Officials predict plant will have major impact

PARKERSBURG – With the announcement of the possible development of a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant in Wood County, many local and state officials are looking forward to economic development for the area.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday at West Virginia University at Parkersburg that Wood County was chosen as the site for a possible new petrochemical complex – the ethane cracker plant – to be built by the Brazilian-based company Odebrecht on the site of the SABIC plant in Washington, W.Va.

A cracker plant converts ethane, a byproduct from Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale natural gas, into the widely used ethylene, a key component for the plastics industry.

Although a number of plans, approvals, needed infrastructure and more has to be done first, many officials believe this project will change the economic position of the entire region.

With the potential for numerous construction jobs and other related employment, many officials talked about an increase need for housing, food and other related services as well as recreation and more.

West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said there is a potential for thousands of construction jobs in the initial building phase, followed by many jobs in the operational phase of the facility as well as other jobs created from downstream companies that could locate to the area to take advantage of the new ethane cracker plant.

“There are all kinds of studies about the downstream effects of a cracker facility,” he said. “It is huge in how many jobs it can create.

“Our next mission is literally to close this deal and get (the cracker plant) to construction and then begin attracting the type of companies that will use what is produced to manufacture other goods and services.”

Burdette said it will be several years to get to the operational phase for a cracker plant. However, company officials with Odebrecht have shown the commitment to making it a reality, he said.

The investment in this facility is expected to reach into the billions of dollars.

“It will be an internationally financed operation,” Burdette said. “If we do this right, it will impact our economy for a half century or longer.

“They can’t build a plant like this for five years or ten years, it has to be 20,30 40, and 50 years they have to plan for this.”

Cam Huffman, executive director of the Wood County Development Authority, said the eventual reach of this development will affect every aspect of this community.

“The impact of this project will cross all sectors as it is such a large project,” he said. “You are talking service industries, talking distribution…there will be restaurants, retail and other downstream companies that will come in and use the product.

“It is a total package.”

The development is an economic boon for the region and West Virginia, said Mark Whitley, executive director of the Jackson County Development Authority.

“And our friends in Ohio,” Whitley said.

The potential is enormous, he said.

“I think it’s going to be the biggest economic development event to hit the region since Kaiser opened,” Whitley said.

Karen Facemyer, president of the Polymer Alliance Zone of West Virginia, said Thursday the potential of a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant in Wood County is tremendous news for the region and the state.

“It is incredible proof that the shale gas boom in West Virginia is driving a renaissance of the North American plastics and manufacturing industries,” she said. “On behalf of the Polymer Alliance Zone members — plastics companies in Wood, Mason and Jackson counties and across the state, we appreciate the work of Governor Tomblin, the state development office, our congressional delegation and others who helped bring this to fruition.

“While we know there is much work to be done, the Polymer Alliance Zone stands ready to assist in anyway necessary to welcome this new company to our region and state.”

Delegate Dan Poling, D-Wood, said this project will represent a long-term commitment by the company as the potential is there to do a variety of work for years to come in the natural gas industry and the energy field.

“This is the biggest announcement we are ever going to have in this area as far as jobs,” he said. “The whole economy of this area will change as this project goes forward.

“This will recreate industry here that we have lost over the last 15 years or so.”

Poling expects a number of good paying jobs will end up being created out of this.

“You are going to see a whole different type of economic environment, because of this,” he said. “I think it is the greatest thing to ever happen to West Virginia.”

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, said the project will be a game changer, not only for the Mid-Ohio Valley, but for the state of West Virginia as a whole and Ohio as well.

“It is really a regional development,” he said. “It is something we have needed.

“One of the benefits of the Marcellus gas plays is being able to get something like this for long-term job creation.”

Although there are many things that still need to happen, Burdette said he and Tomblin were both confident the project will result in the ethane cracker plant being built in Wood County.

“The governor said to me ‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel really confident that this is the end result that there will be a plant here at the end of the day,”‘ Burdette said. “There is a lot of work to do, but we are feeling very confident.”

(City Editor Jess Mancini contributed to this story.)