US exports of ethane have increased from nearly nothing in 2013 to an average of 260,000 barrels per day (b/d) through the first 10 months of 2018, accounting for about one-sixth of US hydrocarbon gas liquids exports, EIA said. The US became the world’s top exporter of ethane in 2015, surpassing Norway.
US production of ethane, which is separated from raw natural gas at processing plants, increased along with development of US natural gas shale resources. US ethane production increased 74%, from an average of 1.0 million b/d in 2012 to 1.7 million b/d in the 10-month period from January to October 2018. During this period, ethane consumed in the US increased from 0.9 million to 1.5 million b/d.
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The US petrochemical industry, responded to greater feedstock availability and lower prices of ethane on the domestic market, and added capacity at current plants. It also built new petrochemical steam crackers, resulting in an estimated $200 billion dollars of new investment across the country.
Since 2014, when the US first exported ethane to Canada, further infrastructure additions have enabled exports of ethane to grow and expand their geographic reach. Two more pipelines to Canada, as well as two marine terminals able of shipping super-cooled ethane overseas, started operations in 2018. Overall, current US export capacity totals nearly 450,000 b/d, and the US now supplies ethane to Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Finally, American Ethane, a Russia-funded enterprise, has broken ground on a 480,000 b/d ethane export terminal on the Neches River in Beaumont, Texas. The joint venture with Texas-based Martin Midstream Partners aims to provide ethane to several petrochemical crackers in China that are seeking government approval to begin construction.