Arctic Outbreaks & Wellhead Freezes

Written by on December 5, 2013 in NatGasWeather - No comments

We were asked a great question about what temperatures are needed to cause widespread wellhead freeze issues in the southern US.  We are no wellhead engineers, but we do know somehting about weather’s role in past reported events.   The EIA reported an Arctic outbreak during February 2011 had similar impacts to reducing production and flow compared to that of many strong hurricanes that have went through nat gas production regions. Taking a look back at the weather during this 2011 outbreak we are able to see how this compares to the temperatures of the current outbreak and gain insight into whether there should be some concern.

 

EIA data showing where major disruptions occurred from 2005-2011.  The cold outbreak deep into the South had a significant effect.

EIA data showing where major disruptions occurred from 2005-2011. The cold outbreak in Feb 2011 made it deep into the South and had a significant effect.

 

EIA:  “Colder-than-normal weather during the first week in February led to the biggest non-hurricane natural gas supply disruption in the United States since at least 2005.

Due to a combination of well freeze-offs (gas flow blockages resulting from water vapor freezing in the gas stream) and other temperature-related well failures, processing plant shutdowns, electric power outages, and pipeline operational issues, estimated daily natural gas production fell from about 62 billion cubic feet per day (Bcfd) to less than 57 Bcfd, a decrease of 8%”

 

So what happened weather wise during that week?  Simply put, an exceptionally cold outbreak made it deep into the Southwest US.  Low temperatures on February 3rd, 2011 were only in the single digits to even below zero with highs during the following two days only reaghing the teens.  The outbreak did only last a few days, but it led to significant demand and flow issues, causing a huge spike in regional natural gas prices.  Analyzing this unique outbreak shows it only takes a few days of very cold conditions in the southern US to create big issues.  Once highs struggle to get out of the teens and lower 20s for states like Texas and Louisiana, there should be serious concern about wellhead freeze issues.  Wind also plays a role as the stronger it is, the more effective the temperature is at freezing up wellheads.

 

The overall weather pattern on February 3rd 2011.  An unseasonbly stron low pressure system is able to dig deep into the southern US.

The overall weather pattern on February 3rd 2011. An unseasonably strog low pressure system is able to dig deep into the southern US.

 

 

Comparing expected temperatures with this Arctic blast compared to the February 2011 one, we see there should be some concern across northern Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.We should be focusing on where the highs struggle to get out of the teens and lower 20s for areas of concern.   The cold doesn’t extend nearly as far into these states  compared to 2011, but the temperatures within the coldest air over portions of these states is relatively similar.  Areas that have had wellhead freeze issues in the past with temperatures dropping into the single digits and highs in the low 20s, should be aware of potential issues.  Usually preventive measures are used further north into the Plains where bitter cold air is more common, but is not done as much in the South due to cost and rarity of experiencing such cold air masses. Early next week there should be a reinforcing shot of cold air for these same southern states which could end up being potentially colder than the Friday and Saturday cold and will be worth watching closely. The forecast models have yet to catch up on how cold this could be in New Mexico and Texas, so watch national forecasts drop as this gets closer.

 

High and Low temperatures on February 3rd 2011 which caused a disruption to supply.

High and Low temperatures on February 3rd 2011 which caused a disruption to supply.

 

February 4th 2011:  High and low temperatures showing brutal cold over the South.

February 4th 2011: High and low temperatures showing brutal cold over the South.

 

Forecasted temperatures over the South showing bitter cold temperatures into northern Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

Forecast temperatures over the South Friday showing bitter cold temperatures into northern Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

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