The Marcellus Shale, an enormous natural gas reserve in Appalachia, is dramatically altering the traditional landscape of America’s natural gas industry.
Stretching across almost 100,000 square miles, the Marcellus Shale is the largest natural gas supply in the U.S. and second in the world. The depth and width of the Marcellus Formation vary, but studies indicate the shale’s deepest and thickest points are located in northeastern Pennsylvania, making it a prime area for drilling.
Estimates of the amount of recoverable natural gas in the reserve have varied over the years. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the Marcellus Shale produced 3.9 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of recoverable natural gas in 2013- accounting for 18% of the country’s natural gas. In August 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated the Marcellus shale will ultimately generate a total of 84 TcF of technically recoverable natural gas, a massive jump from its 2002 prediction of two trillion cubic feet.
Pipelines Under Pressure
As the Marcellus Shale’s natural gas production increases, so does the need for an efficient, modern, sophisticated pipeline system to transport the natural gas to various regions around the country. In 2012, Marcellus’ booming natural gas output caused pipelines to bottleneck. Such high load conditions inflict stress on pipelines essential to the country’s natural gas delivery system.
The following year, pipeline constraints were a major contributing factor to exorbitant natural gas prices in the Northeast region. The rest of the country was not exposed to the increased costs due to adequate pipelines with few constraints.
To help alleviate stress on current infrastructures, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved three pipeline projects in February 2014. The projects include Texas Eastern’s TEAM 2014 Project, Williams’ Constitution Pipeline, and Iroquois Pipeline’s Wright Interconnect Project. All three projects have in-service dates slated for 2015-2016.
Texas Eastern’s TEAM 2014 Project
Spectra Energy’s Texas Eastern Appalachia to Market Expansion 2014 (TEAM 2014) Project will add approximately 33.6 miles of 36 inch diameter pipeline loop to the existing Texas Eastern Transmission, increasing the existing system’s capacity by approximately 600 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d). Once complete, the Texas Eastern system will deliver natural gas from Appalachia to the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Gulf Coast regions. The technologically advanced TEAM 2014 Project will be optimized for bidirectional flow.
Williams’ Constitutional Pipeline
The Constitution Pipeline is expected to measure 124 miles and have a diameter of 30 inches. The pipeline will transport natural gas from the Marcellus shale in northern Pennsylvania to areas in the northeastern U.S. It will have the capacity to transport 650 MMcf/d, fulfilling the daily needs of 3 million homes. The Constitution will be an “open access pipeline,” allowing local municipalities and public utility services to access the line.
Iroquois Pipeline’s Wright Interconnect Project
Iroquois’ Wright Interconnect Project (WIP) will work in tandem with the Constitutional Pipeline. Unlike the other projects approved by FERC, WIP is not a pipeline. It will update and expand Iroquois’ current compression facilities located in Wright, New York. The terminal will connect the Constitution to the Iroquois and Tennessee Gas Pipelines, facilitating the delivery of natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Play to New York and New England.
The Importance of Cathodic Protection
While the Marcellus Formation continues to produce high levels of natural gas, it is imperative that the operators for newly approved pipeline projects, as well as existing pipelines, storage tanks, and associated facilities take appropriate steps to protect their assets. Corrosion of metal surfaces is one of the most common and dangerous threats to midstream infrastructures. Cathodic protection is the most effective method of protecting against corrosion.
According to John Rothermel, Vice President of Sales at MATCOR, the leading cathodic protection company with expertise in protecting oil and gas pipelines from corrosion, the companies behind the Marcellus pipeline projects can’t afford not to protect their assets.
“As long as the Marcellus Shale continues to produce such unprecedented amounts of natural gas, the midstream infrastructure needed to get product to market will likely be running at full capacity, making it essential that these facilities operate reliably, efficiently and safely,” Rothermel said. “Designing and installing cathodic protection of pipelines into these projects helps to protect the significant investments being made, and helps to ensure these assets last well into the future.”
“Giant Marcellus shale coming of age” The Bismarck Tribune, March 20, 2014