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Cold Snap Bedeviled Some Wellheads, Pipelines

Bitter cold swept across much of the country and well into the South last week, bringing consequences to producing regions as well as market areas. As has been the case during past cold snaps, producers, pipelines and distribution companies held their own, for the most part.

There were supply shortfalls out of the Permian Basin in West Texas as producers there struggled with the cold.

“We are seeing some supply shortfalls out of the Permian Basin today [Thursday]; however, the major issues dealing with supply shortfalls related to weather occurred last week from the Permian. What we're seeing today [is] not of the same magnitude as last week,” said Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Kinder Morgan Inc., parent of El Paso Natural Gas (EPNG).

EPNG observed widespread reductions in supply volumes (i.e., for delivery into its system) from the Permian Basin beginning Dec. 31, Wheatley said. “Despite these reductions, EPNG met all of its service obligations. Based upon the weather forecast, we took actions in advance of the weather moving into the Permian Basin and increased system linepack.”

An EPNG warning of strained operating condition (SOC) for a pack condition issued on Wednesday and updated Thursday morning was later cancelled as the pipeline's linepack had decreased to an acceptable level. Customers were still encouraged to monitor their transport to ensure that takes were in balance with supplies and to ensure that their scheduled supplies performed as expected. Additionally, supply operators were encouraged to maintain their deliveries into the EPNG system at their scheduled rates.

Well freeze-offs were in play in producing zones far removed from market zones. "The Permian Basin has been one of the harder hit basins," said Genscape Senior Analyst Rick Margolin. "With the freeze-offs, we've probably lost about 0.5-0.6 Bcf/d. Total U.S. is down about 2.3 Bcf/d, and we are assuming most of those are due to freeze offs. We are below 70 Bcf/d, whereas production was upwards of 72 Bcf/d.

“The geography of where these freeze-offs are occurring is important. They are not close to the Northeast consuming zones, and a lot of traders are shrugging it off and saying 'who cares?'” There is plenty of production on the doorstep in the Northeast, he added.

On the consuming end, nearly 600 homes in the Toledo, OH, area lost gas service Wednesday due to a pressure drop on the Columbia Gas system, according to news reports. According to a Columbia official, it wasn’t clear whether the system condition was directly related to the cold weather.

In anticipation of the cold snap, Williams Partners LP issued an operational flow order (OFO) on Jan. 5 for its Transcontinental Gas Pipeline (Transco), noting that "temperatures below normal were forecasted for most of its market area and recommended all shippers manage their system requirements to ensure a concurrent balance of receipts and deliveries.” Transco runs 10,000 miles and connects Gulf Coast supplies with markets in the central, mid-Atlantic and New England states.

“The OFO is just one way that we ensure we can effectively manage system flows during times of peak demand,” said Williams Transco spokesman Chris Stockton.

The OFO went into effect Tuesday (Jan. 6) for Zones 4-6 in the Appalachian region and points farther northeast. As of Friday, the OFO was still in effect, with Williams adding that buyers with imbalances greater than allowed would be subject to penalties. Williams spokesman Tom Droege, however, said there had been no significant weather-related problems with Transco operations and said company personnel were handling gas demand without issue.

Spectra Energy Corp.'s Texas Eastern Transmission pipeline reported an unplanned outage at its Chambersburg, PA, compressor station just before the cold front arrived that remained offline Friday. Spectra spokesman Phil West said that incident was not weather-related. Tetco runs 10,200 miles and delivers gas along a route from Texas to New York City.

On Friday, Spectra’s bulletin board said intraday nomination changes would restrict some parts of the system and asked delivery and receipt point operators to adjust accordingly. West added that the system did not experience any abnormal problems related to the cold.

Frank Mack, spokesman for Dominion Transmission (DTI), said there were no freeze-off incidents on the DTI system. "The reason [for that is] because the gas is already processed; it's already pipeline quality by the time it gets to our pipe," Mack said Thursday, adding that volumes did fluctuate a bit on the production side of the system.

Columbia spokesman Scott Castleman said his company also did not have any freeze-offs to report on Thursday. "Our system is running strong right now," he said. "Obviously we've had a high pull, but our system has been operating extremely well. Part of that has been the effort that we've put into the modernization of our system over the last two years."

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