commission has proposed fines totaling $7.5 million.

At the same time, the gas production companies, which provide generators the natural gas they need to operate still aren't facing any state requirements. The Texas Railroad Commission has yet to provide those requirements. 

So should Texans be worried as several days of freezing weather approaches? 

6 News contacted the Texas Oil and Gas Association to get some answers. 

Association President Todd Staples said there would be some decline in oil and gas production due to the freeze but there are many other factors that will prevent the problems seen during 2021 Winter Storm Uri.  

"What happened in Uri was... a couple of things," Staples said. "One of them was some (oil and gas producers) lost power and that was a significant part of the reduction in production. The ERCOT forms which allowed for assets to be designated a critical and keep their power on... Oil and gas companies were not allowed to do that."

Some oil and gas producers actually had their electricity cut off by power transmission companies during the storm as those companies worked to relieve the demand on the power grid at the direction of ERCOT. This just made the lack of power worse as generators could not get fuel. Staples said ERCOT has now improved communication so this won't happen again. 

"Oil and gas companies have been applying to their local TDUs (Transmission and Delivery Utilities) and we think that will be a big difference in keeping the power on," Staples said. 

Staples also said the lack of state requirements would not be an issue because many oil and gas producers were already weatherizing regardless. 

"We have 250,000 oil and gas wells. These are un-manned. Operators are using things like insulation, temporary wind breaks, methanol injection units, and heat tracing systems to make sure that product flows," Staples said. 

Staples said the need to winterize and to keep the power on actually goes hand-in-hand. 

Staples told 6 News oil and gas comes out of the ground at between 100 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit and it can keep moving though insulated systems to keep them from freezing, but only if they system is powered. Electricity is also needed for heat-tracing. Loosing power in the middle of a winter event means fuel stops moving and pipes begin to freeze. 

"Keeping the power on is the best winterization tool," Staples said. "When the power went off is when it really impacted the system."

An additional solution, Staples said, would be for Texas power plants to keep a supply of natural gas on-site so brief interruptions in gas flow don't slow the plants down. 

"No matter how much money you spend, you are going to have fluctuations in production. That's why storage is such a key." Staples said. 

Storage was not a requirement for Texas power plants when state requirements came out last year. Staples homes many power generators have chosen to store gas on-site regardless.

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