Small Business News from SMC Business Councils: The Voice of Pennsylvania Business

What Is an Ethane Cracker Plant and Why Is it Important to Western Pennsylvania?

I read a post on Facebook recently about another proposed Ethane Cracker Plant to be built in Institute, West Virginia, and I wondered if my blog readers actually knew what an Ethane Cracker plant was and why it is important in the shale gas boom. I found this information as I was reading up about the new West Virginia plant on the Shell webiste ( I thought you might find the following tidbits helpful in your quest for knowledge about this new industry moving into western Pennsylvania. If you are in the manufacturing field and would like to see how you can make a splash in the Marcellus Shale boom, consider attending SMC’s upcoming Shale Gas & Manufacturing Forum on June 27th at the Four Points by Sheraton in Cranberry Township, from 8:30 – 11:45 p.m. To register for this event, go to:

What Does an Ethane Cracker Plant Do and Why Is it Important?

  • A cracker breaks down large molecules from oil and natural gas into smaller ones. An ethylene cracker produces base petrochemical “building blocks” which are the first stage in the chemicals manufacturing chain.
  • Derivatives are the chemicals that are made during subsequent processing stages, using products from the cracker. Polyethylene is a derivative of ethylene.
  • Shell owns and operates four petrochemical crackers in the US at Deer Park, Texas and Norco, Louisiana.
  • Natural gas companies have to remove Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) from methane to make it “pipeline quality.” NGLs are made up of ethane, propane, butane and other compounds. These can be used as feedstock to produce chemicals. Propane and butane are types of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and can also be used as fuels.
  • Ethylene is a very important base chemical in the chemical and plastics industries. Ethane is a feedstock for ethylene.

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