Can the Marcellus/Utica Build Too Many Cracker Plants?

The Marcellus/Utica region produces a prodigious volume of ethane, a “natural gas liquid” (NGL) that comes out of the ground along with methane. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because that ethane can be cracked (chemically) to produce ethylene–or raw plastics. It’s bad because we don’t have any crackers, currently, in our region–and just a small volume of our ethane travels via pipeline to the Gulf Coast or Canada for cracking. So right now ethane is a waste produce for most Marcellus/Utica drillers–something that costs money to dispose of. Shell is currently building a $6+ billion cracker in Monaca (Beaver County), PA, which will go online sometime after 2020. PTT Global Chemical is seriously considering, some say will finally commit, to building our region’s second cracker project in Belmont County, OH. At the Appalachian Storage Hub Conference held in Southpointe in June, an expert said we will see three more cracker plant projects announced within the next 12 months (see Industry Expert Says 3 More Crackers Coming to M-U). Exciting stuff! But, can there be too many crackers in the northeast? That’s the question asked in a recent E&E News report. Experts quoted in the article say that the Gulf Coast has too much of a head start on the northeast. Yet, a big part of the plastics market (the East Coast) is on our doorstep. States in our region take a heavier hand in regulating these plants than states along the Gulf Coast. Given these projects cost $5-$10 billion each to build, and the possibility that building one that doesn’t pan out would sink a company, it’s no wonder these decisions take years to make, and then more years to actually build the plant. Just how many crackers are too many? How much is too much of a good thing?…

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