Natural gas can be stored for later consumption for an indefinite period of time in natural gas storage facilities. Gas is stored primarily to help power companies manage demand from the electrical grid. Gas is injected into storage during periods of low demand and withdrawn during periods of peak demand. It is also used for a variety of secondary purposes, such as insurance against natural factors such as hurricanes that can affect the production or delivery of natural gas, or offsetting changes in natural gas demand (during extreme winters when used for heating or during hot summers when needed to power air conditioning).1Underground Gas Storage (2021, May 29). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_gas_storage
One of the largest natural gas storage facilities globally is located right here in Texas, in Liberty County less than fifty miles from Houston (highlighted red in the map). It is called the Moss Bluff Storage Facility and features three caverns carved out of salt domes that can store over sixteen billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas. Pipelines that connect to the caverns at the facility are responsible for delivering natural gas nationally, extending to the northeast and midwest regions of the United States through a vast natural gas delivery network.
In the early morning hours in August of 2004 , a sudden release of natural gas escaped one of the storage wells. The sudden escape of gas, which eventually reached 6 bcf, caused a fire with flames shooting as much as 1,000 ft in the air, making them visible from Houston. Residents in the area were evacuated, and some witnesses report needing sunglasses at night due to the intense light protruding from the ignition source.
Mitigating the fire proved challenging, and the storage facility along with emergency personnel decided the best course of action was to allow the natural gas to burn out, taking almost a week. Noone was injured, but Duke Energy, the operating company, incurred very high financial costs due to the loss of natural gas and the damage to the wellsite.2Opus Kinetic. (2018, August 10). A timeline of major well integrity incidents. https://www.opuskinetic.com/2018/08/well-integrity-incidents3Bardwell, S.K. & Horswell, C. (2004, August 20). Valve failure sends flames into sky at Moss Bluff Storage Facility. Houston Chronicle.https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Valve-failure-sends-flames-into-sky-at-Moss-Bluff-1969876.php4Natural Gas Intelligence. (2004, October 11). Blast at Moss Bluff Storage Facility interrupts service. https://www.naturalgasintel.com/blast-at-moss-bluff-storage-facility-interrupts-service5Natural Gas Intelligence. (2004, October 8). Duke: Unusual events, some with unknown causes, led to Moss Bluff accident. https://www.naturalgasintel.com/duke-unusual-events-some-with-unknown-causes-led-to-moss-bluff-accident
Let’s take a look at the engineering failures that led to the natural gas escape and fire at the Moss Bluff Storage Facility.
Image Credits: Photo Courtesy of The U.S. Department of Energy ; David Benbennick, via Wikimedia Commons