Investors Business Daily
Keeping Pace with Fast-Changing U.S. Pipeline Map

Friday, November 25, 2011

After years of negotiations and bitter debate, two massive pipeline projects proposing to shunt natural gas from Alaska's North Slope to the lower 48 states appear dead in the water.

Another surprise: the sudden production boom of natural gas liquids, NGLs. In the past, gas liquids — ethane, propane, butane and pentane — were byproducts and afterthoughts in the industry.

But NGL prices link more closely with oil than with natural gas. So, when the recent shale boom forced gas prices lower, producers began to lean harder on higher-value liquids output.

The result — a 30% increase in NGL production over the past several years — has created a parallel glut in ethane, the key feedstock for plastics makers. That handed North American plastics firms a cost advantage on global markets, triggering a surge in construction of ethane-based plastics refineries, says Adam Bedard, senior director with Bentek Energy.

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