In 2020 fashion, this year brought a record-breaking hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. With 30 named storms, 13 of which became hurricanes (and six of those a Category 3 or higher), 2020 quickly surpassed the infamous 2005 hurricane season. As the official season comes to a close, the industry is proud to report that our nation’s interstate natural gas pipeline network remained resilient and reliable, meeting the natural gas needs of consumers and businesses across the country, including more than 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas this summer alone, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
On top of being one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record, the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis added new complexities to pipeline company preparations and response. As C.J. Osman, Vice President of Government Affairs at INGAA said, COVID-19 has “in some ways forced [the industry] to develop creative solutions to leverage technology to get work done remotely where we can and to be prepared to be acting in an abnormal environment.” And as the numbers show, the industry not only rose to the occasion, but exceeded expectations, providing enough natural gas for record-breaking electricity generation of 316 gigawatts in one day this summer.
For INGAA member Williams, reliable, virtual communications became key to their success this year. During Hurricane Cristobal in June, the company utilized Microsoft Teams to share critical, real-time information across all levels of their organization without ever having to assemble in a conference room or office. Additionally, storm-specific Teams channels were created to provide live updates and monitor each storm to proactively pinpoint potential risks for the company’s pipeline network.
Another INGAA member company, Southern Company Gas, took to Twitter to provide updates about operations in Texas and Louisiana in the path of Hurricane Delta in October. Southern Co. acted to ensure the safety of its local communities, employees, and operations and reported that it’s Jefferson Island Storage Hub (JISH), located in Erath, Louisiana, had been evacuated, ceasing normal operations and migrating to remote monitoring.
Thanks to the steadfast work of pipeline operators and their workforces, service disruptions this hurricane season were rare, and where they occurred, were localized and brief. In preparation for hurricanes and other weather events, pipeline operators undergo extensive training and perform a wide range of business continuity and tabletop exercises and drills. Gas Control personnel are trained, in accordance with federally mandated control room management plans, to properly monitor and control the pipeline using remote sensors located along the pipe. Control personnel are also trained to recognize and respond to abnormal operating conditions and, in the event of an incident, are able to shut down pipeline systems and quickly dispatch pipeline company personnel and first responders.
The unique physical design of the U.S. pipeline network also plays an important role in the safety and reliability of the system. Because pipelines are primarily located underground, they are largely protected from the effects of severe weather. If a pipeline failure does occur, the interconnected and geographically diverse natural gas production, pipeline, and storage network provides operational capabilities to mitigate impacts to consumers, including the ability to reroute gas through a different pathway or from another source of production or storage. This ensures the effects of an outage or curtailment remain confined. Together, the physical and operational characteristics of our country’s natural gas infrastructure, paired with robust regulatory requirements and processes, have made pipelines the safest and most efficient means to transport energy resources.
In the face of extreme weather, like this year’s record-breaking hurricane season, the natural gas pipeline industry is prepared with a range of contingency plans in the event of an incident. During extreme weather, INGAA member companies protect the safety and health of their workforce while continuing their essential work delivering natural gas to end-users. INGAA applauds the efforts of the natural gas pipeline industry this hurricane season, and every day, to keep our nation’s natural gas infrastructure, the personnel who operate it, and the the local communities it serves safe and protected.