In response to client inquiries, I've estimated the rate of growth for electric power consumption in the Eagle Ford area. The client is interested in pipelines running in close proximity to high-voltage AC power lines. By looking at the “Electric Reliability Council of Texas” (ERCOT) website and mining their data for counties in South Texas, here are some interesting facts:
1. For the South Texas region including Maverick, Zavala, Atascosa, Live Oak, Bee, Goliad and Refugio Counties, and all counties south of that line, electricity demand has grown at least five percent a year from 2008 through the end of 2011. The growth from 2010 to mid-2012 has been eight to ten percent a year;
2. The Rio Grande Valley’s general growth in population appears to be about two percent per year. Corpus Christi is growing at about one percent a year; Laredo is probably growing at three percent per year. These estimates come from what appear to be credible internet sources. So more generalized population growth in South Texas may be two percent a year, in the population centers mentioned above;
3. What this leaves, for explanation of recent growth rate, is the Eagle Ford Shale development – which affects all of the counties along the northerly line of this “South Texas” geography, and many more counties southward. And it’s just the southwest half of the Eagle Ford that gets described – I did not gather data on Wilson, Karnes, DeWitt, Gonzales and other prolific Eagle Ford counties to the northeast.
Power Lines Carry More Power to Supply the Growing Population
Just as important is how much of this new electric consumption is focused on a dozen or so counties and maybe 20 cities. For instance, the city of Carrizo Springs, in Dimmit County, has probably grown, in terms of “overnighting” residents, from about 6,000 to more than 30,000 people between 2009 and the present. This means that high-voltage AC power lines into the Carrizo Springs area are carrying more than five times the average power than in earlier times. And that accounts only for the typical residential and light commercial usage. What additional electric loads have been added for major new businesses, industrial processes, large motors and pumps on new water wells, new salt water disposal well operations, and so on?
The infrastructure build-out to support this Eagle Ford Shale boom is much broader, and more complex, than any one business person or engineer can grasp. We hope that the water and sewer utilities, the electric power generation and distribution companies, the state and county road authorities, and the telephone and data carriers are all focused closely on this growth. The growth has been clearly described, too, as having at least two phases. There is the heavy surface access, drilling, midstream and other infrastructure development time, which probably will extend another five to seven years out in front of us. Then there is the long-term production – “lift and move oil, condensate and gas” operations, maintenance and repairs – time-frame, which used to look like 10 to 20 years from the present, and now looks like 25 to 35 years. We can call this development and production work sustainable for at least 25 years, and possibly much farther out into the future.
Planning is Essential in Avoiding Shortfalls
Unless all these entities are planning and investing in ongoing and smart fashion, there are going to be periodic and painful shortfalls, bottle-necks, and logistical snarls . . . Cooperative planning, good communications, and visionary people are needed across the landscape – in private business, in the affected city, county and state offices, in the politicians’ meeting spaces, and in civic organizations. A lot of common good stands to be achieved, for many, many South Texas communities. I believe in market forces to allocate resources and labor and work effort. But such”infrastructure” things as roads, and electricity, and water and sewer utilities don’t grow well unless there is good planning and communication, and cooperation between public and private entities.
And back to the high-voltage power lines: as they also grow in capacity and reach, they may represent substantial corrosion risks to adjacent pipelines – a problem Chapman Engineering has described in an earlier blog piece - “AC-Induced Corrosion on Pipelines in the Eagle Ford Shale.”