Getting Another Shot at Cracker

If West Virginia does not have an ethane cracker strike force, state officials should begin forming one right now. A potential big disappointment for our neighbors in Pennsylvania could be an opportunity for us.

Royal Dutch Shell officials dropped something of a bombshell last week. The firm may not build the giant ethane cracker plant it had planned for Beaver County, Pa., near Monaca.

Shell signed an option on land at the site in March 2012. Since then, various setbacks have forced company officials to reevaluate their priorities in several areas, including the ethane cracker.

Plans were to use natural gas from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio at the plant, which would separate chemicals used for a multitude of other manufacturing purposes. Hundreds of jobs were to be created at the cracker itself, with thousands more possible at facilities using the plant’s output.

For months, West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania officials saw it as a priority to persuade Shell to build in their states. When the March 2012 announcement came, it was a crushing disappointment – especially here in the Ohio Valley.

Shell still has not made final decisions concerning the cracker. That is expected to happen in January.

But if the firm does shelve plans for the Monaca plant, it could be good news for West Virginia. Several things could happen. Another company could decide that if Shell won’t construct a big ethane cracker in the Marcellus Shale gasfields, it will. Shell could reevaluate the Monaca site, possibly being open to another location. Other, smaller companies could decide to build cracker plants.

Again, if Shell backs away from Monaca, opportunities could be created in West Virginia – specifically, here in the Northern Panhandle. State and local officials need to be ready to exploit the turn of events.