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Dilles Bottom Site Cleared for Cracker

Decision on R.E. Burger Property Expected by March

Photo by Casey Junkins Approximately eight months ago, FirstEnergy’s R.E. Burger Plant stood prominently along the Ohio River. Today, the site has been cleared for development of the PTT Global Chemical America ethane cracker.

DILLES BOTTOM–Site preparation for PTT Global Chemical’s planned multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker project in Belmont County is nearly complete, as all signs of the former R.E. Burger power plant along the Ohio River are now nothing more than a memory.

After more than a year of evaluating the viability of the project — which would create thousands of construction jobs in the construction phase and hundreds of permanent jobs once it’s up and running — officials expect the Thailand-based chemical giant to make a final investment decision by the end of March.

“So far, all the signs we see are positive,” Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas said. “We anticipate them making their final decision by the end of March.”

In September 2015, Ohio Gov. John Kasich joined PTT President and CEO Supattanapong Punmeechaow at the Statehouse in Columbus to confirm plans to spend at least $100 million for engineering and design plans for the plant, which some estimate would cost about $5.7 billion to complete. In July, FirstEnergy Corp. officials blew up the 854-foot-tall smoke stack at the former Burger plant to make room for the giant ethane cracker, which will also include a significant number of acres to the south and west.

“It’s a very good sign that FirstEnergy worked so quickly to remediate the site,” Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede said. “They have worked with Jobs Ohio on this.”

Jobs Ohio is the private economic development corporation Kasich and Republican legislators created in 2011. Matt Englehart, spokesman for Jobs Ohio, said Friday that officials are close to being able to make some announcements, but couldn’t provide more details. PTT spokesman Dan Williamson also said he had no new information.

“Things are moving very smoothly. The company’s due diligence continues,” Thomas said. “The remediation of the FirstEnergy site is, in effect, complete.”

Thomas said the company continues working its way through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency permitting process for both water discharge and air emission certificates.

If PTT makes an affirmative final investment decision, the construction project will require thousands of construction workers.

“The majority of the contracting work will be done by those from the local area,” Favede said.

“All the local labor that can be provided will be working,” Thomas added. “The project is so big that, at times, there will not be sufficient labor here.”

Although several new hotels and apartment complexes have opened across the Upper Ohio Valley during the last few years, Thomas and Favede said most of these will fill up rather quickly.

“You are going to have a lot of out of town people here. Those who have private apartments and hotels, they are going to be full for four years,” Thomas said.

Royal Dutch Shell is already building its giant ethane cracker north of Pittsburgh, but the majority of industry leaders believe there is so much ethane in the Marcellus and Utica shale region that it can both support multiple new cracker plants and provide feedstock to other established plants around the globe. Ethane now flows across Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook refinery via the Sunoco Logistics Mariner East 1 project. The material then goes to Europe for processing in trans-Atlantic sea vessels.

Sunoco is now working on the Mariner East 2 pipeline, which the company plans to have carry additional ethane, propane, butane and other natural gas liquids through Pennsylvania by next year. The company estimates the total cost of its Mariner East project at $3 billion. Pipeline giant Kinder Morgan is also working on the $500 million Utopia Pipeline, which would send the ethane from MarkWest’s Cadiz plant to a connection with existing infrastructure in Michigan. The ethane would then go onward to Corunna, Ontario, Canada for processing by NOVA Chemicals Corp.

These pipeline projects are in addition to the active ATEX Express pipeline that sends Marcellus and Utica ethane to the Gulf Coast, as well as Sunoco’s Mariner West project that already ships the material to the Nova facility in Canada.

“This entire region is going to be a major player in the energy sector for a long time to come,” Thomas added. “And Belmont County is right in the heart of it all.”

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