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Industry leaders look beyond cracker

February 20, 2012
By CASEY JUNKINS - For The Weirton Daily Times , Weirton Daily Times

WHEELING - Attracting a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker to the region would only be one aspect to bringing a new stream of industries to create thousands of new jobs, according to those in the natural gas and chemical industries.

Plants to convert the materials produced at the cracker and businesses that would rely on those materials could help West Virginia and neighboring states create thousands of high-paying jobs over the next several years, said Joe Eddy and Michael McCown.

"It seems like people are just focusing on the (ethane) cracker. That is only one piece of the picture," said Eddy, chairman of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, as well as president and chief executive officer of Eagle Manufacturing in Wellsburg. "I'm not sure enough people are looking at the whole picture when it comes to what this cracker would mean."

Eagle, founded in 1894 as a decorative glass factory, today makes a variety of industrial safety, haz-mat and storage products.

"We could have it come full circle because my company pulls the gas out of the ground and we use a lot of pipe," said McCown. "That pipe could be built right here if we can crack the ethane."

Officials in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania are still waiting for Royal Dutch Shell, Aither Chemicals or some other company to announce specific plans to build at least one ethane cracker in one of the states.

In addition to ethane, other natural gas liquids produced in the "wet" Marcellus and Utica shale gas are propane, butane and pentane.

These elements must be stripped away from the methane natural gas at processing plants, such as those operated by Caiman Energy, MarkWest Liberty and Dominion Resources, so the methane can be sold by utility companies. After the ethane is separated from the other gases, it must be shipped to a cracker or placed into a pipeline.

Eddy and McCown said that most of what would come out of the ethane cracker would be ethylene, the basis for the plastics industry.

The ethylene would then need to go to another plant that would further process it before this product could go to plastic companies. This means that new plants and jobs would be created all along the way.

"We can have everything right here," said McCown in reference to a series of industrial plants that would employ thousands of workers. He said the process could call for the following:

"All of this can happen here if we get this cracker," said Eddy.

Although Eddy, McCown and Susan Lavenski, managing partner of Charleston-based Charles Ryan Associates, hope the cracker ends up in West Virginia, they said developing a plant in Pennsylvania or Ohio would still position the Mountain State to gain the related industries the cracker could generate.

McCown and Eddy also believe it would ultimately be in the best interest to crack ethane locally, as opposed to placing it in pipelines for shipping to Louisiana or Canada, as some companies are now planning to do.

This is because, they say, it costs money to pump the gas to these areas.

McCown also said having such a large supply of "cheap" natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale region should also help attract a cracker and related businesses because they can run their plants at a lower cost.

"All of this is possible, at the end of the day, because of the large supply of wet gas we have in this region," he added.

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