Midstream 101

What Is the Midstream Industry?

Most natural gas in the U.S. must be processed before it reaches the marketplace (companies) and end-users (people like you). Midstream is the link between natural gas being produced at a wellhead and then filling society’s need for energy and by-products.

Where do we fit in? If you take a hot shower, heat your home or use anything made from rubber, plastics or synthetics, we were part of providing it. If you save on heating or cooling costs through home insulation, we help make it possible. If you have cables running through your home or office, you benefit from the energy we provide.

What Exactly Is Natural Gas?

Like oil and coal, natural gas is a fossil fuel. Twenty-five percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. is natural gas, making it the second-largest source of energy; and that’s growing.
 
It is colorless, shapeless, odorless and tasteless. When burned, natural gas creates a great deal of energy ― but with few emissions. 

Why and How Is It Processed?

Raw natural gas is processed to ensure it meets quality regulations, is safe to use, and to make it a useful and marketable product for society.
 
It’s also processed to extract valuable liquids. These liquids are called natural gas liquids (NGLs). They include ethane, propane and butane. Companies use NGLs to produce products containing rubber, plastics or synthetics.
 
After processing, our trucks transport NGLs to a facility where NGLs are fractionated into other compounds.

What Type of Plants Does DCP Have?

Our plants are centralized processing facilities, located near or within major production fields. They process raw natural gas turning it into pipeline-quality residue gas, treating it to remove contaminants or impurities and creating valuable NGLs.

Several types of natural gas processing plants are used throughout the industry to produce pipeline quality "dry" gas. The type of plant and technology used is greatly dependent upon the geologic nature of the gas being processed.  In addition to centralized plants which process gas near the source of production, there are specialized plants.

Sweetening and Treating Plants

Specifically designed to remove large quantities of sulfur and carbon dioxide and other impurities from an otherwise dry natural gas stream.

Straddle Plants

In addition to processing done at the wellhead and at centralized processing plants, processing is also accomplished at straddle extraction plants. Straddle plants are located on interstate or intrastate pipelines that carry pipeline quality gas.

Fractionation Plants

The majority of NGLs are sent downstream to be fractionated into their individual components at specialized plants.

What Is Fractionation?

Fractionation results in the separation of NGLs into their individual components. It’s based on the different boiling points of the individual hydrocarbons in the NGL stream. From the lightest to the heaviest, the NGLs are passed through a series of distillation towers named for the extracted hydrocarbon: ethane, propane and butane.

These hydrocarbons are then provided to locations where gas gets traded. Several of the market hubs are located at DCP facilities, including Spindletop Storage Hub and the Carthage Hub, part of our East Texas system. 

How Is It Transported?

As gas moves through the different processing phases, it’s compressed and expanded as needed. Once the gas has been fully processed and is ready to leave the plant, it’s re-compressed in a residue compressor to achieve sufficient pressure to be sent from the plant outlet to a mainline transmission pipeline. 

Is This Process Safe?

Pipelines provide the safest method of transportation for natural gas and NGLs. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s records show pipelines consistently have the highest safety record among all major fuel transportation systems.
 
Safety is our core value. We adhere to the strictest safety regulations. We monitor our pipelines 24 hours a day and conduct regular inspections, routine tests and equipment maintenance. We also train our employees and all local emergency service providers to ensure response preparedness in the unlikely event of an emergency.
 
But, it is important to remember that you can do your part, too, by practicing safe digging. Always call 811 before you dig. It’s the only way to know what’s below.