The extreme cold weather that paralyzed Texas, the US’s energy hub that produces more natural gas and oil than any other US territory, has exposed the country's outdated and underinvested energy infrastructure.
An arctic air mass impacted the central US, bringing snow, ice, and extremely cold temperatures as far south as Texas, causing record winter power demand and impacting power generation.
The lowest temperatures of over 50 years caused natural gas pipelines, wind turbines to freeze and oil wells to shut down, triggering electricity distribution problems and massive blackouts in some states.
Unprepared for the plunging temperatures brought by the winter storm, most of the oil companies halted their operations in the US Gulf Coast region.
Although it normally takes a couple of days to restore production from freeze-offs, experts say it may take longer in that region to fully restore operations due to the power outages that impacted Texas along with the colder temperatures.
However, it is expected that full resumption of production at the large, highly-complex refineries in the region will take several weeks.
- Timely wake-up call for US energy distribution system
Chairman of Vienna Energy Research Group (VERG) Fereydoun Barkeshli was critical of the underinvestment in the downstream sector that was unable to cope with this emergency.
The last major refinery construction in the country, out of the 135 operating refineries as of 2020, dates back to 1977, which according to Barkeshli, shows how outdated or somehow underinvested the US refining and downstream cycle is.
Despite the US’s label of a net crude oil exporter back in late 2019, the country was still importing around 2.7 million barrels a day of refined products.
“US energy infrastructure is considered outdated and underinvested. Pipelines, storage, terminals, or even pumping facilities aren’t quite as modern for a country of the size and volume of production and consumption as the US. This applies to the electricity distribution and networks too,” Barkeshli told Anadolu Agency.
Because of lack of investment to upgrade infrastructure, US energy chains and facilities are not fit for such emergencies of this proportion, he said. “It's important to note that West Coastal arenas are better equipped and protected than the rest of the country.”
“US refineries and refining capacity aren’t evenly distributed in the country. The States of Texas, Louisiana and California account for some 40% of the total,” he said.
Given the unpredictability of the impact of the extreme, harsh winter in Texas with little or no experience of such severe winter, Barkeshli said the restoration to any major and lasting damage would not be possible before April or May.
As over 50% of all wind and solar energy sources went off the distribution system due to severe cold, Barkeshli said “I think it’s a timely wake-up call for the US energy distribution system.”
He explained that US negligence of the energy distribution network dates back to the period of former US President Bill Clinton and his Vice President Al Gore, who believed “an energy transition to the renewables and new sources of energy is imminent.”
“Renewables failed to handle such surprises and are still not ready to meet similar crises. This is a warning served to distinguish fact from fiction. The Texas cold wave provided the US with the moment of truth to face.”
By Firdevs Yuksel and Sibel Morrow