This shift to more fee-based natural gas processing volumes and less equity NGL production reflects a desire by producers to pay a fee to process their natural gas production and retain their NGL production along with the associated commodity price risk to increase their revenue and return on investment. We view this development as a “win/win” as it provides producers with higher returns on capital and greater economic incentive to drill while providing Enterprise with an increase in fee-based volumes and cash flow.
Fee-based natural gas processing volumes and equity NGL production from the partnership’s processing plants in South Texas increased by 33 percent and 223 percent, respectively, to 1.9 Bcfd and 17 MBPD, respectively, associated with natural gas and NGL production growth from the Eagle Ford shale. These increases in South Texas volumes were primarily due to the start-up of two natural gas processing trains at the Yoakum plant. The first train began commercial operations in May 2012 while the second train began operations in late August 2012. The increase in equity NGL production from the South Texas plants partially offset a 22 MBPD decrease from Enterprise’s natural gas processing plants in the Rocky Mountains due to lower production and reduced recoveries of ethane.
Gross operating margin from the partnership’s NGL pipelines and storage business increased $49 million, or 34 percent, to $195 million for the third quarter of 2012 from $146 million for the third quarter of 2011. NGL pipeline volumes increased by 232 MBPD, or 10 percent, in the third quarter of 2012 to 2.5 million BPD compared to the third quarter of 2011.
The Mid-America and Seminole pipeline systems and related NGL terminals reported a $15 million increase in gross operating margin primarily due to an increase in system-wide tariffs that became effective in July 2012 and other fees. Enterprise’s South Texas NGL pipeline systems reported a $16 million increase in gross operating margin on a 110 MBPD increase in NGL volumes compared to the third quarter of 2011. This increase was primarily attributable to the partnership’s Eagle Ford NGL pipeline, which began operations in April 2012. Enterprise’s NGL storage assets reported an $11 million increase in gross operating margin for the third quarter of 2012 compared to the same quarter of 2011. The partnership’s marine terminals on the Houston Ship Channel and related pipeline facilities reported an aggregate increase in gross operating margin of $8 million for the third quarter of 2012 compared to the third quarter of last year primarily due to higher volumes.