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Surviving Ice Storms with Natural Gas

Just three weeks ago in February, Oregon’s Willamette Valley was pummeled by a 50-year ice storm.  Hundreds of thousands of homes lost electricity, as well as phone, cable, and cell service – and many neighborhoods went 10 days or more without electric service. It is important to remember what an electrified home loses without electricity: heat (no baseboard heat, no heat pump), no stove or oven for cooking, no appliances (most importantly, no coffeemaker), no lights, and no hot water. But there were no natural gas interruptions during this time. Homes with natural gas could still use their gas fireplaces for heat, their gas stoves to cook, and had hot water from their gas water heaters (think hot showers in a cold house). Why is this? The natural gas system is inherently reliable AND resilient.

It’s important to understand the difference between resilience and reliability. The terms are often referenced together or even used interchangeably, but they are very different. As described in a recent report by the American Gas Foundation, “resilience is defined as a system’s ability to prevent, withstand, adapt to, and quickly recover from a high-impact, low-likelihood event such as a major disruption in a transmission pipeline. In comparison, reliability refers to a systems’ ability to maintain energy delivery under standard operating conditions, such as the standard fluctuations in demand and supply.” So, when we are discussing how the natural gas system performs during a severe ice storm, we are discussing resilience.

The natural gas industry’s resilience can be tested by its ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions, as well as withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.

Ultimately, the greatest test of resilience is whether a utility’s commitments to customers can be met regardless of the degree of stress that is caused by a weather event.

Despite some of nature’s harshest conditions, during the Oregon Ice Storm of 2021, the natural gas industry passed this test with flying colors, proving both exceedingly reliable and resilient.

Resilience was demonstrated through the continued service and availability of natural gas despite threatening weather and outages on the electric grid.

It is exactly this resilience that makes natural gas the perfect complement to electricity in providing warmth and light to homes and businesses in the Pacific Northwest.  And gas is a natural part of the region’s move to decarbonize, providing stability, reliability, and resilience.