We’ve been remarkably cold here in New Mexico this week. Yesterday, it turned into a major infrastructure problem, which forced me to very quickly get up to speed on how our state’s natural gas infrastructure works, on account of because a bunch of people had theirs turned off. From the morning paper (sub/ad req):
The problem originated in supply lines that run into southwest New Mexico from Texas, Marks explained.
Within the state, demand was rising dramatically because of the record cold. At the same time, supply lines from Texas were hit by a double whammy. First, according to Gas Company officials, electricity blackouts in Texas cut power to equipment needed to deliver gas.
Second, the intense cold across the nation’s midsection cut into production in key gas fields that supply New Mexico and much of the rest of middle America.
Much of the natural gas delivered by utilities at this time of year is pumped from wells, processed and delivered in real time, as it is needed, said Matt Marshall, an industry analyst at Bentek Energy in Colorado. While it is common to have cold-weather “freeze-offs” that cause wells to shut down in northern climates, it is very unusual for the effects to spread all the way to West Texas, as they did this week, Marshall said.
That caused a huge drop in U.S. natural gas production at the same time demand was rapidly increasing because of the cold.
“It’s a lot to happen all at once,” Marshall said.
In New Mexico’s system, the result was dropping pressure in lines serving communities throughout the state. The gas company had no choice but to get ahead of the problem by shutting off portions of the system where the pressure was low, said Los Alamos National Laboratory infrastructure expert Loren Toole.
“It’s not that anybody goofed,” said Mike Hightower, a Sandia National Laboratories scientist who studies natural gas infrastructure.
Toole, who had been briefed by officials involved in the emergency, said the decision to cut off communities where pressure had dropped allowed the gas company to maintain service to the rest of its customers, avoiding a far more serious situation.