Shale gas could have major impact on chemical sector

A conference on shale gas and its potential benefit for Sarnia-Lambton’s chemical sector will be held on May 19. Following is an extract from The Observer:

By Shawn Jeffords, from  The Observer

The invitation-only event May 19 at the Pt. Edward Holiday Inn will focus on supporting and building local partnerships to develop the fledgling feedstock source.

Mike Ireland, senior development consultant with the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership, said shale gas is a “game changer” to many in the energy industry.

“We’re trying to get the various players involved in the industry together in one room talking about the various projects,” he said.

Shale gas is found in large quantities in the Marcellus deposits in Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia. The natural gas is buried deep in the ground under shale rock deposits, but is now being extracted.

Such ‘wet gas’ has several byproducts including ethane, a key building block in many petrochemical products and something traditionally arriving from Western Canada at great cost to refiners.

But the Marcellus shale deposit is changing that, and Sarnia’s industry could benefit greatly. Two major pipeline projects are already in the initial development stages that would bring the feedstock to Sarnia, Ireland said.

“Right now, the most logical and economical thing to do with (the ethane) is to ship it to Sarnia, were both Nova and Imperial Oil can use that ethane to manufacture ethylene.”

Some of the world’s most widely used plastics are made from ethylene, including garbage bags and packaging.

A range of speakers will address the conference, and Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Sandra Pupatello, has been invited.

Dean Edwardson said the potential is great for shale gas and its byproducts, but it’s vital to ensure the gas is extracted properly, he said.

“It has to be done in an environmentally correct way to ensure there is no impact on ground water.”

Shale gas operations in Pennsylvania, where an estimated 2.8 trillion cubic feet is buried in deposits, have caught the eye of state regulators. Inspections have revealed improper waste water controls and unauthorized water withdrawal from area streams.

The shale boom raised alarm among environmentalists because of the threat of chemicals seeping into ground water through the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

But Edwardson said the early efforts seem to be encouraging and could help sustain the current Chemical Valley workforce.

“On the face of things, this is something to be fairly excited about,” he said.

With files from Reuters.

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