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Texas natural gas production dropped during recent cold front, reviving concerns

HOUSTON, Texas — During Texas’ first strong cold front of the winter this past weekend, natural gas production in the state’s top energy-producing region dropped by about 25%, according to a report from S&P Global. And while the lights largely stayed on across the state, the gas system’s performance during a brief cold snap raised more questions about the grid’s ability to handle extreme winter weather.A separate Bloomberg report said gas production in the Permian Basin region of West Texas plunged to its lowest levels since last February’s deadly winter storm.

A number of natural gas companies reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that they had to unexpectedly flare off gas last weekend because their equipment froze.Meanwhile, the Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, said it didn’t know anything about the sudden drop in gas production. An agency spokesperson said the commission is “currently evaluating available data on natural gas production during the weekend of Jan. 1 and 2.”

Natural gas fuels a majority of power generation in Texas, and some power generators reported disruptions to their gas supply – but they said it was not enough to impact generators’ ability to produce electricity. Gov. Greg Abbott said the state’s main power grid operator was prepared with extra power supply online.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator, said there were no significant power outages around the state.

But the disruptions to the natural gas supply during a typical Texas cold front calls into question whether the state’s gas companies are ready for extreme winter weather, a concern energy experts and power company executives have expressed in recent months after lawmakers didn’t require gas companies to immediately prepare their equipment for extreme cold.

“I think it means the gas system’s not ready for another cold snap,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It wasn’t even really cold. It was cold, but nothing close to Winter Storm Uri (in February).”

Temperatures dropped into the upper teens during the weekend in Midland and remained below freezing there for about 12 hours.

Power plants are regulated by ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT, and operate by different rules that the PUC implemented last fall requiring power plants to fix “acute” issues from last February’s disaster. The rules were based on recommendations that were made – but never acted upon – a decade ago by experts and federal regulators after a 2011 storm caused widespread rolling power outages.

The gas industry has argued that their facilities will operate as long as their power is not cut off – which is what happened during last February’s storm when widespread freezing temperatures and skyrocketing demand increased strain on the grid. Utilities were ordered by ERCOT to preemptively cut power to homes and businesses to avoid a total…

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2022-01-06 17:59:15

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