Range Resources Corp. is expanding the reach of its Appalachian ethane operation. A subsidiary of the Fort Worth, TX-based company said Thursday it had signed a deal to ship 20,000 b/d on Enterprise Product Partners LP's proposed Appalachia-to-Texas (Atex Express) ethane pipeline.

The commitment gives Range anchor shipper status, and a transportation rate of 14.5 cents per gallon, on the 1,230-mile pipeline from the liquid-rich shales of southwestern Pennsylvania to the petrochemical market in the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"It is encouraging to see all the components come together to allow us to commence ethane extraction from our liquids-rich Marcellus production," Range CEO Jeff Ventura said.

Atex Express will initially carry 125,000 b/d of Appalachian ethane from the MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources LLC fractionation, processing and storage complex in Houston, PA, to Enterprise's natural gas liquids storage complex in Mont Belvieu, TX. The pipeline is expected to come online in the first quarter of 2014 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 5).

"Ethane extraction will materially enhance our revenues and will allow us to better utilize our existing natural gas transportation arrangements. In particular, the Atex Express will allow us to tap into the most attractive ethane market in North America," Ventura said.

Aside from small volumes currently being blended into the natural gas stream, Appalachian ethane is mostly stranded for lack of any nearby market. Enterprise believes Atex Express would give producers in the Marcellus and Utica "direct or indirect access to every ethylene plant in the U.S." Enterprise also wants to build a 550-mile header system that would connect a string of petrochemical facilities from Corpus Christi, TX, to Norco, LA, by late 2013.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. previously agreed to ship 75,000 b/d on Atex Express over a five year ramp-up period, making it the first anchor on the pipeline (see Shale Daily, Nov. 3, 2011). After sanctioning the project, Enterprise subsequently held a two-week supplemental open season, which ended Monday (Jan. 23), to accommodate additional demand from shippers.

With a 15,000 b/d commitment, Range is also an anchor shipper on Mariner West, MarkWest Liberty and Sonoco Logistics' proposed 50,000 b/d ethane pipeline from the Houston complex to Sarnia, ON, scheduled to come online by July 2013 (see Shale Daily, Sept. 8, 2011).

With the onset of the year-end earnings season, major players in the Marcellus, including Chesapeake, Range and Talisman Energy Inc. have been announcing shifts to liquids-rich portions of the plays to counter the effect of low natural gas prices (see Shale Daily, Jan. 24; Jan. 11).

In addition to its two contracts, Range is "in discussions with a number of other domestic and international companies regarding additional ethane sales and transportation arrangements."