BRIDGEPORT - Somewhere between Powhatan Point and Bridgeport, officials with Royal Dutch Shell are exploring a possible site to locate the company's ethane cracker, according to Belmont County Commissioner Chuck Probst.
"This is a huge deal - it is too big for me to be more specific than that or comment any more," said Probst. "We are just fortunate to have the highway, rail and river access needed to even be in the running for something like this.
"This oil and gas development is going to totally change the face of Belmont County," he added. "It is really amazing to think of the possibilities."
A Royal Dutch Shell employee works at
one of the company’s worldwide operations.
Jason Wilson, director of Gov. John Kasich's Office of Appalachia, was not as specific in identifying the area where a cracker might be located, noting Probst's comments could "stand on their own." Wilson did, however, confirm for The Intelligencer that Shell is looking at some sites in "eastern Ohio."
"I was speaking in Steubenville (Wednesday), and some folks were asking me about the ethane cracker. They said all they see and hear about is what West Virginia is doing and that it may go to West Virginia," said Wilson, who formerly served as the Ohio state senator for Belmont, Jefferson and Harrison counties.
"Ohio is working across all aspects of the (Marcellus and Utica) shale plays," he continued. "To compete for - and possibly land - an ethane cracker would be tremendous."
Officials in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania are competing to land Shell's multibillion-dollar cracker, with all three states reportedly creating special tax incentive packages in an effort to attract a cracker developer.
Kasich flew to Houston last year to meet with Shell representatives to promote Ohio as the best location for that company's cracker, which some estimate will cost as much as $3.2 billion. West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin trekked to Texas last week to make a similar pitch, though he did not confirm Shell was the company with whom he met.
Officials estimate the cracker could bring as many as 10,000 construction jobs, several hundred chemical jobs and thousands of related jobs to the state in which it locates. However, Wilson pointed out that a cracker constructed along the Ohio River in the Upper Ohio Valley would benefit Ohio and West Virginia because of all the related development associated with such a massive project.
"I hope the people of eastern Ohio are excited about the opportunities," added Wilson. "This is really unprecedented for our part of the state."
Shell spokeswoman Kayla Macke said Wednesday that her company expects to announce the cracker location in "early 2012/quarter one" regarding a time frame that would end March 31.
Shell officials previously said they hoped to make the announcement in January.
The "wet" Marcellus and Utica shale gas contains ethane, propane, butane and pentane - collectively known as "natural gas liquids" - in addition to the "dry" methane part of the gas stream. The liquids must be stripped away from the dry methane at processing plants - such as those operated by Caiman Energy, MarkWest Liberty and Dominion Resources - so the methane can be sold by utility companies. Gastar Exploration Vice President-Northeast Michael McCown said 15 percent to 17 percent of what his company's Marshall County wells are producing is ethane.
After the ethane is separated from the other substances, it must be shipped to a cracker or placed into a pipeline. Caiman, along with Chesapeake Energy and Range Resources, plans to send some local ethane to Texas or Canada, partially because there is no cracker in the area now. Cracker plants convert ethane into ethylene, a component of plastics.