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MPLX eyes expansion of Whistler Pipeline in Permian to 2.5 Bcf/d


MPLX also would consider new long-haul Permian gas pipe

Tornado 2 gas processing plant comes online late 2022

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  • Jordan Blum
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MPLX said Feb. 2 it is seriously considering an expansion of the Whistler natural gas pipeline in the Permian Basin from the existing 2 Bcf/d up to 2.5 Bcf/d as gas takeaway capacity quickly becomes the biggest bottleneck for the basin's future oil and gas production growth.

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The 450-mile Whistler Pipeline to Agua Dulce, Texas, near Corpus Christi came online in August and, in late January, plans were announced to build a 35-mile lateral to extend the pipeline deeper into the Permian's Midland Basin near more gas processing plants. That extra lateral, which will be completed by late 2022, will allow Whistler to fill to capacity more quickly, necessitating the expansion, MPLX executives said.

"As we continue to extend up into the Midland Basin, we've essentially tapped out some of the existing capacity, and we'll be looking to grow that capacity on Whistler overall. So, as far as timing, that remains to be seen," said MPLX Chief Commercial Officer Timothy Aydt.

A Whistler capacity expansion could come online in late 2023 at the earliest.

"We're in constant communication with producer customers, and there is interest. It's not really hypothetical. There is interest out there," Aydt said.

MPLX CEO Michael Hennigan confirmed 2.5 Bcf/d is the maximum Whistler can be expanded without building a new pipeline.

So, after the tentative expansion is completed, Hennigan said MPLX would consider partnering to build another long-haul natural gas pipeline from the Permian.

"Another pipeline is viewed as being necessary in the next two to three years," Hennigan said. "But certainly, I think the goal of the industry and certainly the goal of our JV would be to fill up existing assets first. Obviously, that's the most capital-efficient path forward."

Whistler is owned through a joint venture with MPLX, WhiteWater Midstream, Stonepeak Partners and West Texas Gas.

Permian surge

Despite a buildout of pipeline infrastructure from the Permian in recent years -- especially crude oil pipelines -- there still is expected to be more demand from natural gas takeaway capacity because the crude production creates so much additional associated gas, and there also is growing demand for gas for new LNG projects along the US Gulf Coast.

About a year ago, Tellurian scrapped its proposed Permian natural gas pipeline to Louisiana, leaving a shortage of gas pipeline projects on the radar.

"I think the LNG market is continuing to grow and is forecast to grow in a pretty big way over the course of time," Aydt said. "So I think the producers are looking to make sure that they have adequate takeaway capacity."

MPLX Chief Operating Officer Gregory Floerke also noted that the crackdown on gas flaring in the Permian will lead to even more gas pipeline needs. That means MPLX also will consider further investments in gas gathering and processing in the Permian going forward, he said.

Already underway is MPLX's the 200 Mcf/d Tornado 2 processing plant in the Permian's Delaware Basin, which is expected to come online in the second half of 2022 and bring its total total processing capacity in the region up to 1 Bcf/d.

More than 300 drilling rigs are currently in operation across the West Texas and New Mexico play as activity there edges back toward pre-pandemic levels, rig data from Enverus shows.

The rebound in activity has fueled huge Permian oil production growth, especially over the past 12 months. The US Energy Information Administration projects crude output in the Permian could exceed 5 million b/d in February for the first time ever.

Driven by the Permian, S&P Global Platts Analytics counted Texas and New Mexico crude and condensate production at 6.3 million b/d at the end of 2021, including nearly 1.2 million b/d from the Eagle Ford Shale, and projects growth to about 6.8 million b/d by year-end 2022.

But MPLX also is a partner on the ExxonMobil-led Wink to Webster crude pipeline that was completed in December. The entire Wink to Webster crude network is expected to have a capacity of 1.5 million b/d and will ramp up throughout 2022, MPLX executives said.

In addition, MPLX also said it eventually would consider expansions of its 300,000 b/d BANGL pipeline to transport more NGL from the Permian. BANGL, which came online during the fourth quarter of last year, is also owned by WhiteWater, West Texas Gas and Rattler Midstream.