'Midstream' conference predicts greater reach for CNG vehicles, Utica Shale
March 22, 2012 4:00 AM
A display for Hart Energy sits on the main floor of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Chris Kral of El Paso Midstream Group speaks at the Marcellus Midstream Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
By Erich Schwartzel Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rig counts continue to rise and recent announcements signal a burgeoning regional petrochemical market, but industry experts Wednesday polished their crystal balls and said the effects of Marcellus Shale developments will trickle down to the everyday consumer in the form of cars powered by natural gas.
That was the pervasive message of the closing panel at the Marcellus Midstream conference, an annual get-together of the processors and handlers trying to get the gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale into the pipelines and stations that take it to market.
More than 1,800 "midstreamers" streamed into the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for the event, which was presented by Houston-based energy publisher Hart Energy.
Looking ahead five years, George Stark, the director of external affairs at Houston, Texas-based Cabot Oil and Gas, said the "low-hanging fruit" of gas development is building infrastructure to support vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, or CNG.
His company is building a CNG plant in Susquehanna County, and several have been built by other firms in the Pittsburgh region.
Most CNG vehicles found on the road today are a part of company fleets or public transportation buses, but domestic automakers in Detroit have announced plans to manufacture CNG cars in the United States in the coming years.
Last week's announcement by Shell Oil Co. that it would locate a massive ethane "cracker" plant near Monaca hovered over the discussion, with one industry representative saying it's an arbiter for the large petrochemical presence to come.
More plants are expected, said Lou D'Amico, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, which could reverse the trend of domestic petrochemical plants only locating in the South -- and taking Pennsylvania talent with them.
Pennsylvania could soon become the "Gulf Coast without the hurricanes," he said. Petrochemical growth is accelerating because they are trading at higher prices than natural gas.
As the focus shifts toward the petrochemicals market, Ohio and its liquids-rich Utica Shale have found themselves voted the Next Big Thing by the industry.
El Paso Corp., of Houston, Texas, is expected to open the first processing plant in the Utica Shale in 2013.
The plant would be an extension of the company's Tennessee Gas Pipeline System, which stretches for 14,000 miles from Mexico to Canada, said Chris Kral, a manager of business development at El Paso Midstream.