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Environment | Energy

Propane And Butane Export Terminal Proposed For Longview, Wash.

Natural gas flares from a flare-head at the Orvis State well on the Evanson family farm in McKenzie County.

Natural gas flares from a flare-head at the Orvis State well on the Evanson family farm in McKenzie County.

Tim Evanson / Flickr

Nearly 30 percent of the gas released during crude oil production in the Bakken oil fields is flared off – burned into the air and essentially wasted.

This week, a Houston-based company proposed building a terminal in Longview, Wash. that would collect some of those gases and export them.

Haven Energy is a new company created to develop a project that would ship propane and butane in pressurized rail cars from North Dakota to Washington. Its parent company is fuel transporter Sage Midstream of Houston.

Greg Bowles, president of Sage Midstream, said there are both economic and environmental benefits to the project. He also claims the type of rail cars and storage tanks his company plans to use would reduce safety risks. Bowles estimates the project would create 2,000 construction jobs and between 25 and 35 direct, permanent jobs at the terminal.

Haven Energy would refrigerate the gases to a liquid form and store them in tanks on site before loading them onto ships. The tanks would have two walls: an inner steel tank and an outer tank made of concrete.

“We are proposing to be the first facility in the United States to use full containment tank design for the use of propane and butane,” Bowles said. “We’re not required by regulation to do that, and it will cost us almost $40 million that regulation did not require us to spend.”

By exporting the gas, Bowles said, the company could boost the price of propane and butane byproducts in the Bakken oil fields. That, in turn, may provide an economic incentive to recover the gas instead of burning it on site. Some of the potential markets for the gases include Mexico, Asia and Hawaii.

“What this project does is create better pricing for the producers in the Bakken that will allow them to recover more natural gas than they currently do, and recover the propane and butane,” Bowles said. “What this does is capture usable energy out of something that is being burned without any useful gain from that.”

The company has a lease option with the Port of Longview, and it is just starting a state permitting process for the facility.

The terminal would be capable of handling 47,000 barrels of liquefied gases per day, which would mean one train delivery every day and a half and three ships per month.

Bowles says the gas in the train cars would be pressurized to the same degree as a propane tank for a barbecue.

“It’s the same thing you have in your backyard barbecue,” he said. “It has the same pressure as you have in your tank in your cooker on your back patio.”

Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper and a vocal opponent of other energy export projects — including liquefied natural gas and coal terminals — said he wants to know more about how the safety of the project is going to be evaluated. He says the recent gas explosion in Plymouth, Wash., underscored how large an area might need to be evacuated if there’s an accident.

“We don’t know a lot about what’s proposed in Longview,” he said. “We’re still trying to get our heads around it. It’s obviously very new.”

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