NATRIUM, W.Va. - High demand for Utica and Marcellus shale ethane, propane, butane and other natural gas liquids is driving Blue Racer Midstream to double the size of its Marshall County processing plant along the Ohio River.
The facility, which recently reopened after it closed in the aftermath of a Sept. 21 fire, will grow its processing capacity from 200 million cubic feet per day to 400 million cubic feet per day. Blue Racer also plans to soon begin shipping NGL via river barge, which company officials said will supplement their current modes of rail, truck and pipeline transportation.
With the expansion set for a spring completion, Blue Racer will process gas for Chesapeake Energy, Total North America, Eclipse Resources, Hess Corp., Consol Energy, EnerVest, Rex Energy and PDC Energy.
Dominion Resources developed the Natrium plant and the full-time workers at Natrium are considered Dominion employees, but Blue Racer now owns the facility as part of a $1.5 billion deal between Dominion and Caiman Energy. To this point, Blue Racer - along with Williams Energy, MarkWest Energy and M3 Midstream - have invested nearly $10 billion for infrastructure to move Utica and Marcellus shale natural gas out of the Upper Ohio Valley.
"Utica producers face a number of challenges, and we continue to build out a very large supersystem in the Utica to assist them. Blue Racer's integrated supersystem of midstream assets is the largest system in the Utica. We have created a footprint that provides our producer customers with maximum flexibility," said Blue Racer CEO Jack Lafield.
In addition to the Natrium expansion, Blue Racer is continuing to build out its Berne processing complex, located west of Woodsfield in Monroe County.
"It's a very exciting time in the evolution of the Utica shale," Lafield said.
The Natrium plant is a key piece of the Blue Racer network, which includes nearly 600 miles of pipelines across 24 counties in Ohio and West Virginia. According to the company's website, its pipelines stretch as far north as Cleveland.
"The Utica is a complex play with tremendous potential," Lafield said. "Our assets are positioned exactly where our producers need them so that ultimately they achieve the best possible price realizations."
Because the "wet" Marcellus and Utica shale gas contains the natural gas liquids, in addition to the "dry" methane, the materials require processing and fractionation so that each item can be marketed individually. At Natrium, once the wet shale gas travels to the plant, the ethane, butane, propane and other natural gas liquids are stripped away from the dry methane gas so all the products can be marketed individually. Upon separation from the gas stream, the propane and butane are kept in tanks on the Natrium site to be marketed. This cannot be done with ethane because of the product's volatility, so Dominion currently ships much of this product for cracking along the Gulf Coast or in Canada.
Blue Racer's ethane pipeline provides direct access to the Enterprise ATEX Pipeline, which sends ethane to the Gulf Coast. New pipeline infrastructure leading out of Natrium will connect to Sunoco's Mariner West pipeline, which carriers ethane to Ontario, Canada for cracking at the Nova Chemicals Corunna petrochemical facility at Sarnia.
In October, Blue Racer purchased a 45-mile, 24-inch pipeline that fully interconnects its gathering systems to its Berne processing facility in western Monroe County. The Berne site is designed to accommodate three separate 200 million cubic feet per day processing units, the first of which should be up and running before the end of this year.