Company continues cracker plant planning

PARKERSBURG – The company planning the multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker plant is continuing to move forward with its plans to build an ethane cracker facility in Wood County.

Officials from the Brazilian-based Odebrecht are meeting, conducting preliminary site evaluations and gathering the necessary information as the proposed project takes shape.

“The big picture is that we are moving forward,” David Peebles, business development manager at Odebrecht, told The Parkersburg News and Sentinel last week.

At the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting and Business Summit at The Greenbrier last week, Peebles said the company was a year away from making the final decision on whether to proceed with the project.

Last fall, Odebrecht announced plans for the development in Wood County of an ethane cracker, three polyethylene plants and associated infrastructure for water treatment and energy co-generation. A cracker plant converts ethane, a byproduct from Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale natural gas, into the widely used ethylene, a key component for the plastics industry.

The proposed A.S.C.E.N.T. complex, which stands for Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise, would be built on the site of the former SABIC plant in Washington Bottom. The project represents a potential investment of around $4 billion.

The company has been working on technology agreements for the proposed facility and working on an engineering, procurement and construction joint agreement for the possibility of building the facility, Peebles said.

“It won’t be just one builder, it will be a consortium of construction companies,” Peebles said. “We have to have these things in place as these people would be our partners moving forward. Once we finalize those, we should have some announcements to make by the end of the year.”

The company has also been negotiating contracts with regional natural gas providers to supply the gas needed by the plant.

Odebrecht is talking with potential customers for the products produced at the plant, Peebles said. These companies are in Midwest states including Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

“That is who the customer base will be,” Peebles said.

The company has hired additional employees and has around 100 people working on this project. Odebrecht also is doing a manpower study with local labor unions to see what are the skills they will need for the facility, what is available in the local workforce and educational needs.

Progress is continuing to be made, Peebles said.

“We are moving forward very deliberately, step by step,” he said.

The facility could be built and operational by 2019, Peebles said.

In the meantime, the company is moving forward in the state and federal permit processes.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said its Office of Environmental Remediation has accepted the A.S.C.E.N.T.’s application for a Voluntary Remediation Program to address any environmental issues at the site.

Cam Huffman, president of the Wood County Development Authority, said this is a standard step.

“It means they are going to clean up the site before they build on it,” Huffman said. “They are getting all of their ducks in a row. It is encouraging because it means they are moving forward on this.”

Huffman said there are a number of other things happening behind the scenes, but nothing ready to be announced at this time.

Jill Parsons, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley, attended the presentation Peebles made at the state meeting.

“You can tell there was a ton of excitement throughout the state to see this project come to fruition,” she said. “He was very engaging as he talked about their commitment to the project. It is very promising.”