‘Game-changer’ cracker plant in Wood County is off, but another developer could step up

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The developers of a proposed petrochemical cracker plant that generated buzz several years ago have officially withdrawn, state officials said, but they’re still working to encourage other possible developers.

Then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced the possibility of a petrochemical complex in 2013, calling it a “game changer.”

The site was a long-time chemical plant location south of Parkersburg. The site, most recently held by a company called SABIC was more than 300 acres.

But the $4 billion cracker plant has never come to be as complications arose with the Braskem and Odebrecht companies that were behind it. The companies in 2015 said the project was being reevaluated.

Mike Graney, director of the West Virginia Development Office, was updating a group of lawmakers about recent contacts with natural gas developers when he described the status of the cracker project.

“Braskem, who owned 380 acres, I think, in Washington Works, has agreed they are not going to build a cracker and they are quietly marketing that property,” Graney said.

“And they really want to guide that decision because they’d like to see another cracker built so they’re marketing to that group of companies that could make that investment. So that’s big news. Big news because that’s sort of moving this thing forward.”

A cracker plant separates ethane from natural gas into components for the polymer industries.

It is considered an important part of natural gas development, both for downstream manufacturing and for its jobs potential.

Graney was speaking before the Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development.

John Kelly

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, is chairman of that committee.

“I think that site probably is one of the best opportunities for a cracker or other investment in the state of West Virginia,” Kelly said.

“It has everything on that site that you need. You have close to highways, we have rails, we have river transportation and naturally we have the airport, which doesn’t do anything for product but it does get executives in and out of the area.”

Kelly has wanted to see more development on the site.

“I’m extremely concerned that we haven’t seen more activity on it,” he said, alluding to the complications between the two companies that had meant to partner on it.

The lawmakers on the committee gathered to hear comments by Steven Winberg, assistant secretary for fossil energy for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Winberg told lawmakers that the natural gas in the Appalachian Region has made it ripe for historic development potential.

“We are on the edge of an Appalachian chemical renaissance that scarcely could have been imagined a decade ago,” Winberg said.

He said the development will produce “family-sustaining employment for decades into the future.”

He said that includes not only the drilling already seen in the region but also larger projects such as cracker plants of an enormous natural gas storage hub.

“What we need, ladies and gentlemen, is one of these crackers in West Virginia.”

The Appalachian Region is likely to complete with the Gulf Coast states of Texas and Louisiana, he said.

And within this region, West Virginia will be competing with Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“If West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania were an independent country, the three states would be the third largest nat gas producer in the world,” he said.

Winberg suggested that West Virginia should continue to prepare for development possibilities with shovel-ready sites.

He acknowledged that many people may feel like they have been hearing for years about the kind of development that has not actually happened so far.

“I hear people all the time saying when is this going to happen? It takes years because these are massive capital projects,” Winberg said.

Delegate Kelly underscored that point with his own question.

“We’ve talked about cracker plants the last four or five years. We’ve talked about a storage hub the last four or five years. And we don’t really see a lot of progress,” he said.

“What is holding up progress in the state of West Virginia?”

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