Emergency plans formulated to deal with natural disasters and previous pandemics are at the ready to deal with the coronavirus, according to the energy industry’s top trade groups.
The American Petroleum Institute (API), Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) the American Oil Association (AOLP) and the American Gas Association (AGA), among others, have weighed in over the past few days to ensure the country that they can handle issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is not a new planning scenario for our member companies,” said API’s Suzanne Lemieux, emergency response manager. She discussed the group’s plans during a conference call with other industry representatives.
“We have companies that have been through these types of events before,” Lemieux said, citing the Ebola virus, as well as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (aka SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (aka MERS) and the H1N1 influenza epidemic.
“The supply chain is operating as normal now,” she said last Wednesday, “and it should continue unless...there is any additional shelter-in-place restrictions or larger outbreaks...This is not a new planning scenario for a lot of our member companies, but we are trying to be as cautious as possible.”
The comments came before California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a state-wide shelter-in-place order on Thursday, and before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday readied an executive order that was to mandate 100% of the state’s workforce to stay home.
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AGA’s Andrew Lu, an operations managing director, said natural gas utilities may use contractors to backfill regular staff positions as necessary or can call on mutual personnel or equipment assistance from other utilities.
Separately AGA CEO Karen Harbert said “not a day goes by that as an industry the health and safety of our customers and employees is not top of mind…While no one can ever fully prepare for a crisis like we are experiencing, the industry regularly plans, prepares and drills for extenuating circumstances, and that preparation pays off for our customers, especially first responders and critical facilities.”
The potential exists, Harbert said, “that many will be facing financial and health challenges in the coming days and months, and we are committed to helping our customers address their energy needs. Natural gas companies are part of the communities they serve. This can be felt today more than ever as these companies step up to ensure homes and businesses have the energy they want and need during this difficult time.”
The INGAA said necessary steps have been taken to maintain safe and reliable operations to ensure natural gas can be delivered to power plants, utilities and industrial customers.
“INGAA members’ top priority is the safe, secure and reliable delivery of natural gas to homes, businesses and industries throughout our nation,” said CEO Alex Oehler. “Pipelines have business continuity plans in place that address a wide range of emergency scenarios and ensure the continued execution of core operations and business functions.”
INGAA members, “are actively coordinating with government agencies, including the Department of Transportation, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Energy, as well as the private sector segments of the natural gas value chain in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. This coordination will help ensure safe and reliable natural gas delivery throughout this public health emergency.”
As has been done during other types of emergencies including hurricanes, AOLP Vice President John Stoody during the conference call said operators are working with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to consider whether waivers could be needed for staff to work in pipeline control rooms. The partners, he said, “have been great in acknowledging the potential need.”