Enterprise Products Partners LP's fourth natural gas liquids (NGL) fractionator at its Mont Belvieu, TX, complex has begun operating ahead of schedule and under budget at its nameplate capacity of 75,000 b/d, the partnership said Tuesday.

The fractionator's capacity is intended to accommodate growing NGL volumes from the Barnett Shale in North Texas and the Rockies. Enterprise's nameplate capacity at Mont Belvieu is now 305,000 b/d.

"Strong fundamentals on both sides of the supply-demand equation continue to create a favorable environment for incremental NGL fractionation capacity..." said Enterprise COO Jim Teague. "Production from liquids-rich natural gas plays remains brisk, while the favorable price differential for natural gas and NGLs compared to crude oil is leading several petrochemical companies to modify their ethylene facilities to increase their ability to crack NGL feedstocks such as ethane."

During the third quarter, crude oil prices continued to be considerably higher than those for natural gas, with natural gas averaging approximately 33% of crude oil on a Btu basis, Enterprise said. "This relationship continued to drive the ethylene industry's preference for lower-cost NGL feedstocks with record amounts of NGLs being consumed in August and September of 2010," the partnership said.

Plans are under way for Enterprise to add a fifth fractionator at Mont Belvieu. The addition of the fifth unit, which is expected in early 2012, will increase fractionation capacity at the complex to approximately 375,000 b/d, Enterprise said in June when it announced plans to develop infrastructure to serve producers in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas (see Daily GPI, June 30).

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