Blue Racer Midstream plant to stay shut down until January

NATRIUM – Marcellus and Utica shale companies depending on the Blue Racer Midstream plant for processing are out of luck until at least January, as the facility remains completely shut down after part of it caught fire Sept. 21.

“Blue Racer’s Natrium plant in Marshall County remains in a safe shutdown mode. We are making the repairs needed to restore service,” said Blue Racer spokeswoman Casey Nikoloric.

Though Dominion Resources originally developed the Natrium plant and the full-time workers at Natrium are considered Dominion employees, Blue Racer now officially owns the facility as part of a $1.5 billion deal between Dominion and Caiman Energy.

“The plant will not restart until an emergency siren system is in place and tested in the neighboring community of Kent,” said Jim Norvelle, spokesman for Dominion, noting he projects this to occur in January. “We have been talking with our neighbors there about installing the system. We’re in the final stages of making that happen.”

Local authorities learned of the fire just before 1:30 a.m. Sept. 21 when a Marshall County Sheriff’s Deputy patrolling in the area spotted it. State Route 2 near the Marshall and Wetzel county line was closed for nearly eight hours. About 25 residents in the Kent area north of the plant were evacuated as a safety precaution.

In addition to the road closure, CSX rail transportation was shut down as fire crews worked to extinguish the blaze. The fire eventually burned itself out.

“The fire was limited to a small area within the facility and there were no injuries,” Nikoloric said.

During the Developing Unconventional Gas East conference in Pittsburgh last week, high-ranking officials with companies that depend on the Natrium plant complained that its closure was reducing their capacity to ship natural gas. Blue Racer processes and transports gas for Chesapeake Energy, which remains one of the most active drillers in the Upper Ohio Valley.

Just before the Sept. 21 accident, Blue Racer officials announced plans to build an additional $800 million worth of processing infrastructure to service the northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio areas.

“Our goal is to continue to be the Utica’s premier midstream company by providing superior customer service and the region’s best opportunity to gather and process rich gas and market natural gas liquids,” said Jack Lafield, chief executive officer of Blue Racer.

At Natrium, once the wet Marcellus and Utica shale gas travels to the plant, the ethane, butane, propane and other natural gas liquids are stripped away from the dry methane gas so all the products can be marketed individually.

Upon separation from the gas stream, the propane and butane are kept in tanks on the Natrium site to be marketed. This cannot be done with ethane because of the product’s volatility, so Dominion currently ships much of this product for cracking along the Gulf Coast or in Canada.