By Jack Fink

IRVING, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Like millions of other Texans, Micki Webb of Richardson had little-to-no electricity during February’s winter storms that claimed the lives of 210 people statewide.

“We lost power for about a week,” she said.

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While enjoying a walk in the bright sunshine Thursday, Webb wondered if it will it happen again.

“I’m concerned that it could possibly happen, and the concern is that people died from this event,” Webb said.

Newly passed laws require electric power plants and other generators to weatherize their facilities this winter to protect against another severe storm.

But some energy experts have reportedly expressed concerns that the natural gas industry, which helps keep the lights on, won’t be ready this winter.

During a legislative hearing in September, state lawmakers grilled Wei Wang, the Executive Director of the Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas.

Wang discussed a proposed rule the agency was considering that natural gas producers could opt-out of being on a critical infrastructure list for the agency’s standard fee of $150.

On Thursday, Wayne Christian, who’s elected to the Railroad Commission and who now serves as Chairman, told me the agency won’t make it easy for natural gas producers to opt out.

“When the public hears ‘oh’ they’re giving everybody an option out, that is by federal law,” Christian said.” We have to do that. But to make it more costly, that we will do. And to identify those businesses that are critical that cannot opt-out without significant penalty, that we will identify.”

Christian said the agency is still in the process of deciding which producers must be on a critical infrastructure list and the standards for producers to weatherize their facilities.

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He said some companies aren’t waiting for the standards.

“I’ve been to West Texas.  I’ve visited a couple of the companies out there,” Christian said. “They’re showing how they learned how to wrap the pipes, get some heaters there involved. But again, the problem was not as much the production of natural gas during the storm, as it was the roads were frozen over. Workers couldn’t get to the wellheads.”

Christian participated in a panel discussion at the Texas Oil and Gas Association’s Lone Star Energy Forum in Irving.

Todd Staples, president of the association, agreed with Christian.

“Our companies use various methods of winterization,” Staples said. “We are working with a sense of urgency and to be prepared. Maintaining power is the best winterization tool ever.”

The state has fixed another problem in February; it’s placed electric power plants on a critical infrastructure list so they won’t lose power to produce electricity as some did.

Micki Webb said she hopes the state’s actions so far will prevent widespread outages from happening again.

“The proof is in the pudding, and when we get winter-time, we’ll know for sure, won’t we?” she asked.

Long-term, energy experts say, Texas has to decide which types of energy it needs to produce and how much to keep your lights on.

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