The Long and Winding Road, Part 3 - A Propane Molecule's Journey to Mont Belvieu and Beyond

About two-thirds of all of the propane consumed in the U.S. is used as fuel — for indoor and outdoor cooking, home heating, water heaters, drying crops, and running forklifts and fleet vehicles. The other one-third is used as a feedstock for producing ethylene and other petchems. About 95% of the propane supply to meet this demand is produced and processed right here in the U.S. of A., making propane the most American fuel we’ve got. But when firing up the grill out back and watching that first propane molecule flash to life, most backyard chefs don’t think much about the long and winding road their propane has traveled. It’s actually a fascinating tale of supply-chain logistics that involves high pressures, bitter cold, wild rides up and down tall towers, storage deep underground, and, of course, trains, trucks, and tanks. We think it’s a tale that needs to be told, and that’s what we’ve been doing in this update of another Greatest Hit blog.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve been tracking a typical propane molecule from the point that it departs a shale formation 10,000 feet below the surface of West Texas until it arrives at the burner tip of a propane BBQ grill in your backyard. In Part 1, we started with the moment our little propane molecule squeezed through a fracture in the Permian’s Spraberry formation and into the wellbore of Brook-Funkhouser 19-A in Upton County, TX. Our molecule reached the surface as part of a bubbling, comingled, multi-phase stream of crude oil, produced water, and natural gas laden with natural gas liquids (NGLs) and a host of impurities. It then was processed through separator and heater treater equipment. Our little molecule was “flashed off” with a stream of NGL-rich natural gas and sent via gathering pipeline system to Targa Resources’ 200-MMcf/d Joyce natural gas processing plant, where it was chilled to minus 120 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point, most of the NGLs in the gas stream, including our little molecule, condensed into liquid phase, while the methane kept on flowing into a natural gas pipeline.

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