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Is there ever a good time to cut off a gas supply?

Author : Paul Gay, Editor

12 January 2010

Regular planned maintenance is an essential ingredient of the safety culture. This commentator has often reminded readers of the importance of maintenance carried out in a planned and competent manner. Imagine our surprise when, during the coldest weather to hit Europe for decades, the news broke that BP will shut down one of its North Sea gas networks for a maintenance session.

Time to turn the gas off
Time to turn the gas off

Although the closure of the Southern North Sea pipeline system – which gathers gas from a collection of fields – is only planned to last a week, it takes out 1% of Britain’s gas supply at a time of peak demand when the country is in the grip of the coldest winter in 30 years. Recent sub-zero temperatures have unsurprisingly triggered a surge in natural gas demand putting the grid under severe pressure as demand outstrips supply. Two other undersea pipelines connect Britain to continental Europe but these have been flowing at near capacity. On hearing the news, the Government was quick to point out that, at the time, there was no risk of consumers being cut off.

The planned closure cannot be postponed, so the pressure on the gas supply system will increase as the cold weather continues. Informed industry sources suggest that the work is essential, although an element of the week long task is to connect more producing fields to the existing pipeline which would eventually increase supply and ease demand problems in the future.

Commercially speaking, it would be a good time for BP to accelerate its maintenance programme and restore the supply from its North Sea network. The lack of stored reserves in Britain leaves the country exposed to competing with others for gas imports during periods of strong demand across Europe. Having to negotiate short term supply deals with gas rich countries in Europe and further a field is sure to be costly and, on the face of it, an unnecessary luxury.

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