U.S. Natural Gas Pipeline Network Prepared for 2020 Hurricane Season

Morgan Williams
Morgan Williams

Posted06/12/2020

U.S. Natural Gas Pipeline Network Prepared for 2020 Hurricane Season

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the 2020 hurricane season is expected to be busier-than-normal in the Atlantic Ocean. Officially kicking off June 1, NOAA has already witnessed a record-breaking three named storms in the first two days of the season, prompting additional preparation for what could come in the months ahead.  

With approximately half of all Americans relying on natural gas to cook, dry clothes and heat their homes and more than one third of U.S. electricity generation fueled by natural gas, the reliability and resiliency of the U.S. natural gas network is critical. Last year, the Natural Gas Council (NGC) released a report examining the nation’s natural gas pipeline system in the face of natural disasters, concluding that the U.S. natural gas network is not only safe, but incredibly dependable:

“The operational characteristics of the natural gas transportation network in combination with the physical properties of natural gas effectively minimize the likelihood and severity of service disruptions. In the rare event of a disruption, impacts are typically localized and brief. History demonstrates that disruption of firm pipeline transportation and/or storage services resulting from severe weather events are extremely rare.”

The physical design of the U.S. pipeline network plays a major role in its efficiency and reliability. Because pipelines are primarily located underground, they are largely protected from the effects of inclement weather. In the rare event of a pipeline failure, the pipeline network has operational capabilities that can mitigate these effects, helping ensure the impact of an outage remains localized. Paired with integrated operational and regulatory requirements and processes, pipelines are the safest and most efficient means to move energy resources.

Several additional factors make the U.S. natural gas pipeline network unique in its ability to provide the safe and reliable delivery of natural gas to consumers:

  • The U.S. pipeline system is vast and interconnected, allowing for multiple pathways to reroute natural gas deliveries in the event of a disruption—similar to driving a detour. Currently, there are nearly 300,000 miles of natural gas pipelines in the United States.
  • Parallel pipelines boost pipeline capacity and make it possible for operators to shut off one line while parallel lines continue to deliver natural gas. 
  • The geographic diversity of natural gas production and storage facilities enhances supply flexibility.
  • A property of natural gas called compressibility allows for operators to pack a pipeline with extra gas molecules, helping minimize supply disruptions in the short-term and deliveries to be rerouted in the event of an outage or other emergency.

In addition to the physical and operational characteristics of pipelines, we shouldn’t overlook the human element. Natural gas pipeline operators have fostered a culture that prioritizes safety, resilience and reliability above all else. As NGC aptly noted:

"For decades, the natural gas industry has built a vast and reliable infrastructure that has withstood many disasters. Simultaneously, we have built a culture where every employee feels a responsibility for the safety of his or her co-workers, their customers and communities. Our companies and our energy production and delivery systems have been tested in recent years by extreme weather, and we have succeeded.”

Today, the natural gas industry is prioritizing safety and health more than ever in response to the global COVID-19 outbreak. Thanks to the additional precautionary measures taken by the industry, pipeline operators and their employees can continue their essential work safely and reliably delivering natural gas across the country. 

When faced with extreme weather events, the U.S. natural gas pipeline industry has an impressive record of delivering natural gas to consumers and critical facilities such as hospitals. In 2017, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, it caused disastrous flooding in the Houston metropolitan area and Southeast Texas, causing $125 billion in damage and tying Hurricane Harvey with Hurricane Katrina as the costliest tropical cyclone in history. Despite these catastrophic damages, pipeline operators continued transporting natural gas safely – and the local distribution systems in Houston and the surrounding areas remained operational throughout the event, ensuring first-responders and victims of the disaster still had access to critical energy resources.

Similarly, in 2012, Superstorm Sandy made landfall in the Northeast, causing major destruction and disruption to services throughout New York and New Jersey. Natural gas, however, helped minimize these impacts by providing vital energy resources to local hospitals and first responders. For example, Long Island’s South Oaks Hospital remained operational throughout the event and did not have to evacuate its patients thanks to natural gas-powered microgrids and combined heat and power systems.

As we enter the 2020 hurricane season, it is reassuring to know the U.S. natural gas pipeline network is not only safe and reliable, but that in the event of extreme weather, the physical and operational characteristics of natural gas pipeline systems, along with the people who operate them, ensure any disruption in natural gas delivery is rare, brief and controlled.