Harvey or no Harvey, the natural gas can’t stop flowing

Enbridge’s Houston-based Gas Control group ensures delivery for millions of customers during Category 4 hurricane

Eight major interstate pipelines. More than 14,000 miles of pipe, and 134 compressor stations.

And about half of the lower 48 states.

When you’re delivering natural gas to millions of customers, as the saying goes, failure is not an option—even in the face of a Category 4 hurricane.

“We deliver gas to New York City, to Boston, to Philadelphia, to New Jersey. We have eight major pipelines from Laredo, Texas to New England that are interconnected, and we deliver gas to points all the way along those lines,” says Tom Atkinson, Enbridge’s Houston-based Director of Gas Control.

“That’s a lot of people. And we just do not have the luxury of shutting down and going home.”

So with Hurricane Harvey forming in the Gulf of Mexico early last week, preparing to dump as much as four feet of rain in the Houston area, Atkinson and his Gas Control group made a firm commitment.

About 20 staff members—roughly half of the Gas Control contingent—would be staged at Enbridge’s Westheimer Court offices in Houston, and continue to provide business-critical control room operations in the face of Hurricane Harvey.

For as long as it took—which turned out to be seven consecutive days.

That’s seven days of 12-hour shifts, working around the clock and monitoring the health of Enbridge’s Texas Eastern, Algonquin, East Tennessee, Sabal Trail, Maritimes & Northeast, Ozark, Southeast Supply Header and Vector gas transmission lines, several offshore lines in the Gulf, and other assets.

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“We knew we needed to be conscious of fatigue, brought on primarily by stress—being away from your family during the hurricane, not knowing what was going on at home,” says Atkinson. “Our people normally work 12-hour shifts, but they don’t work more than four days in a row. Unfortunately, we had no choice, because we couldn’t ensure relief personnel could make it into the office safely.

“I’m so proud of these people. They came through like troopers. They couldn’t have done it without each other.”

Enbridge employees who worked throughout this mission-critical assignment—“we made the decision early on not to put the other half of our group in harm’s way,” says Atkinson—were put up in a hotel a block from Westheimer Court, and shuttled back and forth via personal trucks.

Representatives of food-service provider Sodexo, which operates the building’s cafeteria, stayed onsite to provide the group three meals a day, and employees from building manager Cushman & Wakefield also camped out to ensure there were no power outages or building issues.

“We wanted there to be no safety issues around going out in the high water, the wind and the rain, and trying to find something to eat when everything was shut down,” says Atkinson.

Enbridge moves about 23 percent of the gas consumed in the United States, and is also a North American leader in gas gathering, processing and storage, with 34,410 miles of gas pipelines.

“There’s a whole energy corridor that we supply natural gas to, and that natural gas cannot stop flowing. It just can’t. It’s not like a crude oil line supplying oil to a refinery, where you shut down the line if the refinery’s shut down. We just can’t do that,” says Atkinson.

“We have assets from Texas all the way up to Nova Scotia that are still taking gas, regardless of what’s happening in the Gulf Coast.”