Frigid cold and blowing winds on Friday knocked out power and cut energy production across the US, driving up heating and electricity prices as people prepared for holiday celebrations.
Winter Storm Elliott brought temperatures below freezing and extreme weather alerts to about two-thirds of the US, with cold and snow in some areas to linger through the Christmas holiday.
More than 1.5 million homes and businesses lost power, oil refineries in Texas cut petrol and diesel production because of equipment failures, and heating and power prices surged on the losses. Oil and gas output from North Dakota to Texas suffered freeze-ins, cutting supplies.
Some 1.5 million barrels of daily refining capacity along the US Gulf Coast was shut because of the bitterly cold temperatures. The production losses are not expected to last, but they have lifted fuel prices.
Knocked out were TotalEnergies, Motiva Enterprises and Marathon Petroleum facilities outside Houston. Cold weather also disrupted Exxon Mobil, LyondellBasell and Valero Energy plants in Texas that produce gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
Sempra Infrastructure's Cameron LNG plant in Louisiana said weather disrupted its production of liquefied natural gas. Crews at the 12 million tonne-per-year facility were trying to restore output, it said.
Freeze-ins — in which ice crystals halt oil and gas production — this week trimmed production in North Dakota's oilfields by 300,000 to 350,000 barrels per day, or a third of normal. In Texas's Permian oilfield, the freeze led to more gas being withdrawn than was injected, said El Paso Natural Gas operator Kinder Morgan.
US benchmark oil prices on Friday jumped 2.4 per cent to $79.56, and next-day gas in west Texas jumped 22 per cent to around $9 per million British thermal units, the highest since the state's 2021 deep freeze.
Power prices on Texas's grid also spiked to $3,700 per megawatt hour, prompting generators to add more power to the grid before prices fell back as thermal and solar supplies came online.
New England's bulk power supplier said it expected to have enough to meet demand, but elsewhere strong winds led to cuts largely in the south-east and Midwest; North Carolina counted more than 187,000 without power.
“Crews are restoring power but high winds are making repairs challenging at most of the 4,600 outage locations,” Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks wrote on Twitter.
Heating oil and natural gas futures rose sharply in response to the cold. US heating oil futures gained 4.3 per cent while natural gas futures rose 2.5 per cent.
In New England, gas for Friday at the Algonquin hub soared 361 per cent to a near 11-month high of $30 mmBtu.
About half of the power generated in New England comes from gas-fired plants, but on the coldest days, power generators shift to burn more oil. According to grid operator New England ISO, power companies' generating mix was at 17 per cent from oil-fired plants as of noon on Friday.
Gas output dropped about 6.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) over the past four days to a preliminary nine-month low of 92.4 bcfd on Friday as wells froze in Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
That is the biggest drop in output since the February 2021 freeze knocked out power for millions in Texas.
One billion cubic feet is enough gas to supply about 5 million US homes for a day.