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Pacific Northwest Primed For New Storage

Pacific Northwest Primed For New Storage

The Pacific Northwest, historically a great corridor for shipping western Canadian natural gas to California's burgeoning markets, is getting increasing attention for expansion or development of natural gas storage to fuel its own growth, which has averaged 5% annually in the 1990s. The region's only two underground storage facilities are in the midst of expansions, and energy players within and outside the region are searching for new storage prospects-under-and above-ground.

"The buzz is combined-cycle gas generation up here, so it would make sense to have some additional gas storage for those loads," said Steve Becker, a spokesperson for Washington Water Power, Spokane, WA, but noting his company has no active plans for developing new storage on its own.

Undergoing separate expansions in working capacity and/or deliverability are the region's two underground facilities, Northwest Natural Gas's Mist (OR) facility 50 miles northwest of Portland a few miles south of the Columbia River, and the Jackson Prairie facility about 100 miles south of Seattle, owned jointly by Washington Water Power, Puget Sound Energy and Northwest Pipelne. Mist will rollout the first part of an eight-year, $122 million expansion this November, and Jackson Prairie finishes its expansion a year from now, around October, 1999. (See following report)

That doesn't stop other players from looking for more. "We definitely are interested in storage opportunities (either on our own or in partnership with a merchant operator)," said Leslie Ferron-Jones, spokesperson for Portland-based PG&ampE Gas Transmission-Northwest, noting at this point, it has nothing far enough along in development to talk about. "We really believe (storage) is much needed in the Pacific Northwest. We have looked at a variety of technologies and locations for everything from underground storage to liquefied natural gas (LNG)."

With more competitive electric and gas industries, the thrust in the Northwest - as in most other regions - is for faster injection and withdrawals with more cycling of gas storage facilities. Unbundled energy services require tighter load balancing. Also, since electricity cannot be stored, power producers increasingly are putting in gas turbines, which can be quickly fired up for peaking, drawing on natural gas from storage. Also, the Northwest has been moving away from its historic reliance on cheap hydro-electric power and wood.

Underground storage has its limits, however, unless another productive gas field like Mist, OR, is found, according to Randy Friedman, Northwest Natural's gas supply manager, who last month gave an overview on storage in the region to an industry group gathered in Portland where Northwest is headquartered.

"People have been looking for gas for years," Friedman said. "Mist was not found just because anyone knew gas was there. There have been other exploration programs all through Oregon and Washington, obviously not as extensive as you would find in Texas and Oklahoma, but there have been many wells drilled over the years and there continue to be. They find little pockets of gas, but not enough to be commercially viable."

Mist always has been operated by out-of-state producers-first from California and now from Texas-peaking at about 10 MMcf/d in the 1980s and now down to 3 to 4 MMcf/d. Northwest Natural has maintained storage rights and as reservoirs have become depleted since 1989, it has developed the Mist storage operation, with 6.5 Bcf of working gas capacity and 80 MMcf/d of deliverability. Its first stage expansion will move those figures to 8.5 Bcf and 125 MMcf/d next month, if everything works as Friedman envisions. Ultimately, he wants to add another four depleted gas reservoirs in the next six years. Mist, which consists of a lot of porous sand conducive to quick injection/withdrawal similar in some respects to salt caverns found elsewhere, is the only commercial gas field in the region at present.

The only other underground gas storage, the Jackson Prairie facility, is located in southwest Washington. It is an aquifer currently expanding from 15 to 18 Bcf working gas capacity with deliverability going from a top rate of 550 MMcf/d to 850 MMcf/d.

LNG facilities, which are scattered around the region, represent the only other storage, with a combined current deliverability of almost 500 MMcf/d at four facilities.

"Unless something dramatic changes, we have a number of new reservoirs (at Mist) that we will be developing in sort of a 'just-in-time' mode of planning," Friedman said. "We have actively talked to others who might be interested in us developing storage for their needs, but we're still in the talking phase. "If anyone else wants to talk about storage services, they can give me a call (503-721-2475)," said Friedman, referring to the almost 30 potential reservoirs at Mist. "We certainly won't say no to them."

Richard Nemec, Los Angeles

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