Cornerstone Pipeline will bolster energy access in the Midwest
Brand new pipelines aren’t built every day. And when the right of way is actually cleared and the trenching begins, the “beginning” is really the culmination of several years of planning and permitting, not to mention interfacing with government agencies, local officials and the landowners involved.
In March 2016, Marathon Pipe Line’s (MPL’s) latest project, Cornerstone Pipeline, officially got underway in Eastern Ohio. By Ohio law, trees had to be cleared by March 31 to protect the nesting habitats of two species of endangered bats. The 50-mile line will ultimately have the ability to transport up to 180,000 barrels per day (bpd) of condensate and natural gasoline from Utica Shale facilities to MPL’s tank farm in East Sparta, Ohio, which then connects both to Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s (MPC’s) Canton, Ohio, refinery and to other pipelines that service the Midwest.
“Cornerstone is truly the backbone of MPLX’s [Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s sponsored limited partnership] Utica pipeline strategy,” notes MPL Senior Engineer Jason Stechschulte, who serves as spokesperson for the project. “It will be the first Utica pipeline to transport these commodities, and it provides optimal connectivity from MarkWest Energy Partners, L.P.’s condensate stabilizer in Cadiz, Ohio, and Utica East Ohio’s fractionator in Scio, Ohio, which will serve as Cornerstone’s initial two origination points. Once product reaches the tanks in East Sparta, it can then be pumped north to our Canton refinery or west on existing MPL-operated pipelines to Lima, Ohio, and then on to Robinson, Illinois; Toledo, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and beyond via existing pipelines.”
Cornerstone has been carefully routed to minimize impacts to both landowners and the environment. The hilly terrain of eastern Ohio also offers some challenges, and the pipeline will include nine horizontal directional drills at major crossings, including rivers and highways. Approximately 85 percent of the route is located along existing pipeline and utility corridors, which also reduces impacts.
Following on the heels of Cornerstone’s anticipated completion in the fourth quarter of 2016 will be construction of another 8-mile stretch of pipeline, which will connect MarkWest’s Hopedale, Ohio, fractionation facility to Cornerstone. This will allow more natural gasoline to flow into the Cornerstone Pipeline, creating a safer and more efficient means of transport. This section of pipe is anticipated to be complete in the first quarter of 2017.
Condensate, which has a coloring similar to lemonade, is a mixture of light hydrocarbon liquids and is produced naturally from Utica Shale wells. Natural gasoline, which is as colorless as water, is essentially a low octane gasoline. “Natural gasoline is used for gasoline blending at refineries and also as a diluent,” notes Stechschulte. “Western Canadian producers blend a significant amount of natural gasoline as a diluent in order to make the heavy oil less viscous to provide for pipeline movements. The MPLX pipeline projects will provide connectivity out of the Utica to existing third-party pipelines so that diluent can reach Western Canada entirely via pipeline.”
Marketing and Transportation Engineering Engineer Jake Chenevey, who is the project manager for the Cornerstone Pipeline, is ready to get underway. “After all of the years of planning, this is always an exciting stage of the project,” he says. “In the end, all of our work gets buried safely underground, and the only evidence is pipeline markers along the right of way, some pumping stations, and a new console in the MPL Operations Center. All of us involved with this project are very proud to be contributing to the addition of another reliable pipeline to the MPLX portfolio.”