Texas Railroad Commission declares gas system “98% winterized” – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
NBC 5 investigation obtained state records that raise questions about what has been done to prepare the state’s natural gas system for winter, and whether gas supply issues could put the power grid at risk if the state faces another historic storm like the one the state experienced last February.
The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates natural gas companies, announced in January that it had visited thousands of gas wells and pipelines to check their readiness for the upcoming season.
In a January press release, the commission said, “…approximately 98% of the facilities visited had been winterized.
But when NBC 5 investigation filed an open record request asking the records commission detailing these site visits, the data provided by the commission seemed to raise more questions than answers about the definition of “wintered” and what these site visits actually did find.
Records show when inspectors asked oil and gas well operators, “Have you finished preparing this facility for the winter season?” 94% answered “Yes”.
But when asked specifically what they had done to prepare for winter, the answers received by the inspectors seemed less reassuring.
When oil and gas facility operators were asked, for example, “Has there been a test/simulation of weather preparedness procedures at this facility?” 61% answered “No”, “Didn’t know” or “Did not answer”.
When asked if cold barriers were used for winter protection, 55% said “no”.
And, when inspectors visited gas pipeline facilities, 63% said “No” when asked if heating systems were used for weather protection.
“In broad terms it’s one thing to say yes we’re prepared for winter, yes we’re ready. It’s a totally different thing when you go into the details of what that actually means,” said said Austin-based energy consultant Doug. Wine.
Lewin said the problem is that the Texas Railroad Commission still hasn’t enacted weatherization rules for gas installations.
Unlike the state’s Public Utility Commission, which set tough new winter standards for power plants, the railroad commission isn’t expected to draft weatherization rules for the gas industry until after this year.
Thus, when the commission sent inspectors to carry out winter visits to the sites, they had no rules to enforce.
“How do you know if they are really ready for winter if there is no standard?” Lewin asked.
“The Railroad Commission did not act so quickly. They are still working on their weatherization rules. So their rules are not in place,” ERCOT Acting CEO Brad Jones said in an interview with NBC 5 investigation.
Jones said he was concerned about the lack of rules in the gas system this winter and that ERCOT is only getting a fraction of the information it needs about gas supply right now. He said he didn’t know enough about the railroad commission’s site visits to judge how well the gas installations were winterized.
” I really do not know. This is a question I cannot answer. I know they defend their program very strongly, but I don’t know what the program looks like,” Jones said.
The leading oil and gas industry lobbyist insists there is no cause for concern.
“It’s a robust system. Billions of dollars are invested to make sure everything is running smoothly. And I’m confident that the men and women of this system are doing their job,” said Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association.
When asked what standard was used to judge if they were ready when there was no state standard, Staples told NBC 5, “You know, I think the really important thing to recognize here is that every oil and gas well is designed differently. I mean, there’s no cookie-cutter approach.
Staples said facilities that told inspectors they didn’t have weatherproof heating systems or cold barriers may be facilities designed in a way that they don’t need them.
And, in a statement to NBC 5, the railroad commission said, “…every site visit is a snapshot in time…some of the sites hadn’t finished winterizing yet… .”
Texas Railroad Commissioner Jim Wright told NBC 5 that additional work has been done to winterize the facilities since site visits were completed.
“I can tell you for sure after these inspectors came out and saw these facilities that we had a lot of activity and people were sealing them more,” Wright said.
NBC 5 investigation asked Wright why the commission had not released more detailed results of the site visits, which NBC 5 investigation was to obtain through an open records request, and why the commission did not discuss the results when briefed on those visits at a public meeting in January.
On January 11, the commission’s executive director, Wei Wang, briefed the railway commissioners on the site visits. He said inspectors visited 3,700 facilities, representing more than 21,000 gas wells.
But a recording of the meeting shows that Wang did not discuss any of the findings of those visits and his briefing lasted only 58 seconds.
The commissioners did not ask Wang any questions about what the site visits had uncovered.
Wright told NBC 5 that he agrees the railroad commission could do more to be transparent.
“I think that’s a good point, and I’ve always made sure that we have transparency here at the agency,” Wright said.
Wright said he doesn’t think it’s misleading for the commission to say 98% of gas installations are winterized because he believes 98% have taken extra steps to prepare.
The question for some observers is what steps?
“So when you ask if you do weatherization, they all say yes because they think they are because there is no standard. It’s just left to each person to interpret individually,” Lewin said.
Lewin said there is evidence the gas system is not being winterized as much as it should be, pointing to what happened during a January 2 cold snap.
Data from several companies that track natural gas production showed about a 20% drop in gas supply in the Permian Basin, Lewin said. It wasn’t enough to cause problems at power plants, but enough to have some industry watchers wondering how the gas system would perform if it faced another historic storm of the storm’s magnitude. winter Uri in 2021.
During the ice storm that hit Texas this week, the railroad commission acknowledged that gas production once again declined in cold weather.
But speaking at a state press conference, Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick said: ‘The fluctuation is really within the normal range and we are continuing to speak with operators to make sure the gas continues. to circulate.”
The Texas Oil & Gas Association released a statement saying it expected the production slump to continue on Thursday as cold and icy conditions affected gas equipment, but the industry organization said insisted that there would be plenty of gas to supply power plants and homes across the state.
Still, for some, the production cuts are an indication that more needs to be done to winterize the gas system, especially given its connection to the power grid.
“We always have a problem getting our gas supply ready for winter and especially during a winter storm Uri-type event,” said Chrysta Castaneda, an oil and gas industry lawyer and former candidate for the railway commission.