WVU-led study indicates WV, OH, & PA could support job growth by storing ethane

CANONSBURG, Pa. — West Virginia University’s Energy Institute, along with assorted partners, presented it’s first findings to the public Tuesday to showcase the region’s ability to attract and support the petrochemical industry through the use of gas storage hubs.

Doug Patchen, the director of WVU Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Consortium, said the study shows a bright potential future in the ability of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to support the petrochemical industry.

“There are some areas of small liquid storage in upstate New York and down in a couple places in the Appalachian Basin, but nothing of this scale,” Patchen said.

Sites in Texas and Kansas currently lead the way in this type of storage of natural gas liquids, Patchen said. With nowhere to keep product, Patchen said West Virginia and the wider region were missing out on numerous opportunities for economic growth. His team identified and mapped all potential options for subsurface storage of natural gas liquids along the Ohio River, from southwestern Pennsylvania into eastern Kentucky, and the Kanawha River in West Virginia.

“We did find areas where we could have multiple, stacked storage,” he said. “One layer shallower and then one still deeper, that would reduce the surface impact — the surface footprint. You could put multiple products away at the same location.”

Stacked opportunities “may reduce risks related to site acquisition and/or access to subsurface mineral rights and pore space, and could offer economics of scale relative to site preparation, number of wells to be drilled and logistics.” It continues, stacked storage “allows an operator to tailor its underground storage portfolio to suit its business needs, financial position and any potential environmental safety concerns.”

The three sites identified include a norther region that encompasses parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a small portion of West Virginia’s northern panhandle. A second potential site in North Central West Virginia includes parts of Wetzel, Marion, Monongalia, Harrison, Taylor, Barbour, Upshur, Lewis, Doddridge, Tyler, Gilmer, Pleasants, and Ritchie counties. The southern most site would include parts of Cabell, Lincoln, Boone, Kanawha, Mason, Putnam, Roane, Wirt, and Calhoun counties.

The report suggests unused ethane is either rejected, left in the gas stream for sale, or exported to Canada, Texas, Louisiana, and Europe. Dr. Brian Anderson, director of the WVU Energy Institute, suggests this is one step in economic revitalization in West Virginia — he believes that ethane needs to say in the region.

“101,000 jobs are in mostly in chemical manufacturing, the crackers, and the plastics units and plastics processors and everything associated with it,” he said.

The answer to unlocking that economic growth, according to Anderson, is the creation of storage hubs — which would lead to additional, though temporary, job growth.

“The hub itself would have many more jobs during construction phase than during full service operations,” Anderson said.

The best candidates, according to the study, for storage containment would be salt caverns, mined-rock caverns and sandstone reservoirs in depleted gas fields, and gas storage fields. Additionally, for a storage hub to work, researchers would need to identify and develop “salt formations that are relatively clean and have adequate thicknesses to support both product storage and allow for residual insoluble materials that may accumulate at the base of the caverns over time.”

“It would be pretty well-distributed between Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio with a lot of activity around the Ohio River,” Anderson said.

The study was conducted as part of the Tri-State Shale Coalition, a cross-border collaboration among Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It was created in 2015 following the signing of a collaborative agreement by Governors’ offices in the three states.

“Instead of West Virginia marketing a 400-acre site on their side of the river and Ohio marketing a 300-acre site on their side, we can together market is a 700-acre site, which is much more attractive to industry,” Anderson said. “And both states win in that scenario.”

The results of the study will be available online Friday, September 1.