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Keep the effort up

July 20, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

The Northern Panhandle remains an excellent place for an ethane cracker plant, and state officials should put it at the top of the list of sites they are promoting to the petro-chemicals industry.

Local residents were disappointed earlier this year when Shell Oil picked a location near Monaca, Pa., to build a multibillion-dollar cracker plant. Sites in West Virginia and East Ohio had been considered for the facility.

As officials in both our states hinted at the time, the Shell decision was not the end of the cracker game, however. In fact, it was just a warm-up.

Four other companies are considering West Virginia for cracker plants, state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said this week. Two of the facilities will be "world-class" plants, while two others will be smaller, yet still significant, installations.

Burdette, who cited non-disclosure agreements with some of the firms, would not name them. However, it has been known for several months that Aither Chemicals, a South Charleston firm, is exploring the possibility of smaller cracker plant. A published report this week indicated a Brazilian manufacturer may be interested in a large plant in West Virginia.

Although full-scale cracker plants are desirable because of employment and other contributions to the economy, they require a lot of land - 500 acres or more. Shell's decision to cross Hancock County off its list reportedly was because of challenges involving site size.

Other places in the Northern Panhandle would be excellent spots on which to build a cracker plant, however. One key advantage is access to natural gas liquids from wells in northern West Virginia, East Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania.

Other attractive aspects of our area include an excellent transportation network and a skilled, eager work force.

Unemployment is high in some local counties - 10.6 percent in Wetzel County and 9.4-9.6 percent in Brooke and Hancock counties. That alone should prompt state officials to tout the Northern Panhandle highly when dealing with potential cracker plant developers. Add that to our region's other attributes, and it makes sense for Burdette and others to focus their salesmanship efforts right here.

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