The governor of Texas called for the leaders of his state’s energy board to resign on Tuesday night, as five million people in the state were left shivering without power amid a record-breaking cold snap.
Texas is the only state in the lower 48 with its own electrical grid, ERCOT, while only two other grids, the Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection, serve the rest of the contiguous United States.
The state opted to run its own power system due to suspicion of the federal authorities, The Austin American Statesman explained.
Greg Abbott, the Republican governor, on Tuesday announced an investigation into ERCOT, and rounded on the leaders – several of whom, it emerged, did not even live in the state.
‘The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,’ said Abbott in a statement.
‘Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable.’
Almost four million homes in the state were without power on Tuesday.
The deep freeze has paralyzed Texas by knocking out its power grid. Pictured are homes in Houston without power but empty offices still lit up
People wait in a long line to buy groceries at H-E-B in Austin, Texas, during an extreme cold snap and widespread power outage on Tuesday
TEXAS: The Trinity River in Fort Worth is mostly frozen after a snow storm Monday that saw millions lose power
Ten people are known to have died as a result of Winter Storm Uri – some in traffic accidents, some from fires sparked by attempts to keep warm, and at least two homeless people from the cold.
Shocked Texans suffered some of the coldest days in living memory, with temperatures falling as low as minus two Fahrenheit in Dallas – marking only the fifth time on record that the temperature was below zero.
Yet Texas produces more crude oil and natural gas than any other state. It also generates more electricity than any other state, with production rates almost twice those as Florida, the second-highest electricity-producing state.
Natural-gas-fired power plants generated 40 per cent of Texas’s electricity in 2020, according to ERCOT, the largest single source. Wind turbines were second at 23 per cent, followed by coal at 18 per cent and nuclear at 11 per cent.
Texans were asking how their energy-rich state could be so swiftly left without power.
Natural gas accounts for a significant percentage of household heating: more than a third of Texas households rely on natural gas as their primary heating fuel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Experts say that much of the problem in Texas was down to natural gas.
Half of the state’s power plants also use natural gas to produce electricity.
‘Texas is a gas state,’ said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
He told The Texas Tribune: ‘Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now.’
Military vehicles from the Texas Military Department of the Texas National Guard, tasked to transport residents to designated warming centers and other required duties, form a convoy in Abilene, Texas
Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on Tuesday in Fort Worth, Texas
Due to a shortage in the natural gas supply but record gas consumption, gas lines were depressurizing, according to experts.
If natural gas power plants can’t get the pressure they need to operate, they have to shut down.
Dan Woodfin, a senior director for ERCOT, told Bloomberg on Tuesday that natural gas pressure was a significant issue.
But, he added, failures across all sources were partially to blame.
‘We’ve had some issues with pretty much every kind of generating capacity in the course of this multi-day event,’ he said.
Natural gas power plants usually do not have very much fuel storage on site, experts said.
Instead, the plants rely on the constant flow of natural gas from pipelines that run across the state from areas like the Permian Basin in West Texas to major demand centers like Houston and Dallas.
In early February, Texas operators were producing about 24 billion cubic feet per day, according to an estimate by S&P Global Platts. But on Monday, according to the Texas Tribune, production plummeted to between 12 and 17 billion cubic feet per day.
Furthermore, systems that get gas from the earth are not properly built for cold weather.
Operators in West Texas’ Permian Basin, one of the most productive oil fields in the world, are particularly struggling to bring natural gas to the surface, analysts said, as cold weather and snow close wells or cause power outages that prevent pumping the fossil fuels from the ground.
‘Gathering lines freeze, and the wells get so cold that they can’t produce,’ said Parker Fawcett, a natural gas analyst for S&P Global Platts.
‘And, pumps use electricity, so they’re not even able to lift that gas and liquid, because there’s no power to produce.’
On Tuesday evening Texas Gas Service warned again that demand for natural gas is outpacing supply and urged customers on their website to conserve energy as ‘it is going to take time for our suppliers to get their natural gas wells back online’.
The company provides gas to the El Paso, Austin and Rio Grande Valley areas of Texas and has more than 670,000 customers.
The plea comes after a statement issued on Monday warning that its supply wells were freezing over and supply was limited.
They said not to expect a quick reintroduction of service.
