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Shock to the System - Alberta's Ethane Demand to Soar with Approval of New Dow Ethane Cracker

The demand for ethane by Alberta’s petrochemical industry has experienced a slow expansion in the past 20 or so years. However, that demand is likely to increase sharply by the end of the decade now that Dow Chemical has sanctioned a major expansion at its operations in Fort Saskatchewan, AB, that will more than double the site’s ethane requirements. As we discuss in today’s RBN blog, this will call for an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to increasing Alberta’s access to ethane supplies from numerous sources. 

Long known as an energy powerhouse producing vast quantities of crude oil and natural gas, the Western Canadian province of Alberta is also, unsurprisingly, Canada’s largest producer of natural gas liquids (NGLs), which emerge from gas-focused wells with methane (the primary component of natural gas) as a “raw” gas mix. Ethane is the most abundant of the so-called NGL “purity products” that can be extracted from this raw-gas flow either at a traditional gas processing plant, at one of Alberta’s three large “straddle plants” (more on these in a moment), or at a fractionation plant that separates a mixed NGL stream into ethane, propane and other purity products.

The best use for ethane is to produce more chemically complex building blocks such as ethylene and its derivatives, including polyethylene, the prime ingredient for the production of plastics in everyday items such as bottles, bags, food packaging, and many other uses. Easy access to ethane in Alberta over the years has spurred the development of a large, world-class petrochemical industry. In fact, the province hosts one of the largest ethylene producing complexes in the world at Joffre (green dot in Figure 1 below), owned and operated by Nova Chemicals, which utilizes three ethane crackers. We estimate that the ethane intake capacity for the Joffre complex is approximately 180 Mb/d. A fourth ethane cracker is in Fort Saskatchewan (red dot); it is owned and operated by Dow Chemical and has an estimated ethane intake capacity of 95 Mb/d. 

Western Canada Ethane Infrastructure

Figure 1. Western Canada Ethane Infrastructure. Source: RBN 

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