Shale Daily / NGI All News Access

EIA: Processing Plants Responding to Shale Boom

As natural gas produced from shale plays gains a larger slice of the gas market pie and production from the Gulf of Mexico continues to diminish, gas processing infrastructure is increasingly being added in non-Gulf Coast areas, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

According to the EIA, between 2009 and 2010 operators added about 13.3 Bcf/d of capacity, and 86% of that addition was located in non-Gulf Coast areas. Overall capacity grew from 77.5 Bcf/d to 90.8 Bcf/d. As natural gas production expands in new areas, additional processing and pipeline capacity may be needed.

In the Gulf Coast, some processing plants have shifted from processing offshore production from the Gulf of Mexico to processing gas from the Haynesville Shale in North Louisiana and East Texas and the Barnett Shale play in Texas. Gulf Coast processing capacity has continued to grow despite decreasing offshore production, EIA said.

It is thought by some that a shortage of processing capacity in the Northeast may be a bottleneck in the continuing development of the Marcellus Shale, EIA noted.

Some plants are mobile, allowing them to be moved to process gas where the economics are most favorable for doing so, the agency said. Mark Sutton, executive director of the Gas Processors Association, told NGI that for years the industry has repurposed disused vessels from processing plants that were shut down for economic or other reasons. "I'm not sure I buy into the fact that there are more 'mobile' plants," he said.

Sutton said it has gotten more difficult for the industry to build new infrastructure since the Obama administration came to Washington. "It's gotten much worse," he said, adding that state regulatory agencies also are making things more difficult, although not necessarily intentionally.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, regulators there are just struggling to keep up with the pace of development occurring in the Marcellus Shale, Sutton said. "I think Pennsylvania recognizes the advantages of a healthy exploration and production and processing industry from a jobs situation, but a lot of others don't."

Overall, operating capacity increased about 12% between 2004 and 2009, not including capacity in Alaska. At the same time, the number of all processing plants in the Lower 48 decreased by 41 or about 8% (not including the plants in Alaska), EIA said. Between 2004 and 2009, the average plant capacity (excluding plants in Alaska) increased from 114 MMcf/d to 139 MMcf/d. In Texas, although the number of plants decreased, the average capacity per plant increased from 95 MMcf/d to 121 MMcf/d as newer plants were added and older, less efficient plants were shut down.

Texas had the most processing plants and the largest combined capacity of any state, with 163 plants and 19.7 Bcf/d of capacity, accounting for about 26% of the U.S. total. Texas and Louisiana accounted for nearly half of U.S. capacity, with the largest plants located along the coast.

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