Tomblin Still Hopes For Ethane Cracker

FAIRMONT, W.Va. – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said finalizing a deal to bring a giant ethane cracker chemical plant to West Virginia takes time, but he still believes it can happen.

“When you are talking about a $3 billion to $4 billion investment, it takes some time to get everything together,” Tomblin said in Fairmont Wednesday following his announcement of the Appalachian Petroleum Technology Training Center.

Global oil giant Shell announced plans last year to construct a cracker at a site in Monaca, Pa., but Shell has yet to acquire the land for the planned facility from Horsehead Corp. This announcement came after months of speculation, as well as effort from development officials in Ohio and West Virginia to attract the large chemical plant.

“We worked with Shell, but we have also talked with other interested companies,” Tomblin said. “I am confident we will eventually get one.”

The liquids-rich Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas in northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio makes the Upper Ohio Valley a prime location for an ethane cracker, according to industry officials.

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

All of these elements must be stripped away from the dry methane natural gas at processing plants – such as the soon-to-open Dominion Resources Natrium facility – so the methane can be sold by utility companies. Because there is no ethane cracker in the Utica and Marcellus regions, some companies are now shipping the product for cracking at facilities in Canada or along the Gulf Coast. Others are simply burning it off via flaring.

Recently, Appalachian Resins Chief Executive Officer James Cutler said his company could bring about 125 permanent chemical jobs to Marshall County if he could build a cracker there. Aither Chemicals is another company that is considering an ethane cracker, primarily targeting the Kanawha Valley area.

If built in Marshall County, the ethane cracker likely would be somewhere along the Ohio River, as the petrochemical plant would then have easy access to the river, CSX railroad lines and W.Va. 2 – as well as the steady supply of ethane coming from local Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas operations. Ethane is “cracked” to produce ethylene, a component in plastics.