During a live appearance on Shale Magazine’s “In The Oil Patch Radio” program on Sunday, Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick defended the performance of the natural gas business and the role it plays to generate the majority of power on the Texas electric grid. The Railroad Commission has regulatory authority over intra-state natural gas pipelines, and Craddick said that the pipelines and producers “did our job the way we were supposed to” during the crisis.
“Our priority is to make sure gas still flows so human needs come first,” Craddick said. “What we now realize is that ERCOT didn’t understand that we needed power flowing into the oil fields to get that oil out to people. Once we got electricity back into the oil fields, we were back up and running.”
At one point, the Commissioner noted that part of the issue that caused some natural gas power plants to fall off the grid on February 14-15 was the fact that the rolling blackouts implemented by ERCOT ended up cutting off electricity to several large natural gas compressor stations in West Texas. Without proper compression, natural gas pipelines cannot maintain the pressure needed to move natural gas to the power plants, causing the plants to freeze up.
This frankly stunned me since, after a very similar winter storm in 2011, the industry worked closely with ERCOT and the PUC to develop a plan that would prevent this same tragic mistake from occurring again.
“Back in 2011,” I said, “rolling blackouts unintentionally shut down electricity needed to get gas to power stations. Are you telling me the same problem happened again this time, 10 years later? How could this have happened again?”
Craddick responded, “The biggest challenge we had this week was reminding people that we’re all very integrated. If you don’t have power going into gas processing plants, you can’t move gas. Solar wasn’t working and diesel freezes in certain temperatures, so finally on Tuesday we had a conversation about the need for power. They [ERCOT] finally seemed to understand that, and we sent specific coordinates to them so they would turn the power back on in those oil fields.”
On Tuesday, five members of the 15-member ERCOT Board of Directors announced they will resign today following a scheduled board meeting. Those five board members, including the group’s chairman and vice-chairman, all live outside of the state of Texas, a fact that raised much concern among Texans when it was revealed last week.
Meanwhile, the Texas House Committees on State Affairs and Energy Resources will hold a hearing on Thursday at 9:00 to explore the causes of the disastrous failure of the Texas electricity grid, and take testimony on solutions to ensure it never happens again. Of course, similar hearings took place following the disaster of 2011, and few solutions were implemented due to a lack of will in the part of legislators and the PUC.
Hopefully, more courage needed to take real action will be present among the legislators and regulators in the wake of the second major power disaster to impact Texans in just ten years. Our conversation with Commissioner Craddick was certainly encouraging in that regard.
You can listen to Commissioner Craddick’s appearance on “In The Oil Patch Radio” at this link.