West Texas oil and gas operators prepare for winter weather

A stop sign valiantly stays upright during a snow in Rankin, TX.
A stop sign valiantly stays upright during a snow in Rankin, TX.(Joshua Skinner / KOSA)
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 8:44 PM CST
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MIDLAND, Texas (KOSA) - The pain of the Feb. 2020 winter storm is still fresh in the minds of Texans.

And while most of the blame fell upon ERCOT and power plants, oil and gas producers are working to minimize complications for the oncoming winter.

Arica Gonzales worked for Diamondback Energy when the state was plunged into that deep freeze.

“We really started to understand the impact once we lost electricity,” Gonzales said. “It just changed the game.”

The end result: hundreds dead, and a majority of Texans left without power for days – even weeks.

With no power, Texas’ oil and gas production came to a grinding halt.

“There wasn’t much that was preventable at that point,” Gonzales conceded.

The political fingerpointing began before the ground thawed.

ERCOT took the brunt of the blame. The Railroad Commission took its lumps as well.

“Obviously, after Winter Storm Uri, we had a lot of questions about the electricity supply chain,” said Todd Staples, President of the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

One of those questions: how could power be cut off to the state’s most important resource for keeping the power on?

“During Winter Storm Uri, sites like this were not eligible to be on the critical load designation list,” Staples said.

In June 2021, the Texas legislature began requiring the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and Railroad Commission (RRC) to categorize natural gas facilities as critical infrastructure. Now, a majority of natural gas facilities fall under that designation.

But many of the facilities never had weatherization problems.

“What we’re doing to prepare is managing our gas systems that pressure drop across them and liquids falling out of them,” Gonzales said. “It doesn’t take a lot to focus on those specific areas.”

That makes winterization relatively easy. Just patch some heat tape, tarps, or insulation on key parts, maybe get a bit creative with truck exhaust, and call it a winter.

“We start in October, work through November, and by December, we have our facilities prepared for what we can expect coming up over the next couple of months,” Gonzales explained.

But that’s only if there’s juice.

“If we keep the power on, then we’re going to keep the power flowing,” Staples said.

If and when that next storm happens.

“We’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing for decades,” Gonzales said. “It’s been working for decades.”