The Ethane Crystal, first in a new class of “Very Large Ethane Carriers,” has loaded her first commercial cargo at the Morgan's Point Terminal on the Houston Ship Channel.
With nearly 90,000 cubic meters of capacity, she is the largest vessel of the type by a wide margin. Her sister ship Ethane Emerald was delivered early this month, and four more will be completed next year. They are the first of their kind to be built with a specially designed GTT Mk III membrane cargo containment system.
Ethane Crystal is ABS-classed, and ABS executives said that she represents a leap forward for ethane transport. “Using vessels like [Ethane Crystal] can help make expansion into new and emerging markets scalable and economical for the entire supply chain,” said ABS Executive Vice President for Global Marine Kirsi Tikka.
Samsung Heavy Industries is building the class for Reliance Industries of India, and MOL will operate the vessels on voyages between Morgan's Point and the Reliance complex at Dahej. The firm’s petrochemical plants at Dahej have systems for the manufacture of PVC, HDPE and ethylene glycol, all of which require the ethylene produced by the complex’s ethane crackers.
Reliance’s U.S. ethane supply originates at the Mont Belvieu fractionation complex in Texas, which is connected to production from the East Coast's Marcellus and Utica Shale regions via pipeline. The Marcellus and Utica are also the natural gas source for the ethane shipments leaving Sunoco's Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania terminal for plants in Europe.
Before energy/petchem companies like Sunoco, Enterprise, Reliance, INEOS and Borealis began moving forward with export plans, ethane was a surplus commodity in North America: domestic ethane production capacity exceeded demand by about six million tons last year. However, analysts with Platts suggest that infrastructure limitations and rising consumption could lead to a tight market as early as 2018.