MarkWest Energy Partners keeps growing in Washington County

Posted June 24, 2011


The shiny towers at MarkWest Energy Partners’ gas processing complex in Houston, Pa., and compressor stations that pepper the Washington County landscape have sprung up one after another since the Denver-based company began working in the Marcellus Shale in 2008.

And with more development on the way, the company has started an engineering group, transferring the design work from its engineering headquarters in Tulsa to its growing staff in this region.

Currently, the company’s Liberty Marcellus segment, which works to process gas from wells in southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, has eight engineers and 101 other employees.

The engineering group is helping to develop several expansion projects going on at MarkWest’s sprawling Houston complex. Among them is the build-out of processing facilities — full fractionation, meaning all gas components from the lightest — ethane, to the heaviest — natural gasoline, will be separated and sold. To store them on site, several large plots of land are being prepped for the arrival of additional tanks and three large brick towers are going up for natural gasoline storage.

To carry materials to market, MarkWest also is restoring the former Montour Railroad link, which connects the company’s railyard in Houston to the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad — a six-mile trip. That project is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter next year, according to Greg Sullivan, operations manager. It will have storage space for 200 rail cars.

MarkWest has seven open positions in Washington County, including two engineers.

“We have to have the people here to make the day-to-day decisions on altering locations, changing designs,” Sullivan said. “Everything that we build and design is based on safety and functionality, and without them here locally, it’s very difficult to convey.”

Rob McHale, manager of environmental regulatory affairs, said the group is mainly involved in process engineering. That means “mechanical, civil and chemical engineering for compressor stations, the Houston plant expansion, Majorsville and Mobley,” he said, referencing MarkWest’s two other processing facilities in the region. Both are in West Virginia.

Alex E. Paris Contracting Co. Inc. in Atlasburg did much of the site work for the Houston facility and still works on pad development at the site, mostly from predesigned plans.

“My experience has been that, generally, the companies we’ve dealt with have either used local consulting engineers for a pretty good majority of their work, or some of the more specialized stuff has been designed out of state,” said Alex Paris, president of the firm.

But Paris said the trend has been to hire more engineers locally, which makes it easier for them to guide contractors involved in rapid development, and fosters specialization in Pennsylvania-specific challenges, such as terrain and regulatory requirements.

“Our engineering around here is a lot different than engineering in Texas,” he said.

By the end of next year, MarkWest plans to have 16 compressor stations and 745 million cubic feet of daily processing capacity in the Marcellus.

The company, a limited partnership that trades on the New York Stock Exchange, told investors earlier this month that it is evaluating building a fourth, 200 million cubic feet a day processing plant at the Houston complex, a third, 135 MMcf a day processing plant at Majorsville and a second 120 MMcf a day plant at Mobley. It also is pondering laying down a pipeline that would carry the dry portion of the processed gas to interstate transmission lines — National Fuel, TETCO and Columbia Gas.


Pittsburgh Business Times 
by Anya Litvak