MORGANTOWN – Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia believes “investments in the efficient exploration, drilling, production and transporting of oil and natural gas and its by-products present the one best and greatest hope for West Virginia and its citizens.”

Recent research being done by the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), in collaboration with West Virginia University, the University of Pittsburgh and Shell, could advance those efforts.

Charlie Burd
Charlie Burd | IOGA

According to a NETL news release, the team is attempting to develop a “microwave process to transform stranded natural gas into marketable products.”

NETL said the collaboration is “on the verge of carrying the research further thanks to a four-year ‘natural gas upgrading’ grant” from the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment Manufacturing Institute.

The laboratory said the Rapid-funded research was scheduled to begin in January.

Burd told The West Virginia Record “there would be countless products that could be made from the entire array of petrochemicals derived from oil and natural gas production.”

Burd said the products that could be made include “glass; plastics; soaps; detergents; perfumes; solvents, such as paint thinner; paints; drugs; fertilizer; pesticides; gasoline; jet fuels; explosives; synthetic fibers and rubbers; and flooring and insulating materials.”

“Natural gas and its by-products that include ethane, propane, and butane are essential for West Virginia to remain relevant,” Burd said. “Ethane is a by-product of the natural gas being produced from the Marcellus and Utica shales in West Virginia.”

Burd said ethylene production by steam cracking “on a commercial scale, will become the catalyst to the development and construction of downstream chemical and manufacturing facilities. Such facilities will employ thousands of workers and produce products to be sold globally - thus aiding in the Unites States in reducing its negative trade deficit.”

As a result, Burd said investments in liquid shale “will lead to the creation of thousands of good-paying jobs with benefits to hard-working West Virginians.”

According to Burd, the exploration and production of oil and natural gas has been occurring since the late 1860s in West Virginia and from the Marcellus and Utica shales since about 2008.

“The future construction of pipelines and processing infrastructure will assure the need to produce more West Virginia oil and natural gas,” Burd said. “The development of the Appalachia Storage and Training Hub will further increase the demands for natural gas production and associated liquids production.”

NETL said its research on the use of microwaves to turn natural gas into usable liquids and methane “is serving as the springboard for more intensive work with long-time NETL academic partner WVU.”

“Application of successful microwave catalysis can lead to production of chemicals from gas resources once considered physically or economically stranded - like flaring in a shale oil field or shale gas in hard-to-reach locations,” the release said. “Converting those gases to value-added liquid products could reduce the United States’ demand for crude oil by up to 20 percent.”

NETL said Shell has agreed to match $1 million in funding.

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