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Cracker plants, like one being built in Beaver County, boosting demand for ethane |

Cracker plants, like one being built in Beaver County, boosting demand for ethane

Stephen Huba | Tribune-Review
Shell Appalachia Business Integration Lead Michael Marr discusses the ethane cracker plant the company is building in Beaver County during the Shale Insight 2017 Conference in Pittsburgh.

If the cracker plant Royal Dutch Shell is building in Beaver County opens on time in 2020-21, it could be catching a ride on the fastest growing market in the petrochemical industry, according to an Energy Information Administration forecast.

The agency is projecting that U.S. consumption of ethane will grow faster than the consumption of any other petroleum product over the next couple of years.

The projection is based mainly on consumption trying to catch up with production. Ethane is a component of raw natural gas, so the boom of natural gas production has given the country a glut of ethane.

“This situation has led producers to leave some of the ethane in the natural gas stream, up to allowable limits set by natural gas pipelines and distribution systems, and to sell it as natural gas, rather than recover and market ethane as a separate product,” the agency says.

A cracker plant breaks large molecules in oil and natural gas into smaller ones. The Beaver County plant will break ethane down into ethylene, one of main materials used in chemical and plastics manufacturing.

At least a half dozen other cracker plants have been built or are in the works, which will increase the demand for ethane, according to the agency.

Pipelines shipping ethane to Canada and to terminals at Marcus Hook, Pa., and Morgan’s Point, Texas, also are increasing exports, the agency says.

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1218, [email protected] or via Twitter @TribBrian.

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