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Energy demand makes history during two-week deep freeze

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More natural gas was taken out of storage to feed demand during the two-week polar freeze than ever before, the Energy Department said. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The recent deep freeze in the East and Midwest made energy history, the Trump administration said Friday.

More natural gas was taken out of storage to feed demand during the two-week polar freeze than ever before, as drilling fields froze from Pennsylvania to Texas, the Energy Department said Friday.

“During the recent cold weather event that affected much of the eastern United States, more natural gas was withdrawn from storage fields around the country than at any other point in history,” reported the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department's data and analysis arm.

Withdrawals from underground natural gas storage facilities to feed demand totaled 359 billion cubic feet on Jan. 5. That exceeded the previous record of 288 billion cubic feet set four years ago during the 2014 polar vortex.

The sustained cold that swept the East and Midwest from the end of December through last weekend took an unexpected turn for natural gas producers in many of the shale fields, where well heads froze, according to the agency.

The cuts in production came as storage tanks were being drained to meet demand for heating and power.

Cold temperatures led to “freeze-offs” in the Appalachian and Permian basins where shale and fracking are king, according to the agency. Freeze-offs happen when water vapor in natural gas freezes and blocks the flow of gas, the EIA said. Natural gas production totaled a record high of 539 billion cubic feet during the week of Dec. 29, but declined to 517 billion cubic feet during the following week, according to estimates the government obtained from PointLogic Energy.

Imports via pipeline from Canada and supplies from liquefied natural gas tanker ships increased during the period, “partially offsetting some of the production declines.”

The imports rushed in as record withdrawals from storage facilities “played a key role in meeting natural gas demand and limiting some market participants’ exposure to spikes in natural gas spot prices,” the agency said.

At the same time, coal and nuclear plants accounted for the bulk of electricity production during the two-week period of freezing cold temperatures, according to data from federally overseen grid operators.

Despite the increased reliance on coal and nuclear, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decided Monday not to approve Energy Secretary Rick Perry's proposal to provide market-based incentives to coal and nuclear plants to make the grid more resilient.

The Energy Department used the deep freeze to underscore why coal and nuclear are important to the grid in the wake of FERC's decision, saying it will seek to work with the commission on its decision to assess the state of grid resilience in the coming months.