The Key to Staying Warm During the Polar Vortex? Natural Gas

The Polar Vortex grabbed headlines this week as the plummeting temperatures across the Midwest shattered low temperature records in several Michigan cities.  Many school districts and state offices closed this week because of the dangerous wind chills, dipping to nearly forty below. So how have Michiganders stayed warm? The answer, more than likely, is natural gas.

More than three-fourths of Michigan households use natural gas as their primary source for home heating. Michigan routinely ranks among the top 5 states in residential use of natural gas and in the top 10 for total gas consumption. Although the Antrim Field in the northern Lower Peninsula is one of the nation’s top 100 natural gas fields, Michigan’s home state energy producers can only meet a fraction of the state’s demand. Here is where Michigan’s energy infrastructure plays a critical role in keeping us warm and safe. Several interstate pipelines cross the state, bringing natural gas to Michigan consumers on the way to other markets in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Natural gas enters the state from Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Michigan also receives natural gas imports by pipeline from Canada, most of it arriving at St. Clair, Port Huron, and Detroit.

Our state has the largest underground natural gas storage capacity in the nation, holding more than one-tenth of the U.S. total. We also rank second-largest in the number of natural gas storage fields after Pennsylvania. During high demand periods in the winter months, like this, natural gas is withdrawn from the state's storage.

So why is one of our state’s largest utilities asking Michiganders to turn down their thermostats during the polar vortex?

On Wednesday, January 30th, Consumers Energy experienced a fire at its natural gas compressor station in Macomb County. The facility supplies 64 percent of the natural gas in Michigan, and despite crews bringing one of the units back online Wednesday, the plant can produce only a portion of its typical output according to the company.

In a public statement, Consumers CEO, Patti Pope said the company anticipates demand reaching 3.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas, far above the 1.25 billion cubic feet seen on a typical winter day. Wednesday's usage was 3.3 billion cubic feet, she said.  "This truly is an unprecedented crisis," she said. "We have never been in this situation before."

The utility has tapped into reserve supplies, activating natural gas peaking storage fields in Northville and St. Clair County but has asked customers to reduce consumed to avoid overburdening the system.

As Pope puts it, "We have plenty of gas stored, we just can't get it out of the ground to bring to our customers because the equipment that delivers it is what is damaged."

Extreme weather events like this demonstrate the importance of our state’s energy infrastructure as Michigan’s home state oil and gas industry works to provides secure, affordable and reliable energy to keep homes and families warm and safe.  

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