Ethane Cracker Coming To The Heart of Texas

PTT Global Says Announcement For Belmont County Still Set for Year End

Photo by Casey Junkins An oversize load truck moves an earth excavator from the Ohio-West Virginia Excavating property at Dilles Bottom. If PTT Global Chemical America proceeds with its giant ethane cracker, this land will be incorporated into the project.

DILLES BOTTOM — PTT Global Chemical America officials are waiting until the end of 2017 to decide whether to build an ethane cracker in Belmont County, but one petrochemical project received a firm commitment this week — in Texas.

French energy giant Total, which has some drilling operations in the Utica Shale, will build a $1.7 billion ethane cracker at Port Arthur, Texas. Company officials said this project will create about 1,500 construction jobs before its planned 2020 start date.

“This project would have no effect on PTT Global Chemical America’s project,” PTT spokesman Dan Williamson said this week.

Nevertheless, Total Chairman and CEO Patrick Pouyanne’ said his company is working to become a “major player in the U.S. polyethylene market, citing the “shale revolution.”

“After significant investments in U.S. liquefied natural gas and U.S. shale gas in 2016, this almost $2 billion investment signals our determination to strengthen our presence in the U.S., where we have operated for 60 years and have more than 6,000 employees,” Pouyanne’ said. “We want to take advantage of the business-friendly environment to contribute to making American petrochemicals even greater.”

Meanwhile, the Upper Ohio Valley awaits a final decision from PTT, as officials with the Thailand-based firm said last month they would wait until the end of the year to decide. The project, which some estimate would cost about $6 billion, would cover several hundred acres between the Ohio River and Ohio 7 in Belmont County, including the former R.E. Burger plant property and the Ohio-West Virginia Excavating property.

Last year, Royal Dutch Shell committed to building a multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker along the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pa., at a site that is about a 45-minute drive from Weirton. Several other ethane crackers are now in some form of construction in the U.S., all in either Louisiana or Texas.

Any new cracker complex would “crack” the ethane into ethylene, which is used as a basis for plastics and resins contained in items such as food packaging, textiles and pharmaceuticals.

At this point, however, there is still no ethane cracker in the Marcellus and Utica region. Some producers burn off some of the liquid via flaring, while others blend the material into their commercial natural gas streams.

Also, billions of dollars worth of pipeline projects are now moving ethane out of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. These include:

∫ the Sunoco Logistics Mariner East, which sends ethane across Pennsylvania for shipment to Europe;

∫ the Sunoco Logistics Mariner West, which sends the material to the northwest for export to Canada; and

∫ the Enterprise Products Partners ATEX Express, which sends ethane southward toward the Gulf Coast.

Pipeline giant Kinder Morgan is also working on its $500 million Utopia Pipeline, which would send the ethane from MarkWest’s Harrison County fractionator, onward across Ohio to a connection with existing company infrastructure in Michigan.

Still, many oil and natural gas industry leaders believe the bounty of Marcellus and Utica shale ethane is so large that it can support multiple crackers in the region, in addition to filling the regional pipeline network.

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