KENSINGTON - On a hill between state Route 644 and Tunnel Hill Road people from as far away as New Zealand are coming together to build the county's first natural gas processing plant, and the surrounding area is already reaping the benefits.
Baron John, a New Zealand native who came to the states by way of Australia, plans to make Minerva his home as he digs his heels into the three-phase $400 million project that will continue over the coming years.
Other workers at the 170-acre site are also planning to stay long-term, he said.
On a hill between state Route 644 and Tunnel Hill Road people from as far away as New Zealand are coming together to build the county’s first natural gas processing plant, and the surrounding area is already reaping the benefits. (Salem New photos by Patti Schaeffer )
John is the M3 Midstream LLC construction coordinator of the project. Once completed, the plant will serve as a collection and compression site for the natural gas from Utica Shale wells being drilled in eastern Ohio.
M3 is an independent midstream energy company, also know as Momentum, and has partnered with Chesapeake Energy and Enervest on the processing plant.
The company will extract natural gas liquids from the gas that is transported into the plant from other areas of the county through the 20-inch-wide inlet pipelines. The gas will then enter a 160-foot-tall cryogenic tower where temperatures will be dropped to minus 150 degrees. What's left at the top is "pure gas," John said. Impurities will be "cut" from the gas through that process and then transported across Carroll County to a $500 million shale gas storage and transfer hub in Harrison County also operated by Momentum.
The Kensington plant is expected to process 600 million feet of natural gas a day.
John said that while most of the plant's workers-including the contracting company hired for the construction-are from out of state, local involvement has been crucial, and will continue to be, he added.
"We are pulling from all over. We try to get the locals involved as much as possible," he said.
Ten heavy duty equipment trucks, including the one John drives around the site, were purchased from the Huebner Chevrolet Subaru dealership in Carrollton, and local food is delivered on a nearly daily basis.
Scott Cole, owner of the dealership, said the 2012 Chevy Silverado extended cab four-wheel drive trucks were bought by the company over a period of six months last year.
"It's great. It's wonderful for business. I think establishing a relationship with some of these companies has been great," he said.
Cole passes by the plant twice a week on his way to church in the area and has kept an eye on how the plant is developing.
"It's exciting to see it going in. I think it's wonderful to see investment in the area," he said.
The dealership is already anticipating the sale of more trucks to Momentum in the future.
"We have some additional trucks we have stocked for them so when they need a truck we have it. They have been a good customer, great to deal with," he said.
John said the structural steel that will be used to support the pipelines comes from Ohio companies, and Minerva Welding constructed the pipe supports. Smaller, plastic pipeline was purchased from Hanoverton Hardware.
"We try to get as much local as we can," he said. Other hardware items are purchased from local stores nearly every week.
George Francisco, executive vice president of the company, said all indications are the facility is having a positive impact on the community.
"(The) reaction from the community and community leaders has been positive," he said.
Workers at the site are adding to the economy by buying fuel at local service stations, eating local food and staying in local hotels, he said.
The extra money won't be going away anytime soon, either, since the facility will be in the county a long time, he added.
The company also takes notice of how the project affects the local environment, and steps have already been taken to ensure that effect is minimal.
During the initial construction that began on Nov. 5 settlement ponds were dug out to catch the silt from the work. The company is also using new "innovative" screw piles in place of concrete. The screw piles can be inserted into the ground easily and don't take up as much ground space as concrete would.
John also explained that while the site is 170 acres, not all of that will feature equipment.
"We pick these sites carefully to make sure we have a good buffer zone from our neighbors," he said. "We try to be good custodians of what we're doing."
Another way in which the company hopes to keep its physical presence minimal is through the use of five 5,000-horsepower compressors that will alleviate the noise of the production, which is slated to get under way in June.
Francisco said the entire facility is designed to minimize impact on the local environment, both in terms of noise and emission, and the use of electrical compression aids in that impact.
He explained that gas-driven compressors emit more noise than electrical compressors. Electrical compressors also meet stricter environmental regulations.
The compressors won't arrive on site until closer to June, however.
"We intend to be good, long-term neighbors in that community and appreciate the cooperation thus far," he said.
He also said the company is on schedule and that 100 people are at the site on a regular basis. "Equipment is arriving by the truckload so it's really coming together," he said.
Workers are all specially trained, including safety training, and the company posts jobs on its website, www.m3midstream.com, as they are available.