Commissioners push for local ethane cracker
If an ethane cracker is to be built in West Virginia, commissioners from the six Northern Panhandle counties do not want to see the hundreds of potential jobs going to Charleston.
“The bottom line is that if the ethane is being produced here, we believe it should be processed here,” said Ohio County Commissioner Tim McCormick following a Tuesday press conference in which he and commissioners from Tyler, Wetzel, Marshall, Brooke and Hancock counties signed a joint resolution committing to “secure maximum investment for this region of West Virginia to the absolute best of their ability.”
“I just find it ironic that another part of this state wants our gas,” McCormick added.
Officials with Bayer Corp. believe a plot of land near the company’s New Martinsville facility would be an ideal location for a $1 billion ethane cracker – a facility that processes the ethane that is a byproduct of the Northern Panhandle’s natural gas to create ethylene, which is used to make plastic. However, the company also believes its property in Institute, W.Va., near Charleston along the Kanawha River would also be a good site for such a plant, which would offer jobs paying in the range of $60,000 per year.
Global oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell has announced plans to build an ethane cracker somewhere in Appalachia, but it has not committed to building the plant in West Virginia.
“It is our goal to do what we can to make sure this ‘off gas’ benefits the Northern Panhandle,” Wetzel County Commissioner Donald E. Mason said of ethane and other natural gas liquids. “We are going to do everything we can to get this cracker.”
Hancock County Commissioner Danny Greathouse was reminded of how heavy traffic used to be during the heyday of Weirton Steel. He said he would love to have so many jobs in the area that local traffic would again be jammed.
“This is a plain and simple issue: We need jobs and we need investment,” Greathouse said.
“Throughout West Virginia’s history, natural resources have been taken from regions with little or no investment taking place, and without the production of job opportunities past the extraction stages of the industry process,” Brooke County Commissioner Bernie Kazienko said. “We believe the communities where the natural resource is being produced must benefit as well.”
Tyler County Commissioner Charles “Pork” Smith said he has always been concerned about young people leaving West Virginia to take jobs elsewhere, noting construction of a cracker plant could help keep some of them here.
“We’re trying to get our state senators and delegates on board,” said Smith. “This project will have a major impact on the local economy,” he added, explaining that an estimated 3-4,000 construction jobs and 4-500 permanent jobs were at stake.
“We’ve got the railway, the highway, and the river right here,” said Smith, “and we have an available work force. It just makes sense, for the plant to locate regionally.”
State Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, later commended the commissioners for supporting the Northern Panhandle’s natural gas business.
“We are in the area of the so-called ‘wet gas,'” he said. “The Northern Panhandle should be rewarded for having the gas extracted here.”
However, Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, hopes more than one cracker will come to the state.
“I hate to see this become some sort of north-south struggle,” he noted. “We have plenty of room for two or more crackers here.
“If Huntington was going to get a cracker but Wheeling was not, would that be bad for the state? No,” DeMarco added, noting the state would receive tax revenue either way.
Though talk of the possible cracker was prevalent during the Tuesday conference, McCormick and other commissioners spoke of how the entire Marcellus Shale industry can benefit their communities.
“As representatives from the northern counties, we agreed it was time to join together to help coordinate the future development of the Marcellus gas industry in our area,” said Marshall County Commissioner Donald K. Mason. “The drilling of natural gas in our northern counties offers an opportunity for jobs and investment that our region may not see again for generations.”
Mason’s fellow Marshall commissioner, Jason “Jake” Padlow, noted he hopes the Northern Panhandle will be able to get more out of the Marcellus industry, specifically citing problems with traffic and road damage.
“It is time for us to step up and capture what may not be available for another generation,” he said.