Superload Takes the Scenic Route

MOUNDSVILLE – What’s nearly half-a-football field long, travels at a top speed of 5 mph and can clog traffic for hours at a time?

A so-called superload, and one’s scheduled to be coming our way this week.

The 41-yard-long de-ethanizer weighs 510,000 pounds and will help Williams Energy refine more ethane from Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas. It will make a nearly 30-mile trip from the Benwood CSX rail yard along the Ohio River to the company’s Oak Grove facility along Fork Ridge Road in Marshall County.

The 14-foot wide de-ethanizer now sits in Benwood after arriving via train from Houston, Texas. The journey on roads filled with dips and turns is expected to begin Thursday and last through Sunday, with various stops along the route.

Transporting such a superload takes coordination with the West Virginia Division of Highways, as well as utility providers such as American Electric Power and Frontier. Some utility lines may need to be temporarily raised to accommodate the move.

“This will be the first de-ethanizer for Oak Grove,” said Williams spokeswoman Helen Humphreys. “There will eventually be a second, which will probably come in March. But we need to get this one up there first.”

Officials with Williams and the DOH originally hoped to move the giant piece of equipment from Benwood to Oak Grove on Saturday, but Humphreys said weather concerns prompted a reschedule.

“The weather is always the wildcard – especially this time of year,” she said.

The Move

Starting early Thursday, the de-ethanizer will begin traveling to Oak Grove onboard a device known as a “Goldhofer,” which is a modular platform trailer suited to moving extremely heavy and difficult loads. The device will sit nearly 17 feet high on the Goldhofer.

“It will be steered remotely,” Humphreys said of the trailer, adding that the superload will generally travel about 3 mph, but never more than 5 mph.

As the de-ethanizer progresses along the route, there will be rolling shutdowns of the roads traveled. Humphreys said Williams’ contractor, Crane Rental Corp., will move the load during daylight hours, but will minimize disruption to normal traffic patterns as much as possible. She said Williams consulted the DOH regarding the safest route of travel.

The de-ethanizer’s travel also should not impact school bus routes.

Whenever the de-ethanizer begins its journey from Benwood to Oak Grove, Humphreys said Williams will let motorists know via traffic alert signs posted at several locations in the county.

“My understanding is that motorists should be able to pass, except when they are in very tight areas,” Mandy Crow, administrative secretary for DOH District Six in Moundsville, said.

According to the route plans, the tower will proceed from the CSX rail yard onto W.Va. 2; move south to W.Va. 86 in Glen Dale; move east to W.Va. 88 at Butch’s Corner in Sherrard; move southeast to U.S. 250 in Limestone; move southeast along U.S. 250 to the intersection of Fork Ridge Road; and move west along Fork Ridge Road to the Oak Grove facility.

The first leg of the trek will end at Butch’s Corner; the second leg, at Terry’s Mountaineer Store in Pleasant Valley; and the third leg, at what’s known as the McElroy substation on Fork Ridge Road.

Crow said a closure of the Jefferson Avenue Extension in Moundsville this week due to a sinkhole should not cause additional hassle for motorists.

Once it reaches its destination, the de-ethanizer will be turned upright to be used as a tower.

De-Ethanizer at Oak Grove

In addition to ethane, the propane, butane, pentane and methane in West Virginia and neighboring states are so plentiful and profitable that Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams is spending $4.5 billion to process the natural gas in Marshall County. The company has three sites of operation: Oak Grove, much of which remains under construction; the Fort Beeler processing plant; and the Moundsville fractionation plant.

Fort Beeler already has a de-ethanizer on site. According to Williams, these devices strip ethane out of the natural gas stream before pipelines transport the product to Williams’ customers for further processing.

MarkWest Energy also started a second de-ethanizer at the Majorsville complex in eastern Marshall County. MarkWest is now operating its Liberty Ethane Pipeline that transports ethane from Majorsville to Houston, Pa. The product will then head to the Gulf Coast via the ATEX pipeline or to Sarnia, Canada via the Mariner West pipeline.

Although Humphreys was unsure of the exact destination for the ethane Williams distills, she said products such as PVC pipe, medical supplies, polyester fibers, cleaning products, shampoo, hand sanitizers and antifreeze begin with the natural gas liquid.

While the ethane goes to market directly from Fort Beeler and Oak Grove, these two processing plants send their propane, butane and pentane via pipeline to the Moundsville fractionator along the Ohio River. Here, these forms of NGL are separated to be sent to market.