PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The state of West Virginia and a Latin America company hope to climb a mountain together that will end in the opening of an ethane cracker plant in Wood County.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the company Odebrecht announced the company’s plans Thursday to explore the development of a petrochemical complex in the Ohio River community of Washington. The project is called Ascent, Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise.
“They have chosen Wood County as the perspective location for the potential development of an ethane cracker and 3 polyethylene plants and that’s great,” Tomblin told the crowd gathered at WVU Parkersburg.
Odebrecht said it plans to exercise an option to purchase property next to the DuPont plant in Washington. The property is currently occupied by the SABIC plant. That company told its 109 workers the plant will close in 18 months.
Odebrecht is a well-known company that has petrochemical investments around the world. Director of Business Development David Peebles said his company has decided tapping into the natural gas industry in West Virginia “makes sense” but it’s important to “manage expectations” in the continuing planning phase. He said the company is doing what can be compared to a diagnostic test on the proposal.
“We will be spending a good bit of money, expenditures in engineering, expenditures with lawyers and permitting,” Peebles said. “And assuming we go forward there will many jobs available.”
But Peebles was unwilling to say, right now, how many potential jobs the complex could bring.
“It’s not that we are trying to be evasive but we do not want to exaggerate or overestimate and have people’s expectations raised because this is a deliberate process,” Peebles said.
Gov. Tomblin agreed there’s still a lot to do. He said Odebrecht must still contract for necessary supplies of ethane, finalize plans for pipelines and other infrastructure. The governor added the financing of the project and the necessary permits all still have to be secured.
Peebles said he met with labor leaders in Parkersburg Thursday and stressed the importance of having a qualified workforce. He also said the biggest problem the company has experienced in the United States is getting workers who are drug free.
“You will not get hired if you do not pass a drug test,” Peebles said.
The cautious optimism of Thursday’s news conference was clear when Peebles told a reporter his company wants to finish the project as soon as possible but it won’t be rushed.
“We are not going to jump into a pool without knowing how deep the water is. You are going to find that we are conservative,” he said. “We have decided that this makes sense. We want to double check. We want to confirm and hopefully the word Ascent is going up and we are climbing a mountain together.”