ACSC called for the establishment of a consistent set of critical designation criteria to improve coordination between the electric and gas sectors during load-shed events.
A Texas Railroad Commission rule to identify critical gas infrastructure potentially captures too many facilities, and thereby occasionally renders it superfluous and counterproductive, according to comments filed by a major municipal coalition.
Filed October 7 by the Atmos Cities Steering Committee (“ACSC”), the comments pertain to rule 16 TAC § 3.65 that sets forth a process for the Texas Railroad Commission to identify “critical load” natural gas facilities such as wells, gas-processing plants, and pipelines. Establishing such a process is important because gas industry failures played a major role in the 2021 winter emergency that led to hundreds of deaths and left millions of Texans without power.
The Railroad Commission initially approved 16 TAC § 3.65 last November but has taken it up again to refine it. The ACSC, in its comments to the agency as it reconsiders the rule, expressed general agreement with changes proposed by Railroad Commission staff, but also recommended a few additional refinements.
16 TAC § 3.65 implements statutory changes included in House Bill 3648, which was adopted during the 87th Legislative Session in response to the 2021 power outages. Beyond providing home heating service, natural gas suppliers also fuel electric generators, and HB 3684 was adopted to give electric utilities more visibility regarding which gas facilities play critical roles for grid reliability. This, in turn, will allow electric utilities to make more informed decisions regarding which gas units they should prioritize for service during emergencies.
In its most recent comments, the ACSC noted that it agreed with a change to 16 TAC § 3.65. proposed by agency staff that would remove from the list of critical facilities those gas wells that produce 250 Mcf per day of gas or less and oil leases that produce 500 Mcf per day of casing head gas. The ACSC said this adjustment will help limit the number of units potentially eligible for critical designations, which currently stand in the tens of thousands.
ACSC also expressed support for a staff proposed amendment to the “energy emergency” definition in 16 TAC § 3.65 that should provide operators additional clarity during times of grid constraints. Additionally, ACSC called for the establishment of a consistent set of critical designation criteria to improve coordination between the electric and gas sectors during load-shed events. As such, the Commission should establish a critical designation hierarchy, the ACSC stated.
The ACSC, a coalition of 179 cities in North and Central Texas, also made several other recommendations, including one calling for more specificity regarding the process through which units may apply for critical designation, and another calling upon the commission to clearly identify who, within the agency, makes such designations.
The Railroad Commission is expected to approve any additional changes to 16 TAC § 3.65 before the end of this year.