(Editor’s note: Reporter Katy Mumaw attended a media tour sponsored by Marathon Petroleum Co. Sept. 29.)
CANTON, Ohio — Marathon Oil and Gas completed a significant milestone at the end of September, officially opening the Cornerstone Pipeline.
With it, the 85-year-old refinery in Canton is treading new ground in efficiency and safety, said Brad McKain, general manager.
The company named it the “cornerstone” because it is the first of many planned projects to build their pipeline infrastructure to handle Utica shale gas and oil when prices increase.
Marathon built special equipment at the Canton refinery two years ago to split natural gasoline from the Utica condensate before mixing it with heavier crude oils it receives through an interstate pipeline system from other regions, including the Gulf Coast and Canada.
Condensates are a mixture of light hydrocarbon liquids, which have been separated from hydrocarbon gases, produced from the Utica and Marcellus shale regions.
“The condensates are naturally very low in sulfur, an element federal regulators want taken out of fuels,” said Jason Stechschulte, a senior engineer with the Marathon pipeline division. “Condensates also don’t cost as much as other crude oils. And they contain a low-octane gasoline, even before they are refined,” said Stechschulte
For the last two years, Marathon has been using tanker trucks to ship that condensate to Canton from a raw gas processing plant operated by MarkWest Energy Partners in Cadiz, located in Harrison County.
MarkWest cleans and separates the condensate from methane and other gases such as ethane and butane before sending it to nearby storage tanks operated by another company, Midwest Terminals.
From there, it’s loaded into tanker trucks that head up to Canton. The 24-hour-a-day, Cadiz-to-Canton run requires 130 tanker truck-loads.
With the completion of the pipeline, that 120-mile round trip is ending.
“I know pipelines have been in the news quite a bit. When it gets down to it there is no safer way to transport condensate, gasoline, any type of hydrocarbon,” said Stechschulte.
The first 42 miles from Canton to Cadiz is a 16-inch diameter epoxy-coated steel pipe.
The second part from East Sparta to Canton is 8 miles long and built with 8-inch pipe.
To lay the pipeline, many steps are involved, said Jason Stechschulte, a senior engineer with Marathon. First, they plan the path, working with land owners, and considering natural and man-made structures such as rivers and roads.
Then they must clear the path, dig the ditch separating the topsoil from the rest. Each of the 40- to 60-foot sections is welded together and checked with X-ray equipment.
Each joint in the pipe is treated by two welders who work together to do five welding passes. Each joint takes about two hours to complete.
The pipe is buried 4 feet underground, and 40 feet under rivers and major highways.
Before any product passes through the lines, the lines must be hydro tested at 1800 PSI.
Once that is all completed, contractors restore the land, explained Stechschulte, seeding the ground or getting the farmland back in working condition. Sometimes the company must pay the landowner damages for several years until the land is back up to speed in agricultural production.
The pipeline is home to several “pigs,” the high-tech metal structures that check the lines regularly for potential weakening of the line or anything that could cause a leak down the road. These safety checkers are known as pigs because they squeal as they run through the line.
To make the new pipeline operational, Marathon has spent an estimated $250 million with 550 workers, but Stechschulte said total pipeline-related projects will cost an estimated half of a billion dollars.
The additional projects include storage tanks as well as rail, truck and barge loading docks that MPLX is constructing in order to move Utica condensate out of southeast Ohio and into refineries, said Stechschulte.
The pipeline runs from Cadiz to a “tank farm” that Marathon owns in East Sparta, 8 miles south of Canton. East Sparta’s facility is remotely operated by a control center in Findlay, Ohio.
The 16-inch line is designed to operate at 1,600 pounds per square inch and can deliver 180,000 barrels, or nearly 7.6 million gallons, of condensate a day, to the tank farm. This will allow the pipeline to replace nearly 277 trucks to Cadiz a day.
“We will be nowhere near pushing that capacity in the first year. We have oversized this pipeline, like an insurance policy,” said Stechschulte.
Marathon has 45,500 employees, owns seven refineries, 2,770 Speedways and 5,500 Marathon gas stations.
The Canton refinery processes 93,000 barrels a day. With 42 gallons per barrel, that is 100,000 cars per day, said McKain.
Utica condensate accounts for 25,000 barrels of the 93,000 barrels the plant can run daily, said McKain.
Other plant upgrades at Canton include a state-of-the art computerized operations center.
“It’s going to be much safer in a pipeline than it is in a rail car, in a truck or in a barge,” Stechschulte said. “Our priority is safety, then efficiency,“ he said.
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