The past week of continuous record low temperatures and snowfall has oil-dependent power plants in the northeast scrambling to secure supplies of some of the dirtiest burning oil available in the market due to an impending supply shortage, according to a new report by Hellenic Shipping News.
Oil fuels 30 percent of the New England power plant market, but winter storms could lead to another foot of snow, making it difficult for tankers or trains to deliver needed commodities, Marcia Blomberg of regional grid operator ISO New England, said.
Oil imports to the East Coast jumped by almost 60 percent last week in anticipation of increased demand due to heating needs. JBC Energy predicts distillate use to increase by 90,000 barrels per day in January and February as well.
The cold weather, expected to become a “bomb cyclone” in the coming days, has also shocked natural gas markets. Extreme cold is cutting production in North Dakota’s Bakken, while demand is surging because everyone is turning up the thermostat to stay warm.
Reuters said that gas flowing through interstate pipelines from North Dakota dropped from 1.3 billion cubic feet per day in the week ending on December 25 to just 1 bcf/d as of Tuesday. Texas (-20 percent) Oklahoma (-22 percent) and Pennsylvania (-5 percent) are also reporting weather-related production problems, Genscape data says.
The U.S. has built a long line of new gas-fired power plants in recent years to burn cheap natural gas, which has catapulted natural gas into the top spot for electricity generation. So while gas consumption fluctuates seasonally, the spring and autumn lows are getting higher and the winter spikes are also getting higher. This is a structural increase that will continue to grow over time.