New dragon ships ‘create virtual pipeline across the Atlantic’

INTREPID Enterprise Product Partners LP Morgans Point 2016 August 19 Ethane-0477
The dragon-class ship touts “Shale gas for progress” on its hull.

Nearly 200 yards long, the first of the new fleet of so-called dragon-class ships have begun shipping ethane derived from Texas shale gas to feed Europe’s struggling petrochemical sector.

The United States’ shale gas revolution created an oversupply of ethane despite a bevy of new chemical plants built along the Gulf Coast. Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners teamed with Switzerland-based Ineos to ship a lot of that excess ethane to plants in Europe and Asia.

Enterprise built the world’s largest ethane export terminal in Morgan’s Point and Ineos commissioned the construction of eight, long-but-lean ethane cargo ships. They were built in China and sport narrow, flowing frames reminiscent of Chinese dragon imagery.

RELATED: Enterprise Products begins exporting ethane from new Houston terminal

The first of the ships, the Ineos Intrepid, left the Houston Ship Channel on Sept. 1 with its maiden shipment, 265,000 barrels bound for Norway. In large lettering along its hull, the Intrepid touts “Shale gas for progress.”

Ineos also will carry ethane to its facilities in Grangemouth, Scotland.

“The dragon-class ships create a virtual pipeline across the Atlantic,” said Steve Lewandowski, a senior director for chemicals at the IHS Markit research firm, in a new report this week.

They’re designed long but thin so they can carry a lot of cargo but still squeeze into tight waterways. The engines can run on ethane as well.

Ethane is derived from natural gas and is used primarily to make ethylene, the primary building block of most plastics.

The ethane supply for the new terminal comes mostly from Enterprise’s natural gas liquids processing and storage complex in Mont Belvieu, from where it’s transported through a new 18-mile pipeline completed in February.