Natural gas and electricity produced with natural gas are critical sources of energy throughout the year, but especially during the winter months when families need to keep their homes cozy and bright.
This winter, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects households to use more natural gas because of slightly colder weather projections than last year. The fact that about half the homes in the United States use natural gas for heating highlights the importance of reliable service.
Williams, which is one the largest natural gas infrastructure companies in the United States, is focused on reliably handling approximately 30 percent of the nation’s natural gas so it is there when consumers need it most.
Making this happen requires a sophisticated infrastructure network that spans the country as well as a dedicated workforce committed to working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep gas flowing. That includes holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Nathan Thee is a senior pipeline controller for Williams in Tulsa, Okla. with more than 10 years of experience. He knows the critical nature of his job means his work shift fluctuates and can require sacrificing time with family on the holidays to perform his job alongside teammates.
“Pipeline control is like air traffic control at an airport, except we’re directing gas in pipelines,” said Nathan. “We’re in constant communication with processing plants and well operators, making sure gas flow is up and running from the well heads to the plants.”
As a controller, Nathan typically monitors several pipelines remotely and directs assets where they need to be so there’s no service interruption to customers. Pipeline controllers are also coordinating with operations employees in the field around the clock with any necessary work or checks they need to ensure system reliability.
Natural gas is most often associated with home heating in the winter, but it is also used to generate most of the electricity used in the United States, according to EIA. Therefore, in the summer months when demand for electricity to run air conditioners increases so does demand for natural gas. To cushion these high-demand periods of winter and summer, the industry stores away huge quantities of natural gas every year. The most common way to store natural gas is in large caverns underground. It can also be stored in smaller quantities in tanks above ground.
The gas is injected into underground storage typically late in the spring or early in fall. These periods are known as the “shoulder months” when natural gas demand declines with the mild weather. Building up gas inventories during these times ensures there is enough supply on hand when the seasons change and demand returns.
As the world moves to a low-carbon future, Williams is well positioned to support the continued replacement of higher-emitting fuels such as coal and heating oil domestically and abroad. According to EIA projections, the displacement of emission-intensive coal with natural gas and renewable energy will allow the U.S. to continue reducing carbon dioxide emissions into 2035.
In addition, natural gas remains an indispensable partner in supporting society’s ambitions to add more renewable energy to the power grid. Natural gas ensures reliable power generation when intermittent wind and solar resources are unavailable. Concurrently, the ability of the U.S. to export liquefied natural gas will also provide other countries with the environmental benefits of replacing more carbon intensive energy sources.
Demand for clean energy is on the rise and natural gas is playing a critical role in moving the world to a low-carbon future. This winter as families depend on the warmth of their homes – and during every season of the year – Williams and its employees will be there to safely and reliably provide the natural gas that is used each day.