Texas Blackouts Trigger Record Vaccination Slump: Energy Update

Josh Saul and Joe CarrollFri, 19 February 2021, 8:25 pm

Texas Blackouts Trigger Record Vaccination Slump: Energy Update

(Bloomberg) — The Texas power grid has returned to normal operations as a historic cold blast eases, but the impact of the deep freeze on vital infrastructure is just being realized.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the grid, said it had exited emergency conditions Friday. But the region set a record for the most expensive week in U.S. power market history, topping $50 billion in sales since Sunday, according to BloombergNEF. Damage and economic losses from the winter storms will reach roughly the same amount, AccuWeather Inc. said.

The seven-day U.S. vaccination average fell the most ever on the cold, and oil and gas fracking activity dropped to a record low. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez planned to fly to Texas Friday to distribute supplies, while President Joe Biden said he’ll declare a major disaster there and wants to visit the state soon. About 180,000 Texas homes and businesses were without power, according to Poweroutage.us.

Read More: How Extreme Cold Turned Into a U.S. Energy Crisis: QuickTake

All time stamps are EST.

Fracking Activity Tumbled to Record Low Amid U.S. Freeze (3:10 p.m.)

The number of fracking crews active in the U.S. shale patch plunged this week to a record low as frigid weather brought most of the Texas oil industry to a halt.

Three-quarters of the U.S. frack fleet was lost this week, leaving 41 crews working to blast water, sand and chemicals underground to release trapped oil and natural gas, Matt Johnson, chief executive officer at Primary Vision Inc., wrote Friday in an email. The company has tracked data on frack crews since 2013.

Texas Blackouts Lead to a Record Vaccination Drop (1:59 p.m.)

Winter weather and power outages had a chilling effect on Texas’s vaccination effort, one large enough to drag down inoculation trends nationwide.

On Thursday alone, the state administered 118,417 fewer doses than on the same day a week earlier, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The seven-day average plummeted 31% in the past week to 89,324, the sharpest drop of the pandemic, the data show. At its Feb. 12 peak, Texas was giving an average 134,688 doses a day.

Nationally, the seven-day average fell 2.6% on Thursday from a week earlier, to 1.58 million doses, the worst such decline.

Ercot’s $50 Billion in Sales Is Biggest Week Ever in U.S.: BNEF (1:48 p.m.)

The Ercot power region just set a record for the most expensive week in U.S. power market history, topping $50 billion in sales since Sunday, according to BloombergNEF analyst Brianna Lazerwitz.

This week’s events caused many to question Ercot’s energy-only market design, Lazerwitz said. The design is characterized by touchy prices known to jump toward the region’s $9,000 per megawatt-hour market cap when the buffer between supply and demand shrinks too much.

Ercot may need to double down on the construct or abandon it, according to Lazerwitz. The market cap assumes customers are unwilling to pay more than $9,000 per MWh for power, and would rather experience a blackout than face a high electricity bill.

U.S. Rig Count Was Static Just as Big Freeze Advanced (1:14 p.m.)

U.S. oil and gas drilling was unchanged just as frigid weather was starting to bring much of Texas’s oil industry to a standstill, according to the latest data collected by Baker Hughes Co.

The total number of active rigs in U.S. fields was 397, according to Baker Hughes data released Friday, the same as last week. In the Permian, the count rose by one — a gas rig — to 204.

The numbers were finalized days ahead of publication and don’t fully reflect this week’s chaos.

Texas Grid Exits Emergency Operations Stage (1:05 p.m.)

Grid manager Ercot said in a news briefing that it has left the emergency operations stage and has returned to normal. That means Ercot is no longer asking for “out-of-market” responses such as telling utilities to reduce their power load, and generators are able to produce enough power for current demand.

Transmission providers are still working to return power to all their customers and to restore storm damage, said Ercot chief executive officer Bill Magness.

Biden Says He Hopes to Visit Texas After Winter Storm (12:23 p.m.)

President Joe Biden said he’ll declare a major disaster in Texas and wants to visit the state soon as it recovers from widespread power outages and water shortages following an unusual winter storm.

“If in fact it’s concluded that I can go without creating a burden for the folks on the ground while they’re dealing with this crisis, I plan on going,” Biden told reporters Friday at the White House. “But we’ll know that, make that decision, probably next week.”

Biden spoke with Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Thursday, telling him that “the federal government will continue to work hand-in-hand with state and local authorities in Texas to bring relief and address the critical needs of the families affected” by a week of freezing temperatures, ice and snow that left millions without power and water.

Texas Restaurants Are Throwing Away Spoiled Food (11:54 a.m.)

Mass blackouts across Texas are forcing restaurants to give away or trash quickly expiring food, while supply lines remain all but blocked due to dangerous roads.

At Tarka Indian Kitchen, a chain with eight locations in the state, fresh veggies and meat are being discarded after the chain was shuttered for days. The same is true for Coolgreens, which sells salads and sandwiches, while Milkshake Concepts had to throw out inventory due to a burst pipe. Similar stories are piling up for restaurants as the region grapples with a historic cold spell that has snarled roads, limited access to fresh water and left many residents without power.

Gas Stations Still Dark as Texas Emerges From Big Freeze (11:38 .m.)

More than 1,700 gas stations are without electricity on Friday because of the Texas power disaster, threatening to push pump prices even higher with key refineries in the state still shut.

The total represents more 12% of the stations in Texas, according to Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for retail fuel tracker GasBuddy. Among the largest cities, the most outages are concentrated in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

More Than 14.4 Million People Affected by Water Outages (11:36 a.m.)

While power is being restored across the state, water outages continue to plague Texas. More than 14.4 million people, or about half the population, were affected by disruptions to public water supplies on Friday morning, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. There are 160 counties under water-boil notices to protect the public from contamination.

Houston to Stage ‘Mass Water Distribution’ (10:35 a.m.)

Houston is converting a high school football stadium used as a Covid-19 vaccine center into a water-distribution venue on Friday as the fourth-largest U.S. city contends with low pipeline pressure and purity problems.

The “mass water distribution event” will commence at 11:30 a.m. local time at Delmar Stadium on the city’s northwest side, City Controller Chris B. Brown said in a tweet. The city and many of its suburbs have been under a so-called boil order for days after blackouts hobbled public water utilities.

Winter Storm Damage Could be as High as $50 Billion: AccuWeather (10:03 a.m.)

The winter storms blanketing much of the U.S. in snow and ice could cost the country up to $50 billion in damage and economic loss, according to an estimate from commercial forecasting company AccuWeather. The entire 2020 hurricane season caused close to $60 billion in economic damage, the forecaster said.

AccuWeather’s estimates include heating and oil costs, damage to homes and businesses, power outages, flight delays and cancellations, among other factors.

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