Dominion Transmission's Natrium Processing and Fractionation Facility began operating in the summer of 2013. It is part of a $1.5 billion joint venture between Dominion and Caiman Energy II, LLC, known as Blue Racer Midstream. The new 3 million-square-foot facility was formed by 2,200 tons of structural steel, 14,000 cubic yards of concrete, 36 miles of piping, 227 miles of wire, 34,700 welds and nearly 1,000 skilled workers.
The huge natural gas processing plant, located along the Ohio River near Natrium, W.Va., is a response to the need for additional processing and fractionation capacity in the region. It reduces bottlenecks for producers drilling "wet," or hydrocarbon-heavy, natural gas in the prolific Marcellus and Utica shale formations.
In its first phase, the facility will process 200 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and fractionate 36,000 barrels of natural gas liquids per day. Once additional producer commitments for a second phase of the project are finalized, efforts will begin to expand the Natrium facility to process a total of 400 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and fractionate 59,000 barrels of natural gas liquids per day.
Although the drilling community is excited about abundant gas production in the tri-state area, problems have occurred in moving the wet, hydrocarbon-heavy gas to market. The heavier hydrocarbons cause wet gas to exceed the pipeline standard maximum energy content of 1,100 BTU per standard cubic foot, so it must be processed first. That’s where Natrium's role begins.
The Natrium facility is strategically located near a transmission pipeline that Dominion recently converted to carry wet gas, and is also adjacent to a major highway, rail and waterway. At Natrium, the NGLs are extracted from the natural gas stream so that each commodity can be shipped and sold separately. These commodities, including propane, butane, isobutane, natural (unrefined) gasoline and ethane, are in demand and used in a variety of everyday ways and products.
The first photo below shows the towers used to extract ethane, propane, and butane, respectively, from the natural gas liquids by heating the full mix. As each vaporizes, that component is chilled and sent for storage or continues to be heated for further extraction and processing until liquid. The bottom photo shows the 88-foot spherical storage tanks.
Natrium is the culmination of many years of planning and foresight by Dominion Transmission. Senior managers and marketing personnel closely monitored the natural gas and natural gas liquids boom that is bringing new prosperity and activity to a multi-state region centered around Natrium.
The drilling boom is fed by two prolific underground rock formations: the Marcellus and Utica shales. The formations stretch for as much as 100,000 square miles under eight states, including almost all of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, most of New York, and eastern Ohio. The microscopic pores in the shale rock hold many trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and as much as a billion gallons of "heavier hydrocarbons" such as propane, butane and natural gasoline.