During February’s week-long winter storm, the oil wells in Texas didn’t cooperate much better than they did in frigid Siberia, said one oil and gas expert who has worked in that faraway region.
When the recent winter storm caused a record-breaking streak of freezing weather in Texas, natural gas production in the Eagle Ford Shale decreased to its lowest monthly level since April 2013, resulting in 343 million fewer cubic-feet per day of natural gas production.
Originally from Refugio, where his father worked in the Tom O’Connor oilfield, Russell Moya has traveled the world to help oil well operators determine how to best extract resources from the ground — not pulling up too much too quick but also keeping a steady stream coming up from the earth.
Early in his oil and gas career, Moya worked in western Siberia for oilfield services giant Halliburton.
The winter storm reached 14 degrees on Feb. 15, breaking a 112-year-old record in Victoria of 22 degrees in 1909, according to the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi.
In Siberia’s second largest city, Yekaterinburg, Russia, the average temperature is 10.4 degrees in February.
In the Eagle Ford, Permian Basin and other regions in Texas, power outages at wells reduced natural gas production, oil and gas operators told Thomas Kalb, director of the Center for Midstream Management and Science at Lamar University. These power outages came as Eagle Ford Shale natural gas production decreased by about 10% from 3.638 billion cubic feet per day in January to 3.295 billion in February, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
On Feb. 17, the week-long winter storm caused nationwide natural gas production to decrease by 21% compared to the week prior, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In addition to a lack of weatherization for equipment in Texas, many wells completely stopped producing because electricity was unavailable, like many residences and businesses.
Many wells were shut-in, a process when operators stop production at a well, because of freezing weather at the surface of an oil and gas well site. This is an industry concept referred to as a freeze-off.
Freeze-offs occur when water and other liquids in the raw natural gas from the ground freeze at the top of an oil and gas well or in a natural gas gathering line, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“Due to power outages, freeze-offs and a huge demand for natural gas for heating homes in the unusually cold weather, insufficient natural gas volumes were available to generation plants leading to reduced electricity generation,” Kalb said. “Much of the energy infrastructure in Texas is not weatherized for a winter storm of the severity just experienced. While much of the production was offline for a few days, however, it quickly ramped back up to production levels seen prior to the winter storm.”
Multiple governmental entities have issued reports with suggestions and recommendations after winter weather storms.
One 2014 report, by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, said generation facilities had made improvements in winter preparation activities since the February 2011 cold weather events.
It also said— six-and-a-half years before the February winter storm that it had recommended ensuring “that the fuel on hand and/or ordered for the winter season is appropriately protected from the effects of cold weather at the expected extreme temperatures” and that “industry should work to identify and protect against outages that occurred within the cold weather design basis of the plant.”
Moya, who is a partial owner of 16 wells in Matagorda, Jim Wells and other counties, said it took more than about a week for wells to begin coming back online — a process that required work day and night.
Oilpads also experience pipe bursts in Texas and in colder climates, Moya said, whether they are made from synthetic materials or metal.
During Moya’s time working abroad, he said some oil and gas operations were different than in the states, like when some oil rigs would move from well to well on a rig with wheels or prepare as best they could for months of freezing weather.
Even in Siberia, he said, weatherization can be hard.
Following the winter storm, Moya said bringing wells back online is like returning to Day One of production.
In northern, colder areas, investment in winterization is made to operate energy systems because extended severe freezing weather happens every single winter, Kalb said. Extended, extreme freezing weather is not common in Texas, therefore investment that would keep more systems running in extended severe freezing weather is not made.
Moya also said the wells in Texas had not been set up for freezing cold conditions.
“You got to prepare for this,” he said of the winter storm.