Sources of Condensate – Where does it come from?
(Part 2 in our condensate series)
In the first part of this series we attempted to define what condensate is. We will pick that up again here focusing on the sources of condensate and condensate-like products.
So what makes a condensate a condensate? According to Mr. Braziel, this is the heart of the problem because the term condensate can refer to a number of products made up of somewhat similar hydrocarbon compounds. See,“Fifty Shades of Condensates – Which One Did You Mean?”, published by Rusty Braziel, 10/22/2012. http://www.rbnenergy.com/fifty-shades-of-condensates–which-one-did-you-mean. Much of this section is an excerpt of Mr. Braziel’s blog, to which the reader is commended.
When most people talk about condensates they are referring to “lease condensates”, so defined because they are produced as a liquid at the lease level from oil or gas wells and unprocessed except for basic stabilization at or near the wellhead. Lease condensates have wide ranges of API gravities from 45 to 75 degrees. Braziel, supra.
Marty Shumway explains it this way. “The term ‘condensate’ generally refers to the volatilized oil content of produced fluids from an oil and gas well. The volatilized oil content of a gas represents its condensable liquid portion. Condensable refers to the portion that condenses or ‘drops out’ during pressure reduction that often takes place on the lease in separators and other equipment. The intermediate hydrocarbon components (C2 through C7) are the major components of this fraction, which is commonly referred to as lease condensate or distillate.”
Natural Gas Plant Liquids
Similar products are produced at natural gas processing plants. EIA describes “natural gas plant liquids” as the liquids separated from natural gas at natural gas processing plants, fractionating and cycling plants, and [to add to the confusion] in some instances, field facilities. “Lease condensate” is excluded. Products obtained include liquefied petroleum gases (ethane, propane, and butanes), pentanes plus, and isopentane. EIA, supra.
Rusty Braziel also distinguishes “lease condensate” from “plant condensate,” the latter a product of NGL processing plants essentially equivalent to natural gasoline. Since it comes from a processing plant, plant condensate is considered a processed product. Plant condensate production is increasing with the surge in NGLs from growing natural gas production. Braziel, supra.
There is a third hydrocarbon product that is also somewhat interchangeable with natural gasoline and middle-of-the-road lease condensates, and that is naphtha, specifically light naphtha. Light naphthas are made up mostly of C5s, C6s and portions of the heavier hydrocarbons. Most of it is produced at petroleum refineries by distillation or the process of condensate splitting and light naphtha is considered a refined product. Braziel, supra. This will be important when we discuss the ban on the exportation of crude oil, which does not extend to refined products.
These hydrocarbon products — lease condensate, plant condensate and naphthas — have been used for years as feed stocks for refinery upgrading processes, for gasoline blending and as feed stocks for petrochemical processes, among other uses.
According to Braziel, the challenge today is to identify how the market will handle increasing volumes of lease and plant condensate. The answer to that challenge is partly wrapped up in the issue of which condensates may be exported and which markets they can go to. Braziel, supra.
We will examine the markets for condensate in Part 3 of this series.
The Utica Shale as a Source for Condensate
It seems clear, if based upon nothing else but industry investment, that Ohio is going to be a source of condensate. Between the dry gas regions in the eastern portion of the Utica and the immature western portion, there will likely be produced a mixture of oil and natural gas, with a band of condensates and wet gas (including ethane, propane, butane, etc.) occurring somewhere in east-central Ohio. These accessory condensates and wet gas compounds are extremely valuable in the chemical and plastics industries.
In fact, much of the profitability of the Utica is based on the “wetness” of its production. This has led to increased interest in the area between the “dry” area to the east and the “immature” area to the west – the so-called “fairway.” As this area is being defined, many wells in the proved area are waiting for the infrastructure — pipelines, processing and fractionation plants — to be constructed. As my friend Gary Heminger, President and CEO of Marathon Petroleum is fond of saying, “Transportation wins.” It’s all about connecting the product to its market.
For example, Marathon recently described its strategy to supply Utica condensate to its refineries at Canton and Catlettsburg. The initial pipeline will link natural gas processing and fractionation facilities to Marathon’s Canton refinery. “The pipeline route would link two gas-processing facilities owned by MarkWest Energy Partners LP at Cadiz (185 MMcf/d cryogenic plant today – expanding to 385 MMcf/d in 3Q 2014) and M3 Midstream LLC (Momentum) at Leesville (200 MMcf/d cryogenic plant) and a fractionator at Scio also owned by M3 (90 Mb/d output). The two cryogenic plants process wet natural gas to separate NGLs from pipeline quality gas including “raw” condensate. [See the flow diagram on my web site, here. Be patient, it eventually opens.] The combined stream of NGLs, known as y-grade, are then further processed in a fractionator to produce purity liquids including natural gasoline or C5. The proposed 8-inch diameter Cornerstone pipeline (about 40 Mb/d capacity) will be batch operated to ship separate parcels of crude, condensate or natural gasoline. Marathon expects to ship raw condensate stabilized to meet pipeline specification from Cadiz and Leesville as well as natural gasoline from Scio.
Other projects have been announced, too. Dallas-based Crosstex Energy companies Crosstex Energy LP and Crosstex Energy Inc. have announced that Crosstex Energy Inc. will invest about $25 million in a third natural gas compression and condensate stabilization plant in the Ohio River Valley.
E2 will build, own, manage, and operate all three compressor stations and condensate stabilization plants in Noble and Monroe counties in the southern portion of the Utica in Ohio. The counties are immediately east of assets in the Ohio River Valley.
The new plant will have compression capacity of 100 MMcfd and condensate stabilization capacity of 5,000 b/d, which brings total expected capacity for the three facilities to 300 MMcfd of compression and 12,000 b/d of condensate stabilization.
In addition to pipelines, transportation by rail is being used to connect Ohio condensate to its markets. Ohio Oil Gathering, a subsidiary of Crosstex Energy, L.P., recently celebrated the reactivation of the company’s Black Run rail terminal on July 17, 2013 at its regional office in Frazeysburg, OH. The Black Run rail terminal is the first facility to move light oil condensate out of the region to refinery and petrochemical markets.
While there are plans to export Utica products to the Gulf Coast by pipeline, there already is plenty of new lease condensate showing up at the Gulf Coast from production in the Eagle Ford and other shale basins. And refineries there are designed to refine heavier crudes, not condensate.
Will the markets for Ohio condensate be there? We will look at that in the next part of this series.
 Notes provided by Marty Shumway, MacKenzie Land & Exploration, Ltd., Worthington, Ohio
 “Y grade is a common term in the industry for the ‘easily’ condensables.” See, http://nglfundamentals.com/what-are-ngls/
 Natural gasoline is a form of natural gas that becomes a liquid under regular atmospheric pressure and moderate temperatures. It can form naturally from condensates or may be obtained by the fractional distillation of wet natural gas. When natural gasoline forms from condensates, it is often referred to as drip gas. See, http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-natural-gasoline.htm
 “Crosstex to invest in Utica shale compression, condensate stabilization,” Oil & Gas Journal, 05/09/2013. http://www.ogj.com/articles/2013/05/crosstex-to-invest-in-utica-shale-compression–condensate-stabil.html
View this interactive graphic at http://www.jfortlaw.com. Again, be patient. It is a big file but it eventually opens.