Why Not Store Highly Volatile Ethane in Caverns Under West Virginia?

by admin on May 13, 2019

Areas of Interest for Ethane Storage

Appalachian Storage Hub and the Elephant in the Room

Article by Jim Kotcon, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club, Morgantown, WV

From: Mountain State Sierran, Volume 45, Number 2, Summer 2019

The Appalachian Storage Hub (ASH), sometimes called the Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub, is a proposal for underground storage of various natural gas byproducts that could support a plastics industry.

Natural gas is mostly methane, but in some formations, significant amounts of other gases and liquids (including propane, butane, and especially ethane) occur with the methane. These are usually separated from methane because they burn hotter or have more value for manufacturing purposes.

Without a market, these may be “flared” (burned off to eliminate them). But converting ethane to ethylene and polyethylene makes the ethane valuable for plastics. The process requires multi-billion-dollar “cracker” plants, several of which are proposed for West Virginia and adjoining states to take advantage of the ready supply from the fracking boom and the large volumes of these liquids.

But a cracker plant wants a steady supply of ethane, and the ASH is needed to store the large volumes needed. Neither the ASH nor the crackers are economically viable without the other. Proponents argue that the ASH is the key to $100 billion in investments and tens of thousands of jobs.

So, Where’s the Elephant?

In 2015, almost all nations signed the Paris Climate Agreement, committing these nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below 2o C, and striving for 1.5o C. The IPCC and most other scientific organizations agree that this means we must drastically reduce use of fossil fuels. The world must reduce emissions from fossil fuels by 50 percent within 10 years and be almost entirely off fossil fuels within 30 years.

Construction of a large gas industry is fundamentally incompatible with that goal. Yet none of the proponents will discuss this issue, or even admit that it is real. None of the major investors in the ASH or cracker plants or related industries are including greenhouse gas mitigation in their business plans.

The West Virginia Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Energy are offering major incentives and subsidies to develop the ASH. Political leaders including WV’s U.S. Senators and all three Representatives, the Governor, and the overwhelming majority of state legislators and county commissioners and all state and local economic development agencies are advocates for these increased federal subsidies.

But no one will talk about the greenhouse gas issue, or even plan for it.

Why is This Relevant to the ASH?

Ethane crackers create more demand for fracking and natural gas wells, pipelines and related facilities. These all emit methane, and some emit a lot. Methane is 84 times more effective at capturing heat than carbon dioxide (over a 20-year life span).

Ethane crackers also use tremendous amounts of electricity, most of which is expected to come from fossil fuels. It is expected that the plastics industry will account for one-sixth of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Most importantly, investments in fossil fuel infrastructure slow the transition to sustainable, renewable energy sources.

What You Can Do

Call or e-mail our Congressional delegation and ask them to oppose federal subsidies for the ASH. Send a copy of your comments to U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Source: https://www.sierraclub.org/sites/www.sierraclub.org/files/sce-authors/u4882/2019%202%20Summer%20Sierran.pdf

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: