Belmont County named site for possible multibillion-dollar ‘cracker’ plant

Plant handling natural-gas component would be Thai-Japanese venture; final decision expected in 2016

It is not every day that elected officials from Appalachian Ohio get to announce the possibility of a multibillion-dollar development.

So Belmont County leaders had reason to enjoy news yesterday that a planned ethane “cracker” plant is envisioned for a site near the Ohio River. And they hope the news will be followed in about a year with a firm commitment by developers to build the project.

“This potentially can be, from a fiscal standpoint, one of the biggest developments ever in Ohio,” said Mark Thomas, a Belmont County commissioner. “To have it, potentially, in Belmont County, in southeastern Ohio, in Appalachia, is incredible.”

The developers are PTT Global Chemical of Thailand, a giant chemical and fuel-refining company, and Marubeni Corp. of Japan.

A cracker plant takes ethane — a component of natural gas — and breaks it down into a substance that can be used to make chemicals and plastic.

This is the most recent of several cracker plants proposed by various companies in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania in the Utica- or Marcellus-shale formations. Some of the other proposals were greeted with fanfare but ran into problems before breaking ground.

Economic-development leaders want to attract a cracker plant because of the scale of the investment and the likelihood that a plant would attract chemical companies and others to locate nearby.

The Belmont County project would lead to “several hundred” permanent jobs at the plant and “ several thousand” construction jobs, Thomas said.

He confirmed that the companies plan to spend $150 million for engineering and permits and then decide in 12 to 16 months whether to move forward with construction. He said it would be premature to speculate on the total cost of the project, beyond saying that it would be “several billion dollars.”

The plant would be in Mead Township in the southeastern part of the county along the Ohio River.

“We are one step closer to landing a new, multibillion-dollar investment in eastern Ohio, and that’s exciting news for our state, the region and Belmont County,” Gov. John Kasich said in a statement. “There is more work ahead before final decisions on this project are made, but I know our Ohio team will do everything we can to bring it to fruition.”

The announcement is notable because of the involvement of the state government, which suggests that the project might be more viable than some others.

State and local officials have been working with the developers since late 2013, Thomas said, and Ohio was competing against sites in other states.

“While we have not yet made final decisions on this investment, we will continue to work with Gov. Kasich, JobsOhio and all of the local partners in an effort to make our vision a reality,” Kongkrapan Intarajang, an executive at PTT Global, said in a statement.

The plant would benefit from its proximity to the Utica- and Marcellus-shale formations, which offer an inexpensive supply of gas. That probably would translate into lower costs for companies that use ethane.

“We’re in the heart of what is now shale industry,” Thomas said.

From The Columbus Dispatch  |  April 23, 2015