Plant Remains Closed

Marcellus and Utica shale producers such as Chesapeake Energy and Consol Energy still cannot get their natural gas processed at the Blue Racer Midstream plant because the facility remains shut down in the aftermath of the Sept. 21 fire.

“We have not restarted the Natrium plant,” said Blue Racer spokeswoman Casey Nikoloric.

“We are making the repairs needed to restore service.”

Though Dominion Resources originally developed the Natrium plant and the full-time workers at Natrium are considered Dominion employees, Blue Racer now officially owns the facility as part of a $1.5 billion deal between Dominion and Caiman Energy.

Local authorities learned of the blast and fire just before 1:30 a.m. Sept. 21 when a Marshall County Sheriff’s Deputy patrolling in the area spotted it. W.Va. 2 near the Marshall and Wetzel county line was closed for nearly eight hours as the fire burned. About 25 residents in the Kent area north of the plant were evacuated as a safety precaution.

In addition to the road closure, CSX rail transportation was shut down as fire crews worked to extinguish the blaze.

The fire eventually burned itself out.

“The fire was limited to a small area within the facility and there were no injuries,” Nikoloric said.

During the Developing Unconventional Gas East conference in Pittsburgh in November, high-ranking officials with companies that depend on the Natrium plant complained that its closure was reducing their capacity to ship natural gas.

Just before the Sept. 21 accident, Blue Racer officials announced plans to build an additional $800 million worth of processing infrastructure to service the northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio areas.

“Our goal is to continue to be the Utica’s premier midstream company by providing superior customer service and the region’s best opportunity to gather and process rich gas and market natural gas liquids,” said Jack Lafield, chief executive officer of Blue Racer.

At Natrium, once the wet Marcellus and Utica shale gas travels to the plant, the ethane, butane, propane and other natural gas liquids are stripped away from the dry methane gas so all the products can be marketed individually.

Upon separation from the gas stream, the propane and butane are kept in tanks on the Natrium site to be marketed.

This cannot be done with ethane because of the product’s volatility, so Dominion currently ships much of this product for cracking along the Gulf Coast or in Canada.

To this point, Blue Racer – along with Williams Energy, MarkWest Energy and M3 Midstream – have invested nearly $10 billion for infrastructure to move Utica and Marcellus shale natural gas out of the Upper Ohio Valley.