Since the mid-2010s, MPLX has been developing a far-reaching pipeline system for delivering heavier natural gas liquids and field condensate from the Utica and “wet” Marcellus plays to Midwest refineries for gasoline blending and refining, and to the Alberta oil sands for use as diluent. The multi-year, multi-project effort, which has involved the construction of new pipelines, the repurposing of existing pipes, and the development of new storage capacity, will reach another milestone next month, when MPLX starts batching normal butane and isobutane through most of the pipeline system. And further enhancements are on the horizon. Today, we provide an update on the master limited partnership’s long-running strategy for moving Marcellus/Utica-sourced liquids to market more efficiently and at a lower per-barrel cost.
Moving the increasing volumes of NGLs and other hydrocarbon liquids produced in eastern Ohio, southwestern Pennsylvania, and northern West Virginia to market has been a major midstream challenge — the region hadn’t been a major producer of NGL-rich gas until the start of the Shale Era, and the pipelines in place to handle the resulting flows were few and far between. For midstreamers, a need is an opportunity, and a number of companies stepped up. Between 2013 and early 2020, Enterprise Products Partners developed the Appalachia-to-Texas Express (ATEX) pipeline to transport ethane to Mont Belvieu, TX; Energy Transfer built out both the Mariner West pipeline to move ethane to Sarnia, ON, and the Mariner East system to pipe ethane, propane, and normal butane to the company’s Marcus Hook, PA, marine terminal near Philadelphia; and Kinder Morgan brought online the Utopia Pipeline to send ethane to Windsor, ON. Also, Shell is building the Falcon pipeline system to transport ethane to the company’s planned steam cracker in western Pennsylvania.
Then there’s MPLX, the MLP formed by Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC) in 2012. MPLX is perhaps best-known in the Appalachian region for its extraordinary array of gas processing plants, de-ethanization units and C3+ fractionators. These highly coordinated assets collectively help the Marcellus/Utica — which has minimal in-region NGL storage capacity and no takeaway pipelines for mixed NGLs (also known as y-grade) — deal with vast volumes of produced NGLs by either rejecting ethane into natural gas or piping it out via ATEX, Mariner West, Mariner East or Utopia; and by piping propane and butane out on Mariner East or the old TEPPCO pipeline system, or by sending them out in rail tankcars, tanker trucks, or barges down the Ohio River.
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