The number of natural gas processing plants in the Lower 48 States decreased by 41 (about 8%) between 2004 and 2009, but a 25 MMcf/d increase in average plant capacity resulted in a 12% increase in overall operating capacity during the same period, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The report found that there were 493 operational gas processing plants in the Lower 48 in 2009 with a combined operating capacity of 77 Bcf/d. Average plant capacity increased to 139 MMcf/d in 2009 from 114 MMcf/d in 2004, EIA said. The increase was even more dramatic in Texas, where the addition of new plants and retirement of older, less efficient ones led to a 27% increase to 121 MMcf/d in 2009 from 95 MMcf/d in 2004.

While increases in Texas’ processing capacity accounted for 57% of the total Lower 48’s capacity increase of 7.1 Bcf/d, substantial increases also occurred in Arkansas, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, where natural gas processing capacity more than doubled between 2004 and 2009.

Texas and Louisiana accounted for nearly half of the total United States’ processing capacity in 2009, with the largest plants located along the Gulf Coast, EIA said. Of the 12 plants in the country with an operating capacity of 1 Bcf/d or more, six were located in Louisiana.

Alaska was the third largest state in terms of capacity, accounting for 9.5 Bcf/d, or about 12% of the total. The largest gas processing plant in terms of capacity was located in Alaska with an operating capacity of 8.5 Bcf/d.

The total utilization rate in the United States averaged 66% of total capacity in 2009, EIA said. Plants in Alaska ran at 86% of total capacity during the year, the highest capacity utilization rate in the country, while Texas ran at 71% and Louisiana at 56%.

The shift to newer, more efficient plants resulted in at least 34 processing plants nationwide being idled or dismantled, and 15 states had fewer processing plants in 2009 than they had in 2004, according to the EIA report.

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