Ethane set to go under the Ohio River near Clarington

CANONSBURG, Pa. — By 2019, Energy Storage Ventures hopes to connect three pipelines beneath the Ohio River to a new natural gas liquids storage facility — two of which will bring ethane, propane and butane from Blue Racer Natrium, while the third will send salt brine from Clarington to the Marshall County chlorine plant now operated by Westlake Chemical Corp.

David Hooker, president of Denver-based Energy Storage Ventures, is building Mountaineer NGL Storage on former coal mine property along the Ohio River and Ohio 7. He endeavors to use salt caverns more than 1 mile deep — each of which will be capable of holding 500,000 barrels of ethane, butane or propane — for the first active facility in what government and business leaders consider an ethane storage “hub” for the Marcellus and Utica shale region.

This week, Hooker joined a panel discussion in Canonsburg, Pa. organized by West Virginia University to discuss the findings of a new study about the best places to create ethane storage capacity. Hooker’s Monroe County operation would fall into one of the “top-rated” zones, as the salt walls in the area are about 100 feet thick.

“This is not rocket science. These things have operated safely for years,” Hooker said when asked about the potential for leaks at his operation near the river. “Salt, at depth, is impermeable. You won’t see any migration out of the salt.”

Each cavern would hold as many as 21 million gallons, and if Hooker meets his ultimate goal of using eight caverns, as many as 168 million gallons of ethane, propane and butane would be in storage.

Hooker said he plans two 10-inch pipelines to carry liquids from the Blue Racer plant to the storage caverns on the other side of the river. He said one line will carry only ethane, with the second transporting a combination of propane and butane, at a depth of about 60 feet beneath the river.

When the Natrium plant initially opened, officials said they would keep propane and butane in aboveground tanks, but could not do this with ethane because of the material’s volatility.

“It’s a lot safer to have it underground,” Hooker said.

The process by which the caverns will hold the liquids, and eventually release them for distribution, will create a salt brine waste. Artist’s renderings of the project show a large brine water impoundment pond located on a hill next to Ohio 7.

Hooker said Tuesday his firm plans to send much of the resulting salt brine back to West Virginia via a third pipeline that will connect to the Westlake plant along W.Va. 2. This plant, during its time under the ownership of PPG Industries and Axiall Corp., used its technology to transform salt into chlorine.

Officials with Westlake could not be reached for comment, as a message at the company’s Houston headquarters said they would not be available due to the flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey.

In Ohio, both the state Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Natural Resources hold some regulatory authority over the storage endeavor. Hooker acknowledged his Ohio permits remain under review.

Hooker said his firm has already spent about $20 million on the project, with plans to spend up to $150 million. In addition to being part of the Marcellus and Utica region in general, the storage facility will be about 12 miles south of the proposed PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker at Dilles Bottom.

“This is a strong project that will satisfy the growing demand for reliable storage services to the many pipelines, rail, truck, and barge infrastructure currently being built to transport Marcellus and Utica natural gas liquids throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic,” Hooker said. “We are eager to move into the construction phase and fulfill this critical need for storage.”

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