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Mont Belvieu’s energy hub creates envy

June 21, 2024

“A wonderfully tight hometown community that touches the entire world.”

Brian Ligon, Mont Belvieu’s marketing director, said that’s how he describes the Chambers County city to those he meets who are unaware of the rapidly growing community built around the storage, processing and distribution of natural gas liquids, also known as NGLs.

“One of the unique cornerstones of our community is industry,” Ligon told a rapt audience last week as he emceed the Mont Belvieu Area Chamber of Commerce’s State of Industry presentation.

“The energy business that we have goes through not just the United States but all around the world,” he said. “People watch what happens here.”

Five companies listed among Mont Belvieu’s top 10 taxpayers for 2022-23 sent their leaders to Eagle Pointe Pavilion for the June 18 Q&A session attended by more than 200 Chamber members and guests.

Enterprise Products, Energy Transfer, ONEOK, Targa Resources and ExxonMobil’s Mont Belvieu Plastic Plant combined for nearly half of Mont Belvieu’s $6 billion tax base in 2023.

“A big reason Mont Belvieu looks as beautiful as it does is its tax base,” Ted Keller, area manager for Targa Resources, said.

“For 2023, Targa paid almost $5 million to the City of Mont Belvieu, $5 million to Chambers County and $13.8 million to Barbers Hill school district.”

And the tax dollars from the corporations do not include those paid by their employees who reside in Mont Belvieu and the surrounding area.

The five companies represented at Eagle Pointe have more than 2,000 full-time employees and nearly as many full-time contractors, with hundreds of additional contractors added to the payroll for expansions.

And there is seemingly no end to the expansions occurring and planned for the future.

Targa, Enterprise, Energy Transfer and ONEOK are among the largest companies that own fractionators at the hubs. Fractionators separate the hydrocarbon strings into their components.

Natural gas liquids are a byproduct of crude oil. From natural gas comes ethane, propane, normal butane and isobutane, important ingredients in everyday material.

Ethane is a feedstock of ethylene that is turned into plastic pellets. Propane is used in home heating, grilling and powering vehicle fleets.Mont Belvieu is one of two primary hubs for NGLs in this country, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. NGLs are stored in caverns located in a large naturally occurring salt dome beneath Mont Belvieu, imported and exported via an enormous network of pipelines

“Right now, we have our ongoing Track Fourteen, which is Enterprise’s 13th fractionator here in Mont Belvieu,” Mike Retif, regional director of operations for Enterprise Products, said.

Shawn Sandefur, ONEOK’s director of Mont Belvieu operations, “said we have about 850 contractors working on our MB6 fractionator,” which is scheduled to go on line next year.

Entergy Transfer is working on Frac 9 in Mont Belvieu, in addition a couple of underground storage caverns “that are in the process of being installed,” Bradley Armstrong, senior manager, said.

Targa’s Keller used the Eagle Pointe meeting to announce that his company is committed to building Frac Train 11. It just started up its ninth fractionator and is in the process of reactivating Gulf Coast Fractionator.

“Then we have Train 10, that, knock on wood, will get started at the end of this year,” he said. “We are continuing to grow. That means many more jobs and me trying to get more people to move into Mont Belvieu.”

The ExxonMobil plastic plant in Mont Belvieu is, of course, part of a huge web of ExxonMobil facilities in the Baytown area resulting from the opening of the Humble Oil refinery in 1919. ExxonMobil is the largest United States-based oil and gas producing company and ranks third on the latest Fortune 500 list.

The Mont Belvieu plant takes ethylene from ExxonMobil’s Baytown ethane cracker as its feedstock and converts it to polyethylene. It manufactures approximately 5 billion pounds of polyethylene products each year, which are then shipped via rail cars or packaged for overseas transport.

“We are one of the largest polyethylene producers in the world. We make high-performance polyethylene with our proprietary technology,” said Jessica Vasquez, plant manager for the Plastics Plant.

“A lot of it goes into film applications. You probably have us in your pantry, in your fridge. You see it every day in your grocery store. Packaging that keeps it fresh, lots of film applications.

“We also make high-density polyethylene that go into other applications. We ship it out globally through our partners at the port and they convert these resins to make all of these things that society needs.”

Energy Transfer has a series of television commercials designed to show how different a world without oil and gas would be.

One shows a hospital with just empty rooms, another shows that things like phones, hair gel, contact lenses, shoes, cosmetics, even footballs couldn’t exist without petrochemicals.

“I grew up in the Mont Belvieu area, so I’ve pretty much seen this first-hand, what kind of growth and support that these organizations provide to this community,” Energy Transfer’s Armstrong said. “It’s truly outstanding.

“But with this community it’s a little bit easier to talk about oil and gas than in other certain areas, but just about everything that’s inside this building is made from one of our products that we make in our facilities.“Those commercials are a great visualization of what our world would look like, what would be left of it, when you take oil and gas out.”

Armstrong said visitors from other countries are envious of Mont Belvieu.

“I’ve had the pleasure to talk to many different people from many different countries that tour our facilities, and they have nothing but awesome things to say about this community, our facilities,” he said.

“They’re mostly in awe looking at this community as a whole. They hope to bring something back to their countries and create something similar to what we have.”

By Dave Rogers, Baytown Sun