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Tomblin: Chances of Cracker Good

July 21, 2011
By CASEY JUNKINS and J.W. JOHNSON - Staff Writers , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said West Virginia's Northern Panhandle has a "very good" chance of landing an ethane cracker that would lead to hundreds of new chemical jobs.

In making his rounds through Wheeling and Moundsville Wednesday, Tomblin met with his Marcellus to Manufacturing Task Force at Wheeling Park's White Palace before heading to the Marshall County Courthouse.

With the Northern Panhandle as one possible site for an ethane cracker - a facility that would process the byproduct of the natural gas found in the local region, turning it into ethylene for the plastics industry - Tomblin said it is possible to attract two ethane crackers to the Mountain State. He noted, however, the Northern Panhandle may have the upper hand because of its proximity to the natural gas liquids coming from the ground. Building a cracker here, he said, may "make more sense."

Article Photos

Photo by Shelley Hanson
Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, left, shakes hands with Dick Vannelle, president of the Bellaire Sons of Italy, during the Italian Festival kick-off dinner Wednesday in Wheeling.

"I think the chances are very good," Tomblin said regarding the possibility of the cracker coming to the Northern Panhandle.

Bayer Corp. hopes to attract a $1 billion cracker plant to its site near New Martinsville or to another Bayer site near Charleston. Along with the cracker would come hundreds of permanent chemical jobs paying around $60,000 a year in addition to thousands of construction jobs, said Don Rigby, executive director of the Wheeling-based Regional Economic Development Partnership.

"We have been working on this with the governor for six months," Rigby said following the meeting at the White Palace, during which he gave a short presentation about the possibility of bringing a cracker to the local area. "There is still a long way to go. Nothing is finalized.

"The gas is being produced here. We have an available site. We have an educated work force, and we are open to the chemical industry," he cited as some reasons why the New Martinsville site - which he said is partially owned by Bayer and partially owned by PPG Industries - would be preferable to Charleston.

"There would be an extra cost for a company to pump the gas that comes out of the ground here to Charleston to be processed," Rigby added, though admitting certain potential cracker builders may be willing to absorb this cost in order to have the plant built near West Virginia's largest city, which is home to the state government.

Tomblin said the state Department of Transportation is working on an engineering study to relocate a section of W.Va. 2 that runs through the PPG and Bayer properties to make room for such a facility.

Though several companies may look to build a cracker in the Mountain State - including global oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell - Rigby said RED has been working with one specific company, which he declined to name, that is interested in the New Martinsville site. He said the potential cracker builder is waiting to make a move because of a few issues, most notably the desire to know how much ethane can be produced in the Northern Panhandle.

"We are hopeful with this, but we are still months away from a final decision," Rigby said. "Nothing has been settled as to where, or even if, a cracker will be built in West Virginia."

Meanwhile, in touring the Marshall County Courthouse Tuesday, Tomblin said it is important to pay attention to the needs of county clerks' offices, which have seen an influx of activity from representatives of gas drilling companies.

"Marcellus drilling has put a huge strain on our county offices, and that is something we need to be aware of moving forward," he said.

Gas company representatives research land and mineral rights for their respective companies, who then make offers to the property owners. In counties like Marshall and Ohio, a majority of that land information is stored in large bound books and can only be accessed through the clerk's office.

Tomblin also met with Marshall County Commission President Jason "Jake" Padlow, who reiterated the county's interest in bringing a cracker plant to the area. Padlow said because of the volume of drilling in Marshall County, he and the other commissioners have heard all of the negatives associated with it. Therefore, Padlow told Tomblin his county should be a frontrunner for any sort of plant.

"Jobs are very important to us, and they are important to him as well," Padlow said of Tomblin. "He is well informed on what we want, but he has a whole state to worry about."

Staff Writer Shelley Hanson also contributed to this report.

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