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Christi Craddick and the February Freeze

In a recent article, reporter Chris Tomlinson of the Houston Chronicle castigates Railroad Commission Chair Christi Craddick for testifying before a state legislative committee in March that the State’s oil and gas industry had no responsibility for the February power blackouts in Texas. Craddick testified:

Some media outlets would have you believe that natural gas producers and frozen transmission pipes caused the power shortage across the state, but I sit before you today to state that these operators were not the problem – the oil and gas industry was the solution. Any issues of frozen equipment or delays in process restoration could have been avoided had the production facilities not been shut down by power outages.

A recent report by twelve University of Texas at Austin faculty members, funded by the Public Utility Commission, contradicts Craddick:

The data indicate that natural gas output started to decline rapidly before the electricity forced outages (load shed) began early on February 15, with production declining about 700 million cubic feet per day from February 8-14. This decline is likely due to weather-related factors and not a loss of power at natural gas facilities.

In other words, the lack of gas to run power plants was not caused by lack of electricity to run the wells, compressors and gas plants, but by wells and plants freezing up. “Texas lost 85 percent of its non-oi-related natural gas production by the second day of the blackouts,” says Tomlinson. “Two-thirds of natural gas processing plants in the Permian Basin experienced an outage, the UT report states.” When gas supplies were reduced, some plants had to shut down, resulting in power outages for more wells and gas plants, in a cascading catastrophe. Tomlinson concludes:

Craddick’s testimony in March sounded to me like cheerleading for the industry that finances her campaigns, not a defense of Texas consumers who cast ballots. She has since vociferously opposed proposals that would prevent future blackouts at the industry’s expense.

The Texas Legislature needs to invite Craddick back to explain what she’s learned since March. In light of the UT report, she needs to clarify whether she intends to continue blocking new consumer protections.

Senate Bills 2 and 3 were passed in the last legislative session  to address issues from the February freeze. Among other things, Senate Bill 3 requires the Railroad Commission to adopt rules to require gas producers, pipelines and suppliers to implement measures to operate during weather emergencies and provide for inspections and fines for non-compliance.

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