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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Europe Building New Cracker, to be Fed by Marcellus/Utica NGLs

Here’s some exciting news: The first ethane cracker plant to get built in Europe in the past 20 years has just been announced by INEOS. Based in Switzerland, INEOS is a young but rapidly growing chemical company with roughly $40 billion in sales per year. INEOS’ competitors would be companies like BASF, Bayer and Dow Chemical. INEOS has its fingers in a lot of pies. For example, the company currently has two ships that shuttle Marcellus and Utica Shale ethane from Philadelphia to Scotland and Norway (see Ineos Gets Ready to Begin Ethane Exports from Marcus Hook, PA). INEOS has also been tapped to provide the technology for an ethane cracker plant to be built in Belmont County, OH (see PTT Taps Swiss Company INEOS for OH Cracker Plant Technology). INEOS already owns their own cracker plant in Scotland (see Cracker Plant in Scotland “Brought Back to Life” Thx to Marcellus Ethane). Now the company plans to build a €2.7 billion (US$3.2 billion) cracker plant and propane dehydrogenation unit in northern Europe. A specific country/location has not yet been selected. An INEOS official said, regarding the new cracker facility: “All our assets will benefit from our ability to import competitive raw materials from the US and the rest of the world.” Our translation: We love cheap Marcellus/Utica NGLs, and this plant will use lots of it…
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DOE Publishes Updated NGL Primer for Marcellus/Utica

Last December the Trump Dept. of Energy published a 45-page report called, “Natural Gas Liquids Primer: With a Focus on the Appalachian Region” (see DOE Publishes NGL Primer for Marcellus/Utica, Pushes NGL Storage). The DOE used its own data along with data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (our favorite government agency) to create an up-to-date picture of Appalachian NGL supply, demand, and infrastructure. It’s only been six months, but the DOE is back with an updated edition of the same report. Hey, things are changing fast in this space, and Team Trump is on top of those changes. What’s different between the last report and this one? The new report includes “even larger projections for ethane production from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays than previously estimated.” There’s a new section identifying R&D opportunities related to natural gas and NGLs production, conversion, and storage. Perhaps most eye-opening is this: NGLs production in the M-U region is projected to increase over 700% from 2013 to 2023. Yikes! Here’s the latest and greatest from one of the few functional government agencies in Washington…
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PA DEP Notifies Shell of “Technical Deficiencies” with Ethane Pipe

Shell delivered some good news at last week’s Northeast U.S. Petrochemical conference in Pittsburgh: The Falcon ethane pipeline will get built next year (see Shell Says Falcon Ethane Pipeline to Get Built in 2019). The pipeline won’t actually flow ethane to the Shell cracker in Monaca until 2020 at the earliest, because the cracker plant itself won’t go online until 2020 at the earliest. The 97-mile consists of “two legs,” with about half of the pipeline located in PA, the other half in OH. The Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted three public hearings on the project earlier this year, in preparation for issuing permits. Antis came out in force and behaved badly, as they typically do (see More of the Same at Final DEP Hearing for Shell Ethane Pipeline). No matter. The pipeline will get built. But not without jumping some hurdles first. On June 1, the DEP issued three letters identifying what it calls “serious technical deficiencies” in Shell’s pipeline plan, for townships in three different counties along the pipeline’s PA route. Shell maintains this type of notification is “common” in the permitting process, and is committed to working with the DEP to address any issues of concern…
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WV’s US Senators Lead the Charge to Build $10B NGL Storage Hub

