Wright: Reduce Emissions and Fix the Grid by Incentivizing Better Natural Gas Infrastructure

August 05, 2021

By Jim Wright

This summer, as hot temperatures put stress on our state’s electrical grid, Texas officials are continuing to reflect on the important lessons we learned from Winter Storm Uri. One perhaps stands above the rest: preparation for the unexpected is a daily commitment. We cannot adequately manage crises if we do not constantly assess and invest in the resources and infrastructure necessary to protect our energy systems.

Nowhere was this truth more evident this year than in our state’s electrical grid. Electricity demand rose sharply as temperatures plunged in February. As millions of Texans lost power, they lost the ability to warm their homes and stay safe amid some of the lowest temperatures our state has seen in decades.

Texas is blessed with incredible natural resources, and as an elected official, I am charged with ensuring state government properly manages those resources to best serve our fellow citizens.

The Permian Basin alone is home to nearly 300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — enough to meet the household demand of the entire United States for 60 years. In other words, supply is not a problem. Rather, it is an opportunity. We must use the resources we have here at home to ensure our state’s electrical grid is reliable, no matter the circumstance.

Indeed, Texas power generation emissions have dropped 15 percent from 2011 to 2018 thanks to a gradual decrease in coal-fired generation and a rise in natural gas generation. That decrease is despite a well-known population boom and the accompanying increased power demand over the past decade.

But simply having abundant supplies of natural gas is not enough. We had abundant supplies in February, and we still experienced a catastrophic grid failure.

The key is ensuring that abundant supply is readily available for use at power generation facilities across the state. To achieve that goal, we must get serious about energy infrastructure investments from pipes to power plants. Moving natural gas from where it’s sourced, turning it into electricity and getting it to where it’s needed should be our top priority.

Pipelines are the safest and fastest method to transport natural gas to power plants. Pipelines also address emissions by reducing the industry practice of flaring gas during the production of oil.

Operators do not want to flare — after all, they are burning the very product they need to sell. While it is sometimes a necessary safety practice when produced gas builds up and is not able to be transported or stored, operators in Texas have dramatically reduced the percentage of gas flared. The associated or “stranded” gas that is produced alongside oil should be connected to local, regional and even global markets but the economics must be right to do so.

Incentivizing natural gas pipelines and power plants by granting natural gas similar tax subsidies to renewable energy could help us reach this goal. By doing this and utilizing carbon capture techniques at the plants, we can reduce flaring and zero out emissions, all while benefiting Texans and the environment.

Storage is another key infrastructure investment that can unlock the potential of natural gas to provide a more reliable grid. Unlike renewables, such as wind and solar, natural gas can be stored long-term and used when it’s needed most. That is a critical distinction, particularly during an unprecedented weather event like Uri.

So, how do we implement these solutions in a manner that benefits all Texans?

The state and federal government should consider leveling the playing field between renewables and abundant, affordable and reliable Texas natural gas. Equalizing these incentives could assist with necessary infrastructure investments that guarantee ample supplies of this important Texas resource are available whenever they are needed.

Further, Texans would ultimately benefit from lower electricity bills and greater peace of mind knowing that the electrical grid is prepared for surges in demand like what we experienced earlier this year. 

Proper preparation for a crisis event like another Winter Storm Uri is essential to mitigating its devastating impacts. And although Texas has all the resources and tools it needs, that abundance won’t do us much good if we don’t put in place the incentives and policies necessary to grow the infrastructure that ensures energy is delivered to customers when they need it most.

Jim Wright was elected to the Railroad Commission of Texas in November 2020. He created a group of environmental services companies that work in the energy industry. He and his wife, Sherry, live in Orange Grove and have five children. Read more about Commissioner Wright here.

About the Railroad Commission:
Our mission is to serve Texas by our stewardship of natural resources and the environment, our concern for personal and community safety, and our support of enhanced development and economic vitality for the benefit of Texans. The Commission has a long and proud history of service to both Texas and to the nation, including almost 100 years regulating the oil and gas industry. The Commission also has jurisdiction over alternative fuels safety, natural gas utilities, surface mining and intrastate pipelines. Established in 1891, the Railroad Commission of Texas is the oldest regulatory agency in the state. To learn more, please visit https://www.rrc.texas.gov/about-us/.