Shell’s PA Cracker Plant Will Increase Shale Drilling in Region

Shell ChemicalsThe euphoria over Shell’s announcement last week committing to building a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant in Monaca (Beaver County), PA still hasn’t subsided (see Breaking: Shell Pulls the Trigger, PA Ethane Cracker is a Go!). Although the plant won’t be ready for five years–it takes that long to build one–already the plant has been a shot in the arm. As we noted on Friday, commercial real estate is taking off in the region (see Shell Cracker Plant Will Spur Real Estate Deals 150 Miles Away). However, there is another reason the Shell cracker is good for PA and for the shale industry: it will encourage more shale drilling. Currently Marcellus and Utica drillers have very limited options when it comes to selling ethane. Ethane is an NGL (natural gas liquid) that comes out of the borehole along with methane and other hydrocarbons. Some estimates say in the NGL-rich area of southwestern PA and eastern OH, some 20% of what comes out of the ground is ethane–at least for some wells. Right now most drillers have to dispose of that ethane–it’s an expense! When the cracker starts up operations, that ethane can be sold to Shell, helping the balance sheet of drillers. If you can get more money from what you’re getting out of the ground, you’ll do more drilling. Pretty basic common sense. In anticipation, CONSOL Energy already has a contract to sell Shell some of its ethane…

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