A recent article in the left-leaning Roll Call (official publication for Washington, D.C. swamp dwellers) attempts to paint the Trump Administration as out of step with the people he wants to help in West Virginia. The article says Trump’s strategy to prop up failing coal and nuclear plants is an attempt to boost coal mining jobs in WV, but is running counter to the state’s strategy of embracing the natural gas industry. Perhaps they have a point. However, what’s most interesting about the article is not the ginned up conflict between Trump and WV, but how the article spotlights WV’s two U.S. Senators–Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Joe Manchin–and their continuing role in trying to make a $10 billion NGL (mostly ethane) storage hub facility become a reality. The storage hub will be a jobs magnet with some estimates that it will create more than 100,000 new jobs in the state. The storage hub will also draw manufacturers looking to locate near ethane crackers, as a source for plastics used in their manufacturing process. Capito, in her comments, attempts to gloss over the rivalry between coal and natural gas, saying “all those rivalries have gone by the wayside.” Er, a, we beg to differ. But leaving aside the coal v. natgas focus of the article, we found two very interesting items. (1) The Dept. of Energy loan guarantee that would cover $1.9 billion of the estimated $10 billion cost to build it is a much bigger deal that we had realized. Why? Because any project that wins such a guarantee has gone through a rigorous review process. Winning such a guarantee is like conferring a triple A rating on the project for others who will consider investing in the project. It gives them confidence that the project has been thoroughly vetted and is low risk. (2) Manchin, in speaking with DOE Sec. Rick Perry, is using an interesting and novel argument to convince Perry the storage hub is a good thing to do. Manchin said when hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, it knocks out petrochemical industry there, with a cascading effect across the U.S. Cracker plants (fed by the storage hub) in the northeast, are not susceptible to hurricanes. So Manchin’s pitch to Perry is this: Keep the Gulf Coast crackers cooking for products to export to other countries, but let’s build the storage hub (and crackers) in the northeast, so our country’s petchem industry isn’t adversely affected by a major hurricane…
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Shell Says Falcon Ethane Pipeline to Get Built in 2019

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Shell delivered some good news at the Northeast U.S. Petrochemical conference held earlier this week in Pittsburgh: The Falcon ethane pipeline will get built next year. It won’t actually flow ethane to the Shell cracker in Monaca until 2020 at the earliest–because the cracker plant itself won’t go online until 2020 at the earliest. The Falcon pipeline project is interesting for a number of reasons, the chief reason (for us) being: Shell didn’t use eminent domain for a single foot of the 97-mile, two-legged pipeline system. Shell negotiated with every landowner and got them to sign on the dotted line. Judging by the articles we’ve highlighted in the past, Shell paid landowners between $40-$75 per linear foot for a permanent easement (see Landowners Who Negotiate with Shell Ethane Pipeline Get More $). The Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection conducted three public hearings on the project earlier this year, in preparation for issuing permits. Antis came out in force and behaved badly, as they typically do (see More of the Same at Final DEP Hearing for Shell Ethane Pipeline). Using no eminent domain, and in the face of Big Green opposition, the big news is that Shell says they will build the pipeline next year, right on schedule, which is good news indeed…
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WV Ethane Cracker Plant Rumored to be Back On Again

It increasingly looks like LyondellBasell Industries, one of the largest plastics, chemicals and refining companies in the world, will buy out/take over Braskem, the largest petrochemical company in Latin America (headquartered in Brazil). Braskem and its parent company Odebrecht, as you may recall, was hot-to-trot to build a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker near Parkersburg, WV–four years ago. Odebrecht got mired in scandal in Brazil and that put things on hold in 2015 (see Odebrecht Pushes the Pause Button on WV Ethane Cracker). But in 2016 it appeared the project may rekindle (see A Pulse! WV Ethane Cracker Project Comes Back from the Dead). Since that time, we’ve not heard much. A rumbling here and there, but not much. Now that LyondellBassell is actively pursuing Braskem, there is once again excitement about the cracker project in WV. MDN has heard from an industry source that if Braskem sells to LyondellBassell, the Parkersburg cracker plant will be a high priority. In fact, an expert speaking at the recent NGL storage hub event in Southpointe mentioned the WV cracker by name as one of three projects that he thinks will get final approval in the next 12 months (see Industry Expert Says 3 More Crackers Coming to M-U). Here’s news about how M&A deals happening on other continents directly affect our region–how a LyondellBassell purchase of Braskem may indeed reignite the Parkersburg ethane cracker project…
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What Will Convince Investors to Spend $10B on M-U NGL Storage Hub?

