It’s a well-known fact in the energy and petchem industries that ethane is either “rejected” into natural gas or used as a feedstock for steam crackers. But piping ethane to NGL hubs, crackers, or export docks only makes sense if it’s economically viable or if there’s no other alternative, and ethane rejection has its limits — ethane has a 70% higher Btu value than methane, and too much rejection can make pipeline gas “too hot” for downstream consumers. Well, there’s another way to make economic use of ethane: burn it — typically in a blend with natural gas — to generate electric power. Burning ethane for power is super-rare though, and only happens in places where the lightest of all NGLs is so abundant that folks don’t know what to do with it. The Marcellus/Utica region in Appalachia for one, and now — just maybe — the Bakken Shale in western North Dakota. Today, we discuss plans for what would be only the second major U.S. power plant to be fueled by a blend of natural gas and ethane.
When you’ve got a local energy source in spades, you find a use for it. For example, in heavily forested Vermont, 38% of homes are heated fully or partly by wood, and one in three children attend schools heated by cordwood or wood pellets, according to the state’s Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation. (Here’s Vermont’s own Senator Bernie Sanders showing his fire-starting skills.) In wind-swept Iowa, wind farms now generate nearly half of the state’s electricity. And which state but California would be on top when it comes to solar power — more than 29,000 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity already installed, since January 2020 every new single-family home and multi-family building of up to three stories needs to be powered at least in part by onsite solar generation.
North Dakota is among the country’s least-sunny states (ranking 42nd in that category; Texas is #4 and Arizona is #1), and less than 2% of it is forested (compared to 78% of Vermont). It does have wind — and more than its share of wind turbines, too — but what it’s really got a lot of is crude oil, natural gas, and mixed NGLs, almost all of it in the Bakken region in the western part of the state.
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