What Exactly is Condensate and Why is its Export Prohibited?

Condensate is a very light hydrocarbon with an American Petroleum Institute (API) specific gravity of greater than 50 degrees and less than 80 degrees. In underground formations condensate can exist separately from the crude oil or dissolved in the crude oil.

Plant and Field Condensate

When produced at the wellhead and run through a stabilizer it is known as “field” or “lease” condensate. In dry gas or condensate wells, condensate remains suspended in the gas stream until separated at gas processing facility, thus earning the name “plant” condensate or “natural gasoline”. FYI, for reporting purposes, the U.S. Energy Information Administration defines lease condensate as crude oil and plant condensate as a natural gas liquid (NGL). The beaker on the left below is plant condensate.

IMG_0080-2

With the current explosion in unconventional shale development vastly increasing the quantity of condensate being produced, the domestic market has been overwhelmed. Traditionally field condensate was a preferred source of feedstock for petrochemical refineries. However with the decline in the 1970’s of the lighter grades of crude, domestic refiners switched to refining heavier grades of crude and now have less of a need for lighter feedstock without costly conversions of their facilities.

Plant condensate on the other hand was a preferred diluent for blending with heavier Canadian crudes to improve pipeline flow. With these traditional markets now oversupplied, pressure has been growing for the export of condensate to foreign petrochemical users. Unfortunately condensate historically had been considered crude oil and its export had been prohibited since the 1973 Arab oil embargo.

In June 2014 Pioneer Natural Resources and Enterprise Products Partners received approval from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security to export a limited amount of Eagle Ford condensate which was ruled a “product” and therefore exportable, since it had been processed through a field stabilization unit. See the type of facility below.

condensate-stabilizer
Image Source: http://www.exterran.com/Content/Docs/Products/Hydrocarbon-Stabilizer-English-A4.pdf

Field units of his type are rapidly being installed throughout the condensate rich areas of the Eagle Ford highlighted in this map from DI Analytics.

EF_API_Grav_With_Scale_Bar (1)

Recently BHP Billiton announced their intention to export Eagle Ford condensate without the government’s explicit authorization. No doubt Anadarko, Conoco Phillips and other large Eagle Ford condensate producers cannot be far behind, score one for our balance of trade.

Your Turn

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

The following two tabs change content below.

Bob Black

is the Director Analytics and Geology for Drillinginfo. He works with internal and external stakeholders to create value added predictive analytics and insights into best practices within unconventional shale plays. He has over 30 years of experience in the Oil & Gas industry. He joined Drillinginfo in 2008 as the Director of Leasing Services where he oversaw the collection of lease data throughout the United States. Bob received his Bachelor of Business Administration in International Business and Master of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin.