Senate Energy Letter

Mr. Secretary:

Last Thursday, the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources heard from several witnesses about the significant damage to natural gas infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  While damage assessments remain on-going, it is clear that there will be some effect on natural gas deliverability from the Gulf this winter and that repairs must proceed as expeditiously as possible to restore supplies and mitigate winter natural gas prices.

The enormity of the damage to both the infrastructure that affects both natural gas deliverability and the service industry has strained the ability to affect the repairs needed to deliver natural gas supply to consumers.  The impacted sectors of the energy industry report that they are working as quickly as possible to repair the critical links in the infrastructure that are required to maximize the natural gas supply that can be delivered for the upcoming winter heating season.  Still, there may be areas where the Department of Energy can take a leadership role in facilitating the most expeditious restoration of natural gas facilities.

To address this concern, we request that the Department of Energy immediately take several steps to facilitate the industry’s ability achieve this goal.  First, in many cases multiple federal authorizations are required before repair and reconstruction work can be initiated.  The Department should act as a “super lead agency” to ensure such authorizations are granted on an emergency basis.  Second, DOE can play a role in coordinating the restoration of electric power supply to critical energy facilities, such as natural gas processing facilities, in order to expedite their return to service.  Third, in some cases, the ability of individual companies to share data regarding the sequence and timing of repair efforts and to coordinate such efforts may be impeded by concerns that such discussions would subject the participants to legal and regulatory liability.  Where requested, Department should provide a “safe harbor” for individual companies to work together without the threat of subsequent liability. This safe harbor would be in effect only while hurricane repair work is on-going, and only for those matters associated with the natural gas infrastructure repair effort.  We do not suggest, however, that the Department collect information and prioritize repair work itself – only that you provide the forum for such communication.

The Committee stands ready to assist this effort in an expeditious manner.