The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 17, 2013

Our Readers Speak — Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013

Cracker plant needed for shale gas boom

Since consideration is being given to building a natural gas cracker plant in West Virginia, it might be well to ask, “Just what is a cracker plant?”

Many people might associate fracking or fracturing with cracker. They are not the same. Fracking has to do with a process used in well-drilling and cracker has to do with what has been done to the natural gas being produced. A cracker is similar to what is done with produced crude oil. When crude oil has been produced, it goes through a refining process where various products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene and heavy lubricants are produced.

Gov. Tomblin announced a couple of weeks ago that a Brazilian company “will look to capitalize on the regional opportunities in the Marcellus and Utica shale.” Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said, “It represents the largest single industrial project in the state of West Virginia if we can make all of the pieces come together and we think we can. It will drive other plants that use their ethane products.”

New production methods used in the process of completing Marcellus shale wells have resulted in wells producing at an unheard of volume of natural gas. This new method includes horizontal drilling of up to 5 miles in the Marcellus formation and with hydro fracturing done at various sites along the way. Without fracturing, these wells would not produce the huge volumes of natural gas they are capable of producing.

A recent federal report says that the Marcellus shale gas boom is soaring more rapidly than anyone expected. U.S. output from fracking and horizontal wells has climbed to 12 billion cubic feet per day — six times greater than 2009 production.

Many environmentalists are opposed to fracking because they fear the possibility of fractures going vertical and contaminating the ground water. However, because the formations above the Marcellus shale are in a horizontal position, there is little to no possibility of the fractures going vertical through as much as 7,000 feet to get to the surface.

Because natural gas is such a clean burning fuel, many environmentalists were originally in favor of natural gas. Now, because of horizontal drilling and fracturing, there is an abundance of natural gas. For this reason environmentalists have turned against natural gas because they fear subsidies for alternate fuels will decline.


Frank Deem