‘Once the system is operating again, we need to visit each home to check for leaks and reestablish gas service,’ the company warned.
‘This makes the need for energy conservation even more important.’
Right-wing commentators were swift to blame renewable energy for Texas’ crisis, with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson incorrectly claiming that Texas was ‘totally reliant on windmills’.
ERCOT, however, said that wind turbines accounted for 23 per cent of the state’s electricity need, and only accounted for a limited loss of power.
On Monday, frozen instruments and a limited gas supply forced 30,000 MW/h of power offline, KHOU reported.
ERCOT said that wind turbines accounted for less than 13 per cent of the total generation that was lost on Monday: the main problem came from coal and gas.
Much of the problem seemed to stem from a lack of preparation for winter conditions.
Wind turbines — like natural gas plants — can be ‘winterized’ or modified to operate during very low temperatures, and work well in Arctic conditions.
Experts say that many of Texas’ power generators have not made those investments necessary to prevent disruptions to equipment since the state does not regularly experience extreme winter storms.
Texas produces roughly 4.6 million barrels of oil a day and is home to some of the nation’s largest refineries, spread throughout the Gulf Coast.
In Midland, heart of the U.S. Permian shale region, temperatures were in the single digits Fahrenheit.
Motiva Enterprises said it was shutting down its Port Arthur, Texas, manufacturing complex, which includes its refinery. Motiva’s Port Arthur refinery produces more than 630,000 barrels of product per day, making it the largest refinery in the United States.
Oil production in the country’s largest crude-producing state has plunged by more than two million barrels a day due to the storm, which has sent prices surging to $60 a barrel for the first time in a year. Pictured above is Exelon Power Texas in Dallas on Tuesday
Gas pumps could not get sufficient fuel from the refineries amid the freeze
People wait to fill propane tanks outside of Dallas on Tuesday
Citgo Petroleum Corp said some units at its 167,500 barrel-per-day (bpd) Corpus Christi, Texas, refinery were being shut.
Sources familiar with plant operations earlier said the crude distillation unit, a reformer and a hydrotreater were shut by cold weather at the refinery, with all other units also being powered down.
The cold snap also forced Lyondell Basell’s 263,776 bpd Houston refinery to operate at minimum production, and also shut most units at Marathon’s 585,000 bpd Galveston Bay plant.
But Exxon’s 369,024 bpd Beaumont, Texas, refinery seemed to be operating at normal levels, although the company had warned nearby residents of flaring from the plant.
‘We are also getting reports of power outages across the Permian, which are expected to continue over the weekend if the current weather system persists. This may result in intermittent production shut-ins, with a moderate impact on Permian oil production expected in February,’ Rystad Energy’s head of oil markets, Bjornar Tonhaugen said in a note.
Texas’ oil facilities were not alone in struggling: energy distribution was stalled across large parts of the United States.
Experts have said that as people were turning up their heat, power plants and pipelines were freezing or being taken offline due to the temperatures
A map from poweroutage.us showed that nearly 5 million people were without power in Texas, and several hundred thousand in Louisiana and Oregon
Kinder Morgan’s Natural Gas Pipeline Co. reported capacity constraints at various locations on its pipeline system, while Enable Gas Transmission, announced it was taking measures to ensure adequate supply for customers.
Oil pipeline operator Enbridge Inc. on Monday said a 585,000 barrel per day crude oil pipeline that runs from its terminal near Pontiac, Illinois, outside of Chicago, to the largest U.S. oil storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, was halted because of power outages. ‘Crews are working with electric utility providers to restore power to Line 59,’ as the pipeline is called, said Enbridge spokesman Michael Barnes.
‘The power failure is due to the winter storm the U.S. is experiencing.’
One of Texas’ two nuclear power plants failed on Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported, adding to the state’s woes.
The problem was in one of the two units of the South Texas Project, a nuclear-power plant near the Gulf of Mexico.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the plant’s operator said that the unit’s water supply froze, causing two pumps to fail.
The plant usually produces enough to power two million homes.
Snow scene aerials over Dallas, Tuesday. At least five oil refineries in Texas have shut down operations because of the storm. Natural gas facilities and pipelines in Texas also closed after wellheads started to freeze up or get blocked with ice and compressors lost power