Winter Storms Cause Power Outages Across Texas

President Biden has declared a federal emergency for all 254 counties in Texas due to unprecedented freezing temperatures and snowy conditions. As of Feb. 15, United States federal agencies have coordinated and mobilized efforts to provide disaster relief to Texas residents, according to Reuters. The winter storm is not expected to let up in the southern state. As forecasts call for heavy snow and freezing rain to spread across the central and eastern United States, there is more concern about Texas residents’ well-being as the storms continue.

The winter weather crisis has disrupted energy distribution across large parts of the United States, hitting Texas energy companies the hardest. The abnormal icy weather in Texas has caused the United States’ biggest oil refineries to shut down and change operation strategies. The state’s power grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), issued an alert requesting residents and businesses to conserve power, as well as implementing rotating outages. Record-breaking energy demands have caused concerns in Texas, as the extreme cold continues to drastically alter Texans’ lives.

The interruption in Texans energy has not been equal, however, with poorer areas losing power for days at a time, while others have maintained power throughout the storms. Areas which have maintained power have seen energy costs rise to over nine thousand dollars per megawatt. For reference, the average user uses about three quarters of one megawatt per month.

“We are dealing with higher-than-normal generation outages due to frozen wind turbines and limited natural gas supplies available to generating units,” ERCOT stated. The Governor of Texas has called for an investigation into ERCOT outages to find a sustainable solution.

With the recent single-digit temperatures, many large oil companies are shutting down refineries in Texas. Texas produces about 4.6 million barrels of oil a day, as it hosts some of the largest refineries in the United States.

Motiva Enterprises stated it was shutting down its Port Arthur, TX manufacturing complex, including the complex’s refinery. This refinery, which is the largest in the United States, is responsible for producing more than 630,000 barrels of oil per day.

Other refineries in Texas are also shutting down or altering operations to a minimal level, including Citgo Petroleum Corp., Kinder Morgan’s Natural Gas Pipeline Co., and Exxon.

“We are also getting reports of power outages across the Permian, which are expected to continue over the weekend [of Feb. 20] if the current weather system persists,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen, Rystad Energy’s head of oil markets, according to Aljazeera.

Energy companies and crews across the country are working to ensure Americans do not go without power during the harsh winter storms. After Enbridge Inc.’s crude oil pipeline was halted because of power outages, spokesperson Michael Barnes stated, “Crews are working with electric utility providers to restore power to [the pipeline].” However, many of these outages are a direct result of interrupted gas supplies from limited refinery production. Gas production may not be restored until the weather becomes more mild.

In the meantime, 4.4 million Texans are without power during the most frigid temperatures in 100 years. Access to energy, however, is only one of the slew of issues for Texas residents during this weather catastrophe. Across the state, the roofs of homes, churches, and schools have been collapsing under the weight of ice due to buildings unprepared to sustain inclement weather. These architectural failings have results in state-wide displacement of Texas residents.

What began as unprecedented weather, has become a catastrophe affecting millions of people. The road to recovery for Texas will be a long and arduous one.

Sources: Reuters, Aljazeera, NPR

Image Description: Two TX residents prepare food outside their apartment complex during sustained outages. The weather has resulted in mass displacement for residents.