By CASEY JUNKINS
NATRIUM, W.Va. - Once the $500 million Dominion Resources natural gas processing plant opens, the facility will feature a connection to the CSX Corp. railroad line running along the Ohio River.
The giant plant had been scheduled to open by the end of the year, but Dominion officials said in late December the facility will not open until early 2013. The facility is now also going to be part of the $1.5 billion partnership between Dominion and Caiman Energy, to be known as Blue Racer Midstream. Dominion will still operate the facility upon its completion.
"We have brisk construction activity on site with 825 workers - 296 of them local - working toward our in-service date," said Dominion spokesman Charles Penn.
Throughout the plant's construction along the Ohio River and W.Va. 2 in Marshall County, members of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation have been at odds with Dominion - as well as the company building the plant on Dominion's behalf, Chicago Bridge & Iron - for not hiring more local workers to build the facility.
However, Penn emphasizes that CB & I has hired about one-third of its work force from the local area. Total on-site worker numbers have fluctuated from as low as 84 to as high as 903 over the past year.
Driving along W.Va. 2 this week, one could see the construction workers building the railroad lines that will connect the Dominion plant to the CSX line, which is part of the historic Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
"Cars would be pulled onto the siding (rail) and be loaded, then taken away when full," Penn stated of the rail connection.
Dominion officials plan to be able to process 200 million cubic feet of natural gas per day upon completing the project's first phase, with the capacity expected to double to 400 million cubic feet per day once the plant is completely finished.
Once the wet Marcellus and Utica shale gas travels to the Dominion plant via the company's pipeline network, the ethane, butane, propane and other natural gas liquids will be separated from the "dry" methane gas so that all the products can be individually marketed.
A company such as Chesapeake Energy - which has agreed to supply the Dominion plant with its gas stream - is known in the industry as a "producer" because it sells the gas that it pumps out of the ground. Because the wet gas requires processing before it can go to market, Chesapeake and other producers send their gas to companies such as Dominion, Williams Partners or MarkWest Energy for processing. The separated gas products are then ready for use, with the ethane possibly going to a cracker plant somewhere in North America.
Once separated from the gas stream, the propane and butane will be kept in tanks on the Dominion site to be marketed. However, this cannot be done with ethane because of the product's volatility, so Dominion is looking to ship the ethane to a user.
Royal Dutch Shell is still planning to build a multibillion-dollar cracker in the Monaca, Pa. area, a project that officials from both Ohio and West Virginia worked to attract. Aither Chemicals is looking to build a smaller scale cracker in the Charleston area.
Earlier this year, Chesapeake officials said that company gains as much as $38,800 per day from wet wells that contain ethane and other liquids, compared to $13,000 per day from a well that contains only methane. Consequently, Chesapeake and other companies have been focusing more on the wet gas areas of Ohio, Marshall and Brooke counties in West Virginia, as well as counties in eastern Ohio.
Dominion plans to employ 40-45 full-time, permanent workers for jobs at the plant itself upon completion. Penn said these jobs will pay from $20-$30 per hour. He said those looking for a career working at a natural gas plant will need different skills depending upon their specific positions. Some workers will need electrical experience in an industrial setting, while others will need experience in process operation control that they may have from working in gas, paper, water or chemical plants. There will also be positions for rail and tanker truck loading.