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PTT cracker decision to come in last quarter

WHAT ABOUT PTT? — Belmont County Port Authority Director Larry Merry, right, spoke Thursday during a forum regarding the potential PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker, as Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle Executive Director Pat Ford looked on. -- Casey Junkins

WHEELING — An ethane cracker with a cost estimate as high as $6 billion could be confirmed before the end of 2017, a project Belmont County Port Authority Director Larry Merry said would allow the Upper Ohio Valley to export finished products instead of young natives who cannot find careers.

“I can’t think of a single reason they wouldn’t come here,” Merry said of the proposed Dilles Bottom PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker, while speaking during a Thursday forum at the Ogden Newspapers Printing & Technology Center in Wheeling. Ohio Valley Construction Employers Council Executive Director Ginny Favede, who previously served eight years as a Belmont County commissioner, organized the event.

“We are optimistic,” added Mike Jacoby, who serves as vice president of business development for Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth. “We see no problems.”

Officials with Thailand-based PTT have said they plan to make a final decision on the project by the end of this year. If the massive endeavor comes to fruition, it could generate thousands of construction jobs, as well as hundreds of permanent petrochemical jobs once the plant enters operation. Thousands of “spin-off” jobs could result from the ethane cracker’s presence, officials have said.

However, Merry said the region is “not ready” for the potential influx of thousands of construction workers who would build the massive petrochemical complex and, potentially, other similar petrochemical complexes in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“We need to be improving our housing opportunities,” Merry said during Thursday’s forum.

“There are going to be more people in this area,” Merry said of the scenario in which the cracker is confirmed. “There is a tremendous amount of work to be done.”

As the Upper Ohio Valley waits to learn of PTT’s final decision, Royal Dutch Shell is moving forward with a petrochemical plant at Monaca, Pa. Moreover, a recent West Virginia University study found the creation of a Marcellus and Utica shale ethane storage hub could lead to 100,000 permanent jobs, along with at least $36 billion in total investment.

One of these storage caverns is south of the proposed PTT site, as Denver-based Energy Storage Ventures hopes to begin storing ethane before the end of 2019 at Clarington. Ethane is one of the liquid forms of natural gas prevalent in the Marcellus and Utica region. An ethane cracker transforms this material into ethylene, which eventually becomes plastic.

“This play has unbelievable potential,” Merry said. “We’ve got the raw product.”

Approximately four years ago Odebrecht and Braskem announced intentions to build an ethane cracker near Parkersburg: Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise. West Virginia Department of Commerce General Counsel Josh Jarrell on Thursday said although Odebrecht is no longer participating in the project, Braskem retains an interest in the land.

“It’s not dead,” Jarrell said of the possible Wood County ethane cracker. “We’re anxiously waiting for them to take another step with us.”

Some Marcellus and Utica shale ethane now is being shipped out of the region for cracking via pipelines such as the Sunoco Logistics Mariner East and Mariner West projects, as well as the ATEX Express. Kinder Morgan also is building the $500 Utopia Pipeline to send up to 75,000 barrels of ethane to Canada each day.

“It’s really a race against the pipelines,” Jacoby said of the opportunity of processing the ethane in the local region.

Also speaking Thursday were Regional Economic Development Partnership Program Director Craig O’Leary and Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle Executive Director Pat Ford. They said if the PTT project materializes, there are plenty of former industrial sites — sometimes known as brownfields — that could be transformed into new plants.

“We would have never had an opportunity to repurpose brownfield sites without the shale gas,” Ford said.

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