CHARLESTON - The possibility of revitalizing the manufacturing sector with materials produced from natural gas drilling is an opportunity West Virginia business and government leaders are seeking to harness.
"There have already been billions of dollars invested in West Virginia, and there could be billions more," said Joe Eddy, chairman of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association. "We have to seize on this great opportunity that is before us."
Therefore, the association will host a Marcellus to Manufacturing-Ethane Development conference Wednesday and Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center. The M2M Conference is taking place in conjunction with the West Virginia Construction and Design Expo. The two conferences together will have more than 300 exhibitors, 6,000 attendees and 50 seminars, making the conference the region's largest trade show.
The seminar and panel discussions will feature industry and government leaders concerning West Virginia's infrastructure, taxes, environmental concerns, capital investments, education, training initiatives and ethane cracker and downstream site selection opportunities.
One of the featured speakers at the conference will be John Stekla, director of ethylene studies for IHS Chemical, which was formerly known as Chemical Marketing Associates Inc. In his current role, Stekla is widely recognized within the industry as an expert on the availability and advantageous use of ethylene in North America. Stekla landed at IHS after more than 25 years of in-depth industry experience working for Chevron and its predecessor, Gulf Oil Chemicals Co.
Other speakers include Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; Secretary of Commerce Keith Burdette; President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Manufacturers Jay Timmons; Vice President of State Affairs for the American Chemistry Council Roger Bernstein; and West Virginia University Director of Athletics Oliver Luck.
Much of the focus lately has revolved around West Virginia's efforts to gain a multibillion-dollar ethane cracker from Royal Dutch Shell. After evaluating sites in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the company announced last week it plans to build the plant just outside Monaca, Pa.
"Obviously, we wanted the cracker in West Virginia," said Eddy. "But because our states are so close together, we will be able to attract development here even if that project goes to Ohio or Pennsylvania."
Eddy said that most of what would come out of the ethane cracker would be ethylene, the basis for the plastics industry. This ethylene would then need to go to another plant that would further process it before it could go to plastic companies. This means that new plants and jobs would be created all along the way.
Eddy said the process could call for the following:
"All of this can happen here because of this cracker," said Eddy. "This conference should allow us to help make the connections - to let people from around the country know that West Virginia is primed for economic growth."