As Arctic cold settled in Wednesday across a wide swath of the country, from the Midwest to the Northeast, producers and midstream companies in the Appalachian and Williston basins were busy trying to fight the effects of record-setting temperatures on their operations and crews.
In Appalachia, where production only recently bounced back from the freeze-offs over the last week or so, more are anticipated. Southwestern Energy Co. spokesperson Jennifer Stewart said Tuesday as temperatures were beginning to plummet that production in West Virginia and Pennsylvania was flowing at normal rates. Heating equipment staged in its operating areas, she added, would be employed to mitigate the impact of “any freezing events if they occur.”
Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania have accounted for a large bulk of production volume recoveries across the country since last week following recent freeze-offs, Genscape Inc. said Tuesday as the cold was making its way into the basin. Producers were readying for the weather system as Genscape said Wednesday that demand in places like Chicago, where temperatures were expected to dive 49 degrees below zero, could hit an all-time high.
Seneca Resources Corp., which has operations that stretch from western to eastern Pennsylvania, where temperatures were expected to reach some of their lowest points in two decades, was prepared.
“Standard procedure is to have certain equipment on location or on call during winter operations,” spokesman Rob Boulware said. “We have forced air heaters that can be deployed as needed, as well as glycol wrap units that are used to thaw frozen lines. We have steam gun crews available if necessary. We also use permanent heat trace in some of our locations.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration warned of severe cold. State Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine offered a telling reminder of what’s ahead by saying “it is going to be dangerously cold this week, and you can get frostbite or hypothermia from being outside for just 10 minutes.” That sort of air was biting at Ohio and West Virginia on Wednesday as well.
EQT Corp., the nation’s largest natural gas producer with operations in all three states, was girding for the cold. Spokesperson Linda Robertson said Tuesday the company was implementing standard protocols to handle winter weather that regularly daunts the region and was planning to be in constant contact with crews in the field to ensure their safety.
The industry was making its preparations as schools, universities and other public services were shutting down from North Dakota to Pennsylvania. The U.S. Postal Service stopped mail delivery across several parts of the Midwest, including North Dakota, where producers were hunkering down.
Temperatures in the state’s Bakken Shale hotbed were expected to drop more than 30 degrees below zero in some areas. One of the Bakken’s largest producers was keeping a close eye on the weather. “We consistently make preparations for very cold temperatures,” Continental Resources Inc. spokesperson Kristin Thomas said, adding that workers are among the company’s highest priorities this week.
“We spend all day communicating with field personnel and monitoring the same to ensure the health and safety of our employees,” she said. “They take frequent breaks to warm up where necessary, and we utilize pipe for transport. This keeps trucks off the road to minimize potential impacts.”
Asked about the severe weather's impacts on production, Thomas said it should be limited. "Certainly at these temperatures activities slow, but extreme cold harsh weather is not unexpected and the equipment is designed to operate," she said. "...This is a short extreme cold snap, but warmer weather is on the way, and overall the North Dakota winter has been extremely mild so far. So we aren’t concerned about a significant reduction in productivity."
Kinder Morgan Inc., which operates extensive gas gathering and processing, as well as crude oil systems in North Dakota and Montana, is monitoring cold temperatures across the country. Kinder also operates the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which moves volumes from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast.
The company is acting on its winter storm preparedness plan to preserve its assets and protect personnel, said spokesperson Katherine Hill. "Operations are continuing as expected and any impacts will be posted on our public electronic bulletin board," she said Wednesday.
Oneok Inc., which has thousands of miles of gas gathering lines and extensive processing assets in the Williston Basin, is reacting accordingly.
"Within our operations in the northern region, it is not uncommon for ice, snow and sometimes extreme cold to be a part of the day-to-day from November to April," said spokesperson Stephanie Higgins. "Different weather conditions such as snow, ice, wind, decreased temperatures or a combination of these, require different actions.”
Other operators appeared to be unfazed by the record cold. Williams representative Christopher Stockton said “we’ve been operating in the Northeast for more than 50 years, so we are certainly accustomed to cold weather operations.” Williams operates gas gathering and processing assets throughout Appalachia. It was still taking precautions this week. For example, workers are manning certain midstream facilities that aren’t typically staffed to ensure a quick response if necessary.
The company’s 10,000 mile Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line, which runs from South Texas to New York City, declared an operational flow order for Wednesday to ensure system integrity, maintain safe operations, manage imbalances and handle volatility until further notice as the cold was poised to hold its grip through Thursday. Operations on other major interstate pipelines on the eastern seaboard appeared to be running smoothly Wednesday afternoon.