One more item to share with you from last week’s second annual Appalachian Storage Hub Conference convened at the Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh/Southpointe. As we previously highlighted, most of the event revolved around the proposed plan to build a $10 billion ethane storage hub (see Southpointe Event Focuses on M-U NGL Storage Hub). One of the panel discussions addressed the issue of how to attract that kind of money. $10 billion is just a number on paper. How much is that, really? West Virginia is the state most frequently mentioned as the host state for the $10B project. WV’s budget for this fiscal year is $4.3 billion. So the investment needed to build the proposed storage hub project would run the entire state of WV for more than two years! Where do you get that kind of money? And what do investors look for when deciding to spend that kind of money? That’s what the panel discussed…
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PTT Awards Belmont Cracker Engineering Contract to Bechtel

PTT has awarded the contract to build the Belmont, OH ethane cracker to Bechtel. At least, that’s the rumor swirling around. We have to say right up front, this information has not yet been announced and therefore is not 100% verified–but we’ve talked to a highly placed industry source and we believe it to be accurate. Below we offer insight into why we believe this information is accurate, and why PTT has not yet made their official final investment decision (FID) announcement, and when they might do so…
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Industry Expert Says 3 More Crackers Coming to M-U

Last week the second annual Appalachian Storage Hub Conference convened at the Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh/Southpointe. As we pointed out in a post last week, the main topic of discussion was the $10 billion NGL/ethane storage hub (see Southpointe Event Focuses on M-U NGL Storage Hub). As big as the storage hub project is (and the news surrounding it), there was even bigger news coming from the event: 3 more ethane cracker projects for the Marcellus/Utica are likely to announce in the coming year! Tom Gellrich, principal of Top Line Analytics, talks to a lot of people. He’s an insider. At last week’s event, Tom shared some of his insights. He said PTT Global will commit to its previously announced cracker in Belmont County, OH, sometime this year. No real revelation there–we’ve been expecting such an announcement for the past two years. That’s one of three. Then Tom said the on again, off again Braskem/Odebrecht plan to build a cracker near Parkersburg, WV is on again and he expects an announcement to that effect in the next year. Wow! That’s two of three. And then Tom teased the crowd by saying there’s a THIRD project bubbling in the background. No details on who is behind it or where it will be located. Tom says to look for an announcement on this third cracker project by this time next year. Bonus: Tom believes Shell will take a hard look at building a new/second cracker right next to the first, after the first is completed (a fourth new cracker?). We have embarrassing riches of ethane crackers! Each one costing multiple billions of dollars to build…
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Shell’s PA Ethane Cracker Plant Gets a Name: Shell Polymers

If you’ve read MDN for any length of time, you know about a $6 billion ethane cracker plant being built by Shell in Monaca (Beaver County), PA–near Pittsburgh. The plant will chemically “crack” ethane, an abundant natural gas liquid (NGL) that comes out of the ground along with methane, creating polyethylene from the ethane. Polyethylene is, in essence, raw plastic. Manufacturers in the region and beyond will use the plastic pellets Shell will produce at the plant to create an unlimited variety products. Shell is a smart company. They’re as much a marketing company as they are an oil and gas producer and petrochemical manufacturer. They know the value of positioning and mind share. We hadn’t thought about it previously, but we always just thought of and called the project the “Shell cracker plant.” The plant now has a name: Shell Polymers. The name Shell Polymers has been around for a long time but had fallen out of use when Shell largely exited the plastics business. With the new cracker coming online in the next few years, it’s time to revive the Shell Polymers name/brand and apply it to the cracker plant, which is how the project was being pitched at the last week’s NPE2018 (formerly called the National Plastics Exposition) in Orlando, Florida…
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PTT Buys Another 300+ Acres for Belmont County, OH Cracker

In yet another very good sign that the proposed PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker plant in Belmont County, OH is headed for a positive final investment decision (FID), PTT has just purchased another 300+ acres to go along with the previous acreage they purchased as the site for the future cracker/petrochemical project. Last July MDN reported PTT had spent $13.8 million to buy 168 acres at the proposed site for a second Appalachia ethane cracker, in Belmont County, OH (see PTT Global Buys Land for Belmont, OH Ethane Cracker Plant). That site, the former R.E. Burger power plant property (owned by FirstEnergy Corp.), is the primary location for the proposed cracker. However, more land is needed. A deed filed earlier this week shows that PTT has purchased another 300+ acres for $17.5 million from the Ohio-West Virginia Excavating company. Together, both parcels are roughly 500 acres, which is more than enough land for the facility. Until now numbers like $6.5 billion have been thrown around as the total project cost. The number has now gone up–to as much as $10 billion! Here’s the latest good news that it’s looking better and better for a second ethane cracker in Appalachia…
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Still No Deal on Property Next to PTT OH Ethane Cracker Site

