Local residents are experiencing some of the coldest days of the winter season, cranking up the heat in their homes during low-degree and below-zero temperatures.
The use of natural gas for residential heating is growing, but some using the resource may not know how it is stored during the other seasons or where it comes from, said Punxsutawney native John Love, who is the director of gas storage and land services for Dominion Energy Transmission Inc (DETI).
DETI is a provider of gas transportation and storage services, and has one of the largest underground, natural gas storage systems in the country, according to its website.
Love, who graduated from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering program at Penn State University, said DETI transports natural gas to companies like National Fuel, which is the the link to heating residential homes. The company has a number of employees that work out of the Clearfield County office on Coal Hill Road in Luthersburg.
Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel there is, as far as reducing methane emissions, said DETI Communications Project Manager Frank Mack. It is also typically the least expensive. National Fuel will buy natural gas for a lower price in the summertime when its demand is lower.
“Acquiring it at a low price and storing it in the summer when it’s plentiful, then withdrawing it from storage bringing it out in the winter works well for customers,” Love said.
Drilling and shale formations throughout the United States , including the Marcellus and Utica shales here in Appalachia, has provided the amount of natural gas that’s coming into the market, Love said.
“The emissions from coal-fired electric generation plants are dramatically higher than those from natural gas plants, and they so many coal plants are being replaced by natural gas generators,” he said.
Eleven of DETI’s storage fields, which may have anywhere from a handful to several hundred up to 50 wells in each, are located in Pennsylvania, Love said, and with two in New York and four in West Virginia. The wells are can be up to several-thousand feet deep.
“People don’t realize natural gas used in winter comes from these storage wells, how they work or where they are,” Love said. “They are typically located in rural areas — out of sight and out of mind.”
DETI went back into these storage fields that were drilled decades ago, examining the geological characteristics of the wells, Love said. Injecting natural gas back into the reworked and updated original wells after cementing the steel casings in place allows for “good structural integrity.” The gas is compressed up to its original pressure and stored in the sandstone rock geologic formation.
Dominion Energy Transmission has a variety of programs and methods to assess the integrity of its natural gas storage system. They include periodic inspections of the well casing for internal and external corrosion, regular inspections of its approximately 1,500 storage wells to verify well status, pressure, visual corrosion, vent gas and evidence of leaks, and monitoring by the Gas Control Group and Operations field personnel, Love said.
“On the coldest of winter days, this gas storage fulfills a tremendous function,” Love said. “It’s absolutely critical.”
Since so many storage fields are located throughout the DETI service area, customers like National Fuel don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to get it, Mack said.
National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation representative Carly Manino said DETI is one of several pipeline and storage service providers they have a contract with in order to store and transport natural gas supplies.
“Our partnerships with these pipeline and storage service providers are critical for National Fuel to reliably serve our end-use customers with low-cost natural gas for their winter, residential home heating, and year-round industrial process needs,” she said.
National Fuel serves 13,300 active, residential customers throughout Clearfield and Jefferson counties, Manino said.
Residential heating is 10 times greater during winter than in summer, Manino said, which is why regionally-located, underground storage is important for National Fuel to respond to greater demand times and keep gas costs low.
“In the past decade, the average residential monthly bill for a National Fuel customer has decreased by more than 50 percent, due to shale gas production,” Manino said.
As of October of last year, 41.3 percent of all electricity generated in Pennsylvania came from natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
Manino said National Fuel is currently working on projects in the DuBois area such as routine maintenance, service installations and ongoing pipeline modernization.