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Kanawha officials pin hopes on 'second' cracker

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha Valley was never on Shell Oil Co.'s short list of potential sites for a multibillion-dollar ethane cracking facility, area economic development leaders said Thursday.

So Shell's announcement that the company plans to build a massive petrochemical plant in southwestern Pennsylvania didn't come as a surprise to local officials, who continue to court other companies interested in building a "cracker" in Kanawha County.

Shell wanted to build its plant closer to drilling operations near the northern Panhandle and southwestern Pennsylvania, Kanawha business and political leaders said. 

"I'm not surprised at all by Shell's announcement," said Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance economic development group. "[Thursday's] announcement doesn't change anything. We're still in the game."

Ballard said "global companies" with an interest in building a cracker continue to conduct "due diligence on sites in the area." Ballard and other economic development officials have declined to name the companies, but the Gazette has previously reported that Brazil-based Braskem is one of them.

South Charleston-based Aither Chemicals also is looking at sites, and plans to build a smaller-scale cracking facility.

Kanawha economic development leaders have been shopping the Bayer CropScience Industrial Park in Institute as a site for a cracker.

Ballard said he expects additional companies to build cracker plants that will process gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

"I'm very optimistic," Ballard said. "This is going to come in waves. It's still very early."

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said Shell's cracker in Monaca, Pa., would not have enough capacity to process all the natural gas being drilled in the Appalachian region.

"A second cracker is a very viable opportunity," Carper said. "I can't emphasize this enough: All of the things we've done, and will continue to do, have put West Virginia in a position to obtain a cracker. The only thing to do is to keep on working."

Bayer issued a statement Thursday, saying the Institute site, and another Bayer property in New Martinsville, were still in the running for an additional cracker in Appalachia. 

"We remain in active discussions with other companies who are interested in building an ethane cracker at our sites," said Bryan Iams, a Bayer spokesman. "This announcement only reinforces our belief that this region and its various industries will play a key role in the responsible development of the Marcellus Shale resource and the future Utica Shale opportunity."

Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association, said he was "extremely disappointed" that Shell didn't decide to build a cracker in West Virginia.

"We were pretty confident we were going to get a cracker in the Northern Panhandle," DeMarco said. "It's pretty disturbing. We started about two years ago, and put a lot of time and effort into this."

However, DeMarco said his group remains confident that more than one cracker will be built in the Appalachian region.

DeMarco said he recognizes that the future Shell cracker facility -- located about 25 miles from the West Virginia border -- will create jobs and likely spur development in the Northern Panhandle.

DeMarco said the real prize would be landing a cracker in West Virginia.

"Yes, there will be downstream benefits," DeMarco said. "But if you have the anchor, you have the first leg on the table."

Staff writer Phil Kabler contributed to this report.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

 


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