Between 1996 and 2006, the number of compressor stations on the nation's interstate pipeline grid increased 14.7%, resulting in a 26% increase in installed horsepower. All that new muscle was not the result of a supply push or a demand pull but rather a combination of factors, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

"In fact, compared with 1996 levels, both natural gas production and consumption in the United States in 2006 are slightly lower [than in 1996]..." EIA said in a report released last week on compressor stations. Factors that drove the increase in compressor capacity are:

"Meanwhile, the decrease in U.S. natural gas production overall and the decrease in natural gas supplies flowing from declining production areas contributed to deactivating 22 mainline compressor stations and the downsizing of 45 more stations during the period," EIA said.

In 1996 there were about 1,047 mainline compressor stations with installed horsepower of about 13.4 million and combined throughput capacity of about 743 Bcf/d. Ten years later there were 1,201 mainline stations, 16.9 million horsepower and throughput capacity of about 881 Bcf/d. This represented a 19% increase in throughput capacity during the period.

While large stations on interstate trunkline systems stand out for their horsepower and throughput, EIA said the majority of stations are relatively small-scale operations. "For instance, about three-fourths of all compressor stations have an installed horsepower level below 20,000 and a throughput capacity of less than 1 Bcf/d," EIA said. "The prevalence of smaller scale compressor stations reflects the large number of 'grid' type interstate natural gas pipeline systems that operate within established regional markets such as the Northeast, Midwest or Southeast."

Of more than 290 gas pipeline expansions completed between 1996 and 2006, about 195, or two-thirds, involved additional compression on an existing pipeline system. Of the 195 projects, 78 were strictly compressor station upgrades or additional stations. The rest were in conjunction with other expansion measures such as pipeline looping.

The report is available on the EIA website, www.eia.doe.gov. Click on "what's new" under "announcements and news."

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