The first export shipment of Marcellus Shale ethane set sail Wednesday afternoon from Sunoco Logistics Partners' Marcus Hook terminal to a petrochemical plant in Norway.

The JS Ineos Intrepid, one of eight 575-foot tankers commissioned by European chemical manufacturer Ineos, was loaded this week with 173,000 barrels of ethane that had been delivered to Marcus Hook from Western Pennsylvania through the Mariner East pipeline, Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said.

Ethane, a liquid used in plastics manufacturing, is derived from natural-gas production.

State business and political leaders have promoted the export of ethane as critical to boosting shale-gas development. Ineos and a second European petrochemical company have signed long-term agreements to export Marcellus Shale natural-gas liquids.

Shields said the launching of the first shipment of ethane is "another signal that the Mariner East project has begun to fulfill its promise."

Sunoco has committed $2.5 billion to the 300-mile Mariner East pipeline network to transport ethane and other liquid fuels, such as propane and butane, to the Marcus Hook terminal, erected on the site of a former oil refinery.

Ineos has spent $1 billion to complete the link between Marcus Hook and Europe by creating a "virtual pipeline" of tankers to ferry ethane across the Atlantic to petrochemical plants in Norway and Scotland.

Sunoco's plans to expand the existing pipeline have encountered resistance from some landowners, who have challenged the company's attempts to take pipeline easements by eminent domain.

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