The natural gas system is structurally and empirically resilient, which was graphically demonstrated in Oregon’s February Ice Storm 2021, showing that while even as tens of thousands of homes lost electricity, homes with natural gas continued to have heat, cooking, and hot water.
The inherent resiliency of the natural gas system can be attributed to several factors:
- Planning and preparation: in combination with the physical properties of natural gas results in few operational issues that threatened supply or capacity.
- Underground Facilities: the extensive underground location of facilities protects them from weather impacts.
- Line Pack: transmission pipelines incidentally store gas at pressure (called “line pack”) which provides a buffer that can mitigate the effects of abnormal operating conditions.
- Network Reliability: the network configuration of the pipeline industry means that, in the event of an outage, there is usually a “work-around” that allows continued service to LDCs and directly connected consumers.
- Confined Impact: the physical configuration of gas pipelines limits the impact of a disruption; not susceptible to “cascading events” such as those on electric transmission systems.
The resiliency of the natural gas system was especially important during the Oregon Ice Storm. Natural gas is the workhorse fuel for homes in Oregon. For example, NWGA member company NW Natural serves 2.5 million people in 140 communities while delivering more energy than any other utility in Oregon. NW Natural also heats 74 percent of the residential square footage in its service area and provides 90 percent of the energy needs for residential space and water heat on the coldest winter days. It should also be mentioned that it does all of this at great savings to Oregon families: for the typical residence in Oregon, natural gas can be 50+ percent cheaper than electricity to heat both their home and water.
Ice Storm 2021 that electricity and natural gas are not either-or, but both-and. The resiliency of the natural gas system and its broad distribution system (in addition to natural gas inherently being a low-carbon, low-emission clean fuel) make it an essential, unavoidably necessary part of a low-carbon energy future in the Pacific Northwest.