Canada Cracks Region’s Ethane

WHEELING – As companies hope to build multibillion-dollar petrochemical plants in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Nova Chemicals Corp. is already cracking Marcellus Shale ethane into ethylene in Ontario, Canada.

Because there is no ethane cracker in the Marcellus or Utica shale regions, the Nova plant is one destination for the natural gas liquid derived by companies such as Williams Energy, MarkWest Energy and Blue Racer Midstream. These processors can direct their products to Canada or to the Gulf Coast via an extensive pipeline network.

On Thursday, Nova officials held a special ceremony at the Corunna petrochemical facility in Sarnia, which is northeast of Detroit, just across the Canadian border along the Lake Huron shore.

“The introduction of Marcellus Shale ethane into the feedstock diet at our Corunna cracker marks a tremendous milestone in our journey to utilize more cost-competitive feedstock in Ontario, which should result in stronger and more consistent financial performance for our Ontario-based assets,” said Nova CEO Randy Woelfel. “This is a critical component to our Nova 2020 growth strategy of capitalizing on new feedstock sources to meet our current needs and expanding customer demands.”

Ethane – along with propane, butane, isobutane and pentane – is a natural gas liquid often prevalent in “wet” shale gas, along with the “dry” methane, found in Ohio and West Virginia. A cracker plant converts ethane into the widely used ethylene, which can be used in everything from plastics to tires to antifreeze. Because there is still no cracker in the Marcellus or Utica regions, processors must do one of three things with the product: blend it into their regular gas streams; burn it off via flaring; or place it into pipelines for shipping to crackers in Gulf Coast states, such as Louisiana, or in Canada.

According to the company, Nova’s Corunna site supplies nearly 40 percent of Canada’s total requirements for primary petrochemicals. The refinery can produce 6.5 billion pounds of basic petrochemicals such as ethylene annually. Nova refers to the Corunna facility as a “flexi-cracker” because it has the ability to process heavy and light feedstocks, which the company believes gives it a competitive advantage.

“We are excited to be the first petrochemical company to use this emerging feedstock source as we move toward the completion of our cracker revamp and increase the volumes of ethane consumed through the quarter,” said Tom Thompson, Nova’s manufacturing director.

Although natural gas processors continue pumping ethane out of the Marcellus and Utica shale regions, Kevin DiGregorio, executive director of the West Virginia-based Chemical Alliance Zone, remains “very confident” Odebrecht’s planned Parkersburg ethane cracker plant will come to fruition.

As Mountain State leaders try to land this cracker, Royal Dutch Shell recently extended its option to purchase the 300-acre Monaca, Pa. site from the Horsehead Corp. along the Ohio River north of Pittsburgh. Shell plans to fund a demolition project at the property in preparation for building its ethane cracker.

Also, Axiall Corp. is planning to build a $3 billion petrochemical complex in Louisiana. Axiall took over the chemical division of PPG Industries last year, giving the company control of the Natrium chemical production site along W.Va. 2, which formerly operated under the PPG badge.