The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Our Winter Weather Embarrassment

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted January 24, 2018

There’s a new data point from New England that underscores the region’s lack of sufficient natural gas infrastructure. A new study from ISO New England finds there’s a better than 80 percent chance that some or all of the region faces rolling blackouts in the near future – chiefly because it can’t get enough natural gas when there’s peak winter demand.

For a country that leads the world in natural gas and oil production, having an entire region at the mercy of cold weather pretty much ranks as a national embarrassment – the kind of thing that happens in under-developed parts of the world. New England Petroleum Council Executive Director Steve Dodge:

“New England families deserve better. Forced, rolling blackouts because of inadequate and unreliable power supplies are something you associate with a Third World country – not modern-day New England. It would wreak havoc on the economy and New Englanders’ lives.”

It’s an unacceptable scenario: Americans suffering because their region can’t get enough natural gas for heating and fueling power generation, due to inadequate infrastructure.

The ISO New England study reinforces what we’ve heard before – that while New England’s natural gas use for heating and power generation is growing, the natural gas supply infrastructure isn’t expanding at the same pace, which has contributed to winter supply constraints and cost spikes. A graphic/analysis from the study:

iso_NE_natgas_availability

ISO-NE calls limitations on the region’s natural gas delivery infrastructure its greatest fuel security risk:

On many days, pipeline capacity is sufficient for both the local gas utilities and the natural-gas-fired power plants, but during the coldest weeks of the year, this natural gas delivery infrastructure can’t meet all the demand for natural gas for both home heating and power generation. As a result, natural-gas-fired power plants—which typically buy pipeline capacity released by local gas utilities on the secondary market—may not be able to access natural gas. Contracting with pipelines for some level of firm natural gas delivery could solve this problem if the pipeline system expanded to accommodate the increased contracted demand.

How many reports like this are needed to get elected officials at all levels to support projects that will address New England’s problem: more pipeline capacity, more LNG import capability and more natural gas storage? Dodge:

“New England needs to start moving ahead, now, with sensible, long-overdue expansions of natural gas pipeline capacity to connect our region with affordable, abundant supplies of U.S.-produced fuel and prevent the needless catastrophe of forced, rolling wintertime blackouts. … This report also further demonstrates the problems created by New York’s shortsighted efforts to block critical pipeline infrastructure that would give New Englanders access to safe, clean and affordable natural gas.”

The United States is an energy superpower, breaking records for natural gas production – which has benefited consumers, helped spur a domestic manufacturing renaissance and helped the U.S. lead the world in lowering carbon emissions. Yet, some of our citizens face uncomfortable choices when temperatures drop below freezing because of political agendas. It shouldn’t happen. Todd Snitchler, API group director for Market Development, in a recent blog:

“No American should be put in jeopardy because of a lack of heat and electricity. The answer lies right beneath our feet.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.