NGL Storage Facilities in Marcellus/Utica Good for the Environment

Can proposed NGL storage facilities in the Marcellus/Utica benefit the environment? The answer is a resounding, YES! How? First you must understand what an NGL is, and why we have so much of it in the northeast. NGL stands for natural gas liquid. When you drill a hole in the ground to extract oil, or natural gas, you almost always get not only oil, but natural gas (and vice versa). In addition, you also get NGLs. They are all hydrocarbons with slightly different atomic configurations. NGLs include propane, butane, isobutane and ethane. Aside from natural gas (or oil), the most common hydrocarbon coming out of a well is ethane. Ethane, as it turns out, is quite useful. It can be “cracked” chemically and turned into ethylene, which is the raw feedstock for manufacturing plastics, among other things. We have at least one ethane cracker plant coming in our neck of the woods–Shell’s cracker plant in Beaver County, PA (near Pittsburgh). Another one is likely to get built by PTT Global Chemical–in Belmont County, OH. Other smaller plants that process ethane are also likely to get built. They all need a ready supply of ethane. Enter storage hubs–huge underground caverns to store NGLs until they can be used. Mountaineer NGL Storage is close to beginning work on such a facility (see More Clarity on Status of Mountaineer NGL Storage Facility in OH). However, a much larger, multi-state cooperative NGL storage project costing $10 billion to build is also actively under consideration (see WV, OH, PA, KY Should Cooperate on $10B NGL Storage Hub). In the meantime, what happens to all of the NGLs (like ethane) that are coming out of the ground now in the Marcellus/Utica? Some of it gets separated and sold, via pipeline, to markets in other countries or to the Gulf Coast. However, most of it is kept in the pipeline and mixed in with natural gas (methane), and ends up getting burned. In some cases ethane is “flared” or burned off. What a waste. If we capture and use that ethane for the plastics industry, it will remove it from being burned and ending up in the atmosphere. So yes, building NGL storage facilities can and will positively impact the environment…

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