Rolling Blackouts: A Not So Subtle Reminder of the Importance of Natural Gas
During the ice storm that literally shut down the Dallas Fort Worth area during most of the week starting January 31, 2010, many residents got a taste of what it is like to live with rolling blackouts
The problem was reported to be the result of dozens of electrical generating stations going offline due to the coldest weather in 15 years. Oncor, the electric transmission and distribution company for most of north Texas, described the action as “rotating outages” while others called them rolling blackouts.
To compound the problems, there were also shortages of natural gas to homes in some areas due to pressure drops in pipelines, which in turn were caused by the electrical blackouts. After an electrical blackout, hundreds of furnaces came on simultaneously and created huge surges in demand, which temporarily reduced the pressure in natural gas pipelines, causing furnaces to shut off.
While these blackouts were due to extremely cold weather, they serve as a stark reminder of how dependent we are on natural gas. One-half of the electricity in Texas is fired by natural gas with coal-fired plants accounting for much of the remaining generation.
While these blackouts of electricity and natural gas were hopefully one-time events, the situation serves as a not so subtle reminder of the importance of natural gas. As a society, we depend on natural gas far more than most people realize. Not only is natural gas used for the generation of electricity, natural gas is a component of virtually everything we consume. Manufacturers use natural gas in fertilizers, which are used to grow our food and in the processing of food. Natural gas is also a feedstock for many chemicals and plastics.
And don’t forget that the Barnett Shale is the largest producing natural gas field in the United States.