Abbott calls for investigation into Atmos' failure to prepare for cold weather event

Atmos Energy customers in North and Central Texas experienced outages of gas used to heat homes during the pre-Christmas cold spell last week, and now Gov. Greg Abbott has called for an investigation into that failure. 

In letters to the Office of the Attorney General and the Texas Railroad Commission, Abbott asked the agencies to look into the supply outage.

“Many customers of Atmos Energy in north and central Texas went without natural gas for an unacceptable time because of failures by Atmos to provide adequate residential and commercial gas service,” one letter reads.

“These failures forced the City of Grand Prairie to open a warming center for its residents. There were also widespread reports of customers unable to reach any Atmos Energy customer service representative. This is unacceptable. Atmos Energy, like all gas utility providers, has a duty to provide life-critical service to its customers.”

The RRC told CBS Austin last week that the issue was due to “low-pressure issues [in gas delivery pipelines] due to extremely high demand” in certain Atmos service areas.

The company has more than two million customers throughout the state.

A spokesman with Atmos Energy told High Plains Pundit Wednesday evening, “We take seriously our responsibility to provide safe and reliable natural gas services as well as to be a trusted partner in the communities we serve. That responsibility includes undertaking operational planning and preparation to provide such safe and reliable service all throughout the year.”

“Despite those preparations, last week, we fell short for some of our customers who experienced interruptions in their natural gas service. That is not acceptable. And though we worked to restore service as quickly and safely as possible, we apologize for that service disruption.”

The spokesman added that Atmos is “committed to working with our regulators and key stakeholders to address those issues.” The company did not specify what caused the supply outage.

In his letter to the RRC, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, Abbott said, “Atmos’ conduct is unacceptable, and concrete action must be taken by the RRC to ensure it is not repeated the next time that winter weather engulfs our state.”

On Wednesday evening, the RRC announced it had already initiated an investigation into Atmos.

”Given RRC’s concern, on Tuesday, the Commission issued a request to Atmos Energy to provide a full account of the details of what occurred,” the commission release states. “Those include:

a detailed account of the number and location of customers whose service was negatively impacted and the duration of such impact

detailed explanations of the cause of low pressure or other issues negatively impacting natural gas service in each location

status and data of pipeline and system capacity to meet demand growth in the areas

Atmos’ plan to address the issues so that interruptions to natural gas service will not occur again in the future, with estimated costs and timeline to remedy the cause.”

The RRC reiterated its previous statement about the low pressure in its Wednesday release.

A cold snap ushered in low temperatures across Texas last week, causing electricity demand to surge — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid peaked on December 23 at about 74,000 megawatts (MW). Throughout the event, natural gas generated the majority of the electricity at some points, between 70 percent and 80 percent of the total capacity. Both the Southwest Power Pool and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, regional grids that contain small portions of Texas, ran into some weather-related consternation as well

Despite the grid stress — and media anxiety — the ERCOT grid did not dip into reserves, let alone issue emergency conditions.

Upwards of 70,000 people across the state faced power outages during the cold snap, but each of those were due to localized issues like downed power lines.

After the most difficult period concluded, ERCOT said on Christmas Eve, “Thank you to all who worked around the clock to keep the grid reliable during Winter Storm Elliott. We continue to closely monitor and expect sufficient generation to meet demand. If you have an outage, please contact your local provider.”

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