Homeowners who live near the location of a possible ethane cracker plant in Belmont County, OH are running out of time to negotiate a deal to sell their properties. Living next door to a cracker plant is not anyone’s idea of paradise. There will be noise, and smells and (yes) some air pollution coming from the plant. Best to sell now before the plant begins construction. However, representatives for PTT Global Chemical which will build the plant (IF it gets built), say they already have all the land they need for the facility (see PTT Global Buys Land for Belmont, OH Ethane Cracker Plant). Not needing the land puts PTT in a good negotiating position. There are 10 homes in the general vicinity of the proposed cracker plant whose owners want to sell. PTT says they’ve offered the homeowners 125% of fair market value for their homes. The lawyer representing the homeowners says the valuations are not accurate. However, it’s far from being a stand-off. There is no malice or vitriol. It sounds to us like both sides think a deal will get done. It just boils down to finalizing numbers. Here’s the latest on real estate for the proposed Belmont cracker plant…
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Penn State to Help Create New Biz Opportunities from Shell Cracker

The Penn State campus in Erie County (called Penn State Behrend) has been tapped by the PA Dept. of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to be the “lead partner” for developing business and market opportunities for the state related to the mighty $6 billion Shell ethane cracker–currently under construction in Beaver County. Erie County where Behrend is located is certainly not next door to the cracker, not nearly as close as some other Penn State campuses. So why was Behrend selected? In a word, plastics. “The strength of Erie’s plastics industry and the success of Penn State Behrend’s School of Engineering, which offers one of only six accredited U.S. plastics undergraduate programs, makes Erie of particular interest to DCED.” According to DCED’s Denise Brinley, senior energy adviser, “Penn State Behrend can provide critical connections to research support, materials testing and a talent pipeline that will add value to this large-scale petrochemical investment and associated growth in the plastics sector.” Penn State is kicking in a $250,000 grant to their Energy University Partnership for oil and gas strategies, to help prime the pump…
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More of the Same at Final DEP Hearing for Shell Ethane Pipeline

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For three nights in a row this week the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted hearings for Shell’s proposed Falcon ethane pipeline–a 97-mile pipeline system with two “legs” that will feed Shell’s mighty ethane cracker plant now under construction in Monaca, PA. We brought you a report from the first session, an eyewitness account from MDN friend Charlie Schliebs (see Shell Ethane Pipeline Hearing Draws Few Supporters, Many Antis). That session was predominantly populated with antis attempting to paint nightmare scenarios if the pipeline (and cracker) gets built. Last night was the third and final session–in Sewickley. Once again we have an eyewitness account, this time from MDN friend Katie Klaber, former president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition and currently managing partner at The Klaber Group and a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland (Pittsburgh branch). Katie is a consummate environmental professional–someone with a lifelong career in environment compliance and someone who served on the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee of the DEP for more than a decade. She knows a thing or two about projects like the Falcon because she’s seen a thing or two (to borrow from the Farmers Insurance commercials). When the audience realized that Katie was supporting the project (the only one of the first 18 speakers to do so), the hissing started. She and the next few speakers who supported the project were hissed by bad-behaving antis in the crowd, with some Mother F…ers thrown in by an especially outspoken attendee. Nice people, those antis…
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Shell Ethane Pipeline Hearing Draws Few Supporters, Many Antis

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Last night the first of three public hearings held by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection for the planned Shell Falcon Ethane Pipeline project was held in Monaca (Beaver County), PA. About 100 people turned up for the hearing, which lasted an hour and a half. No signs allowed. The only people who could speak had to register first. Of the 23 who did speak, 16 of them (including out-of-town movement antis) spoke against the project, while 7 people spoke in favor. The 97-mile Falcon Ethane Pipeline system has two “legs” that will feed Shell’s mighty ethane cracker plant. Shell is not using eminent domain for any of its leases for the pipeline. Every lease is negotiated and signed with individual landowners. Antis, in large part being organized and agitated by radical groups like FracTracker Alliance, are making a concerted effort to block the pipeline, hoping they can in turn stop the multi-billion dollar cracker plant currently under construction by blocking the pipeline that feeds it…
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