One Gas Processing Plant Chills, the Other Boils
SCIO, Ohio -- As one plant in Columbiana County chills, another 35 miles south in Harrison County boils. Together, they cook up the ingredients for oil and gas production in eastern Ohio’s Utica shale.
Eighteen months after principals of Utica East Ohio Buckeye announced what is now a $1.4 billion gas-gathering, cryogenic and fractionation system, two large processing plants and miles of pipelines are in commission – with more on the horizon, executives say.
“We’ll have a full capacity of processing 1.2 billion cubic feet a day” of natural gas once the entire project is finished, reports Frank Tsuru, CEO of M3 Midstream. M3, along with Access Midstream and EV Energy Partners, own the UEO Buckeye system. “We’re really just scratching the surface,” Tsuru says.
UEO Buckeye’s system, the largest integrated natural gas processing complex in Ohio, is responsible for gathering gas from wells its customers drilled, separating that gas into “dry” and “wet” forms, and then further processing those natural gas liquids into specific, saleable products.
Tsuru, Access Midstream CEO, Mike Stice, Gov. John Kasich, and a hundred observers were on hand Oct. 28 to inaugurate UEO Buckeye’s new fractionation plant in Scio, a small town in Harrison County.
UEO Buckeye’s processing network is an integral part of turning the Utica play into a real moneymaker, they say. Without these pipelines and processing centers, highly profitable natural gas liquids can’t be sold.
“We’re putting pipelines in the ground, compressor stations, and meeting our target,” says Access Midstream’s Stice. Access is responsible for building the gathering lines from wells that transport natural gas to the Kensington plant. “We’re going to be spending $1.6 billion over the next three years,” Stice says, “and that will give us 1,200 miles of pipeline.”
And that’s just one company, Stice points out. Add in the other ventures simultaneously building infrastructure across the Utica’s wet gas window and the investment and scope of pipelines crisscrossing eastern Ohio doubles. “You’re looking at 2,500 miles of pipeline just to connect the wet gas,” Stice says.
At the heart of the UEO Buckeye system are two operational gas plants, a cryogenic processor near Kensington in southern Columbiana County, and the natural gas liquids fractionation complex in Scio, 35 miles south of Kensington. Another UEO cryogenic facility is under construction in Leesville, in southern Carroll County.
The plants in Kensington and Leesville are responsible for chilling the natural gas piped in from producing wells – most of them owned by UEO’s largest client, Chesapeake Energy Corp., the largest leaseholder in the Utica in terms of acreage.
Chesapeake’s footprint extends from Columbiana County, through Carroll County, and into parts of Harrison County, and encompasses about one million acres.
The Kensington plant collects natural gas transmitted via pipelines from wells drilled along the Utica. At least three processing plants, or “trains,” are officially sanctioned for the complex. UEO recently purchased additional property for a fourth phase, Tsuru says. “We have a fourth plant planned for that site,” he confirms.
With its first phase completed, UEO Buckeye’s Kensington plant has the capability to process 200 million cubic feet of gas per day. When all three phases are in operation, that number climbs to 600 million per day, and a fourth phase would give the plant the capacity to process 800 million cubic feet per day.
Each phase is dominated by a high tower that accepts the natural gas flowing from the wells and chills that gas to about 150 degrees below zero. The process allows the heavier wet gas to sink.
The lighter dry gas, in this case, methane, rises and separates from the liquids. That methane is then pumped into natural gas lines owned by a variety of suppliers that deliver the fuel to residences and businesses.
What’s left is an amalgam of natural gas liquids, or NGLs, that require further processing.That’s where UEO Buckeye’s new Scio plant comes into play, says Mark Hay, site safety/process safety coordinator at M3 Midstream.
Natural gas liquids are transported via the 35-mile pipeline from the Kensington plant directly into the Scio plant. There, the liquids are separated into products such as ethane, propane, butane and natural gasoline, Hay says. “It’s sort of like a big tea kettle, or a distillery,” he says.
Instead of using a chilling process to separate gas as in the Kensington plant, the Scio plant applies heat, Hay explains. “The fractionation process heats the gas to about 450 degrees,” he reports, and boils off the lighter gases.
Natural gas liquids are first piped into one of three fractionation towers, Hay says. Each fractionation tower has a specific function, and the ethane is the first gas to be removed.
“We take the ethane off first, then the gas is shipped to a “depropanizer” tower, where the propane is removed,” he says.
Once the ethane and propane are separated, the gas then moves to a third tower – a “debutanizer” – where it’s heated again and butane is extracted as a separate product.
“At the bottom, you have natural gasoline, which is sent to storage.” That natural gasoline is then offloaded onto rail cars and then transported to customers that distribute the gas to end-users.
For the other saleable NGLs, both pipeline and rail transportation are used to ship the products to market, Hay says. “We have some pipeline infrastructure. If the pipeline happens to be full, then we’ll load rail cars. We’re going to do both.”
Fourteen months ago, the 600-acre parcel in Scio was a cornfield, Hay reflects. The first phase of the Harrison County hub is finished and the plant is processing about 8,000 barrels of NGLs a day. The first phase has the capacity to process 45,000 barrels per day. “By this date in November, we’ll probably double our capacity, maybe more,” he said Oct. 28.
Work on the second phase is ongoing while a third phase is also being prepared at the site, Hay says. At capacity, the Harrison hub could process as much as 145,000 to 160,000 barrels of NGLs per day. A fourth expansion could also be in the works, he speculates.
Of the 2,000 tradesmen used to construct both the Kensington and the Scio plants, 900 remain on the project.
“You should’ve been here last summer,” says Trish Copeland, village of Scio treasurer and clerk. “I live right on Main Street, and day after day, I saw this plant come in piece-by-piece.”
This recent activity harkens back to more than a century ago when prospectors moved into the region during the oil rush of the late 19th century, Copeland says.
“It went from a population of 760 to 10,000,” she observes. “The people of little old Scio who were around for the oil boom of 1898 and 1899 had no clue of what they were standing on.”
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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