As more U.S. natural gas is moved across the grid to new markets and overseas, maintaining aging infrastructure has to remain a top priority for the industry, an EDF Trading executive told a Houston audience Tuesday.
Speaking at the 3rd Annual LNG USA Summit, EDF Energy Services President Mary Anne Brelinsky shared a panel discussion to discuss the industry market outlook, trends and opportunities for the liquefied natural gas export business. Brelinsky, who has been with EDF since 2006, oversees the customer facing business in Houston for London-based EDF Trading, a subsidiary of electricity generator EDF SA.
It’s not discounted gas prices at the Waha hub that worry her. “People will find a way to solve that constraint...Markets will find a way to solve that.”
However, “one of the things that keeps me up at night is the age of infrastructure in this country,” Brelinksy said. “Our average transmission line for power is over 30 years old. Our average natural gas pipeline is over 50 years old.”
The power grid is interdependent on the gas grid, which in turn carries supply to liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals. That interdependency, combined with an aging system, is bound to cause issues, she noted.
For example, Brelinsky pointed to the Enbridge Inc. incident in Western Canada last fall. A remote leg of Enbridge’s Westcoast transmission line in British Columbia ruptured in October, initially affecting gas supply in the region and then cascading to Northern California markets.
“San Francisco couldn’t get enough gas,” Brelinsky noted. “We had to move gas from the Rockies to get it into San Francisco. That Rockies gas originally would have gone to Chicago. So we had to bring in gas from the East to backfill the Chicago short, [which] caused the Chicago gas prices to rise,” which then impacted power prices in the Midcontinent, she said.
“A Canadian pipeline impacted power prices in Chicago.”
The decades’ old “web of infrastructure” has to be renewed and maintained, she told the audience, particularly as it is stressed with more things to do.
“I’m really concerned that with the amount of renewables that we’ve put on the grid and with LNG exports, we are flexing those pipes more than we ever have,” she said.
The age of the pipelines is a huge concern, but “when we have physical constraints or pipeline explosions or issues around North America,” it is going to impact more than one region, and potentially more than just one commodity.
Brelinksy urged the industry audience to be vigilant in ensuring infrastructure is “solid, inspected and maintained so that we can continue to have a robust energy policy in the U.S.”
Regulators, she noted, tend to be “a little bit reactionary, so when bad things happen, we get regulated. I think the best thing we can do for ourselves is self-regulation and make sure that the infrastructure itself is healthy.”