CSX sees surge in shipments of gas byproducts in West Virginia

CLARKSBURG — CSX has seen an uptick in business from the oil and gas industry that is helping to offset a decline in revenue from coal shipments in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York.

Scott Freshwater, president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said the industry he represents means more to the state than just money for landowners via royalties and governments via taxes.

“It is part of the trickle-down effect. All of our production runs through processing plants, and from those plants, there are various heavier liquids that come out of the gas stream. Those liquids are shipped via rail and/or trucking to where it is processed into final products,” Freshwater said. “Some go to local fractionation plants, and the byproducts are then shipped again via rail.”

Ethane, propane and butane are taken out of natural gas as liquids. The gas phase, or dry gas, goes back into the pipeline after it’s been treated. It then goes on to end users, Freshwater said.

Rob Doolittle, spokesman for CSX, said recent market conditions have created increased demand for natural gas.

“CSX has seen a surge in shipments of products related to the natural gas sourced from the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations located in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. On the CSX network, shipments of frac sand and natural gas byproducts like LPG have both increased in 2017,” he said.

The uptick is a sure sign the oil and gas industry is ramping back up in this region, officials say.

“As companies continue to set up new hydraulic fracturing operations in these areas, CSX is positioned to reliably meet the needs of our customers, whether it’s providing a steady supply of frac sand for new drilling operations or safely transporting LPG from fractionators,” Doolittle said.

Robert McHale is a spokesman for MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources, with an office in Bridgeport and a natural gas processing plant in Doddridge County.

“MarkWest has the capacity for nearly 800 rail cars in the Appalachian Basin. In addition to shipping natural gas liquids by rail, we ship by barge, pipeline and truck,” McHale said.

Freshwater also alluded to the favorable impact oil and gas has made on river transportation.

“I’m sure there has also been a barge traffic uptick on the Ohio River. Ultimately what we want to see is these materials stay in the northeast that then can be converted to end products such as plastic and other materials. That helps create an economic base in our region with jobs and taxes. We want to rebuild the rust belt,” he said.

Eric Bowen, research assistant professor with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, said the railroad is one industry with a growing supplier relationship with the natural gas industry.

“It requires a fair amount of transportation services for the industry when it comes to the fracking process. It’s certainly good news for the railroad companies. They have been facing a lot of downturn with the coal industry decline. It has been the primary user of railroad networks,” Bowen said. “It’s certainly good news for CSX. Their services are needed for the natural gas industry.”

Meanwhile, every major pipeline project is on hold.

“They are all waiting for the (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to have a quorum, and as of this day, we are waiting on the U.S. Senate to approve new commissioners,” Freshwater said. “That is what is holding back construction right now. The nominees have been made by President Trump, but there are several projects that have to be approved by FERC before they can break ground. We’re optimistic that will occur in the very near future.”

This article was authored by Darlene J. Swiger for the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram. Click here to read it on the publication's website.