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Tim Ryan Touts Natural Gas on Campaign Trail in Belmont County

Photo by Jennifer Compston-Strough - Congressman Tim Ryan, left, a Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate, speaks to Scott Owens, senior project adviser for the proposed PTT Global Chemical America ethane cracker plant at Dilles Bottom. Owens provided Ryan with a site tour after Ryan met with union officials.

Congressman Tim Ryan says the natural gas and oil industry of Eastern Ohio is poised to “knock Vladimir Putin’s legs out from under him” in Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Ryan, a Democrat from Niles, Ohio, is running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. While campaigning across the state, Ryan visited Belmont County on Wednesday.

During his stop, he met with regional labor leaders and toured a proposed petrochemical complex site, where he spoke about the industry and its potential impact on global affairs.

Ryan met privately at Ohio-West Virginia Excavating headquarters with several different union representatives, as well as with local officials such as county Commissioner J.P. Dutton and port authority Executive Director Larry Merry. Also on hand was Scott Owens, senior project adviser for the PTT Global Chemical America ethane cracker plant, who took Ryan on a tour of the planned plant site.

Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ryan said he has long been a supporter of the natural gas industry, specifically citing a natural gas-fired power plant in his home district in Lordstown.

“This is a hell of an opportunity for Eastern Ohio to sell natural gas to Eastern Europe and knock Vladimir Putin’s legs out from under him. This needs to be a key part of our global strategy, and it’s about jobs, you know, good family wages here, good union jobs here in Eastern Ohio. And I’m all for it and I’ll do anything I can to help with this project and any other project we can establish here.”

Ryan said he often drives past the massive Royal Dutch Shell ethane cracker that is under construction at Monaca, Pennsylvania, noting that “we want that here in Eastern Ohio and right here in Shadyside.” The proposed PTTGCA location is situated along the Ohio River just south of Shadyside at the former site of FirstEnergy’s coal-fired R.E. Burger power plant. That facility, along with numerous homes, was demolished after the Thailand-based PTTGC purchased 500 acres of property there.

Between property acquisition and site preparation, PTTGCA has invested seven years and more than $300 million in the project. A final investment decision has been delayed, though, with officials such as Owens citing the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war as factors that have made finding an investment partner difficult. Daelim Chemical USA, a subsidiary of a South Korean company, withdrew as a partner in July 2020 amid the pandemic.

Ryan said officials in Washington, D.C., need to help America’s allies in eastern Europe obtain liquid natural gas from Ohio so they need not rely on Russia for fuel. He believes such an arrangement would serve as an incentive for a new investor to get involved with the cracker plant project. He cited the recent announcement that Intel will build a $20 billion chip-making facility in Licking County. He said that will mesh with new manufacturing interests such as electric vehicle makers in the Mahoning Valley. He added that the natural gas play in Belmont, Harrison and Monroe counties, among others, is “another piece of the puzzle” the state is putting together.

Infrastructure, such as broadband, water and sewerage, is key to attracting industrial development, according to Ryan, but it isn’t enough.

“You’ve also got to invest in education,” he said. “You’ve got to bring shop class back. You’ve got to have robust investments in our joint vocational schools. You’ve got to increase union apprentices. With all of these projects, we’re going to need more skilled labor.”

In talking with the union representatives, Ryan said he heard what he already knew – that “the deck is stacked against them.” He said workers are “front and center” for him, and that health care and pension plans are priorities of his campaign.

“What I want to do in the Senate is let all these workers know you’re not going to be forgotten … ,” he said. “To me, really the issue is about freedom. I mean if you have a good wage, you have economic security, you’re free to do what you want. But if you’re strapped with two or three jobs and you’ve got to work six, seven days a week, you’re not free to do what you want. So this is as apple pie and as red, white and blue as it gets.”

Regarding concerns that some environmental groups and local residents have expressed about the potential for pollution and contamination from a cracker plant, Ryan said those issues are important but that it’s “not an either/or proposition.” He said the next generation of innovation in industry and energy needs to happen in Eastern Ohio, adding that such development and clean air and water do not need to be mutually exclusive.

Regarding his future plans, Ryan said he intends to keep traveling throughout the state and talking with Ohioans as the primary election approaches. He also plans to spend the coming holiday weekend with family.

There are two other candidates In the Democratic primary: Morgan Harper is an attorney, community activist and adviser to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from Columbus. Traci Johnson of Toledo has worked as president of an information technology company and with the Ohio Office of Budget and Management, the Ohio Governor’s Office, the Ohio Attorney General and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Owens said PTTGCA appreciates Ryan’s support and that company leaders remain “committed” to and “hopeful” about the Dilles Bottom project. He said if the pandemic had not occurred, the facility would be in its second year of construction at this point.

“They are still committed to the project, and they still believe it’s feasible, and we do, too,” Owens said of those affiliated with the project, both overseas and here in Ohio.

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