It was with great fanfare that the Justice administration announced in November 2017 a partnership with China Energy. According to the memorandum of understanding, the Chinese energy giant would invest $83.7 billion in West Virginia projects over the next 20 years.
The details of that deal have always been a little sketchy. State officials said China Energy wanted to invest in the state’s natural gas industry with projects including power generation, chemical manufacturing and underground storage.
Since then, there hasn’t been much news—no big announcements, no ribbon cuttings. However, state Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch tells me that doesn’t mean nothing is happening.
Gaunch is just back from a “development mission” to China and Japan where he met with top China Energy officials and received an update. “They have identified seven projects for West Virginia,” Gaunch said on Talkline. He added that China Energy representatives have made multiple trips to the state.
Again, state officials are cautious about what they will say, but Gaunch did confirm that those projects are in the fields of energy generation and petrochemical production. “They are definitely interested in those specific industries,” he said. “Those would result in hundreds or maybe thousands of jobs.”
Here’s where a note of caution is appropriate. If West Virginia had even half of the jobs promised in economic development announcements over the years we would have the economy of Texas.
However, there is no question some of the fundamentals are in place in West Virginia for an energy boom. The state has massive amounts of natural gas which, along with a source for power generation, serves as a feedstock for petrochemicals that are used in the production of a variety of commercial products.
West Virginia still needs more infrastructure, storage capacity and “cracker” plants that will convert ethane from natural gas into ethylene that is used to make plastics, resins, adhesives and multiple synthetic products.
So, there’s still a way to go and Gaunch advised patience. “A lot of these (deals with the Chinese) are about making relationships,” he said, adding this important side note; the ongoing trade issues between the United States and China are not helping those relationships right now.
A business relationship between West Virginia and China Energy makes sense; West Virginia has the gas, China Energy has the money and the demand. Hopefully soon the news will be what is happening rather than what could happen.