PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The economic development project that West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette called “somewhat of an open secret” in Parkersburg went public Thursday when executives with Odebrecht announced plans for a possible new petrochemical complex in Wood County.
The potential complex, called Ascent for Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise, could eventually include an ethane cracker and three polyethylene plants along with the associated infrastructure for water treatment and energy.
“We’ve been waiting a long time, hoping this would happen, and it’s just a wonderful day,” said Wood County Commissioner Stephen Gainer. “We’ve had that fear in our hearts that it might not happen. We’re just tickled that it did happen and, hopefully, it’ll go forward. I’m sure it will.”
Odebrecht executives and state officials were much more cautious and made it clear, during Thursday’s announcement at West Virginia University-Parkersburg, the company is still in the exploration phase of Ascent.
Ascent’s feasibility, they said, will depend on factors like the contracting of long-term ethane supply, as well as financing, regulatory approvals and appropriate governmental support.
As of now, Burdette said the Brazilian company with global investments in oil and gas, real estate, environmental engineering and chemicals does have a purchase option on the anticipated project site. That site is the current location of Sabic Innovative Plastics which is next door to DuPont, on the Ohio River, in Washington, W.Va.
“There’s a lot of public steps that start to take place,” said Burdette when asked about the timing of Thursday’s announcement from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Odebrecht executives in Parkersburg considering the many hurdles the project must clear.
“They will begin a permitting process, that becomes very public. They have options on property. Once they close that becomes very public,” he said.
State officials confirmed executives with Sabic informed the company’s 109 production workers Thursday that plant would cease operations in 18 months.
Burdette said more than half of those workers are expected to retire, but the others will lose their jobs. “Hopefully, some of those folks will come to work for this plant and the others we’re going to help find other opportunities,” he said.
Odebrecht will lead Ascent’s investment and financing and operate the water and electric utilities. Another company, called Braskem, would handle petrochemical-related activities as well as the commercialization of the polyethylene “should Ascent materialize.”
Williamstown Mayor Jean Ford said she is hopeful. “This is absolutely wonderful news,” Ford told MetroNews of the project that she said has been the focus of much work, behind the scenes, up to now.
“It’s definitely been really frustrating, but we’ve all kept a positive attitude and we felt that, if they would really look at West Virginia and what a good job our governor and our staff have done, that they would definitely have to choose us,” she said.
Jill Parsons, the president of the Mid-Ohio Valley Chamber of Commerce, agreed. “This is an amazing announcement today for this area, for the whole state of West Virginia.”
Parsons said she does not think it’s a cliche to use a familiar phrase to describe the project. “It is a game changer,” she said. “It really will be something very different than we’ve probably ever seen here before, as far as the growth for the business community.”
When asked how many jobs the possible petrochemical complex would create, both during construction and when it’s up and operating, Odebrescht officials stayed cautious and would only say “a lot.”
No specific timeline was given for the Ascent work either but, by many estimates, development and construction could take years.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, a lot, a lot of work to do, but we’re feeling very confident,” said Burdette.