It’s no small thing when the power goes down in an oilfield. Here’s how we’re preparing for Public Safety Power Shutoffs
Nobody likes being caught by the surprise of a power outage.
That’s especially true for an energy producer like Aera, whose five active oilfields rely on electricity and gas to power their operations 24/7.
Yet the likelihood of power disruptions has grown as California’s power utilities turn to Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) to reduce the threat of destructive wildfires.
In response, Aera has boosted its outage-readiness plans. They include protocols for a quick and safe response when power is interrupted and, likewise, when it comes back on. That preparation ensures that Aera can resume providing the oil and gas that powers California.
“Our priority is the safety of people, protecting the environment and then our operation,” says Ted Witt, Aera’s vice president of operations. “Our teams are well prepared to safely deal with a power outage.”
A power shutdown can bring wells, equipment and even internal computing applications to a halt. That not only stops oil and gas production but presents additional challenges, such as unusual pressure changes in the system. Aera’s processes help mitigate potential hazards and ensure the company continues to meet environmental requirements.
“Our equipment requires electricity to run, so when power is lost, our pumps and and other equipment automatically shut off or close,” notes Witt, who oversees Aera’s Midway-Sunset, Ventura, San Ardo and Coalinga fields.
Whether responding to a power cut-off or its restoration, Aera follows standard operating procedures to physically monitor its systems. Those SOPs include checking fluid levels in tanks and vessels as well as pressure on equipment before bringing systems back online.
“Our employees monitor equipment while the power is down and then, once the power is back on, perform safety checks before restarting,” says Witt.
Coordinating with others
Area already has an Incident Command System in place to handle emergencies.
“We have Aera personnel in place at each location communicating with the power utility and relaying shutdown plans, deploying needed resources and coordinating incident management efforts,” Witt says. “We conduct annual drills with government agencies to ensure we’re well trained and prepared in case of a power outage, fire or other event.”
Aera also coordinates with PG&E and Southern California Edison (SCE) to receive a two-hour notice in advance of any power shutdown. As a major power customer, Aera has direct contact with utility representatives for timely information.
For its part, SCE knows how difficult it can be for a business during a power outage. An earthquake, wildfire, flood or other disaster that causes an extended outage can be an even greater challenge. That’s why, the utility says, businesses need to be prepared.
“Preparing for an emergency is a shared responsibility,” says Mike Marelli, vice president of SCE’s Business Customer Division. “It’s critical that we work together with our business partners to ensure they can quickly return to business after an emergency.”
Keeping an eye on hot spots
Aera’s connection with its power providers extends even further. Each Aera field cooperates with its local utility when system repairs or other work are needed. For example, SCE includes Aera’s Ventura field on its routine helicopter patrol. The utility uses thermal-imaging cameras to search for potential hot spots on its transmission lines and equipment. When SCE finds an area of concern, it notifies Aera to expect a temporary power distruption while the utility fixes the problem.
Aera also uses its own thermography equipment to keep an eye on its fields and equipment.
“Thermography equipment, along with other routine inspections and maintanence, enables us to monitor and proactively manage our power distribution systems and electrical equipment to make sure they’re safe and reliable,” notes Witt.
All of Aera’s fields have either their own co-generation plants or generators to back up power. But, in most cases, they’re not enough to operate the entire field. That means it only makes sense for Aera to be ready if and when the power is turned off.
And when power is restored, Aera can safely resume producing the energy that heats and cools homes, gets California-grown food to kitchen tables, helps businesses grow and thrive, and enables the quality of life that many Californians count on.