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Local Area Considered Prime Cracker Location

By Staff | Nov 16, 2011

Stacey Brodak of Chesapeake Energy, Rick Toothman of Stone Energy Corp., and Bob Orndorff of Dominion answer questions concerning Marcellus Shale production and development during an Energize WV town hall meeting held in New Martinsville Thursday. (Photo by Amy Witschey)

The installation of an ethane cracker might be called the crown jewel of Marcellus Shale development.

An ethane cracker would reportedly bring 300-1,000 permanent jobs paying an average of $60,000 per year and as many 10,000 temporary construction jobs. In addition to the direct jobs at the cracker, an American Chemistry Council study showed that gaining a cracker would help West Virginia create about 12,000 new permanent jobs in related businesses.

Consequently, leaders across West Virginia have been scrambling to attract a large petrochemical plant. Generally talk of the development of an ethane cracker here has focused on Marshall County, near PPG and Bayer, and Kanawha County.

Kurt Dettinger, general counsel for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, has said two companies are now “aggressively” looking to build a cracker in West Virginia, noting there should be an announcement sometime between now and the end of March.

Though Dettinger could not confirm which companies are still in the running, Royal Dutch Shell announced plans this year to build a cracker somewhere in Appalachia.

On a more specific note, Bob Orndorff, managing director for state and local government affairs for Dominion and the newly-elected president of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said Thursday during an Energize WV town hall meeting in New Martinsville that he truly believes there will be two crackers in the state. One will be in Marshall County and possibly one in the Kanawha Valley.

“We want to see a cracker here-in a big way,” said Orndorff. He added that the Department of Highways has already committed to moving state Route 2 in the PPG/Bayer area to make more space if necessary.

Orndorff further explained that the natural gas system can’t take the raw material with more than 15 percent ethane. Local systems are currently at eight percent.

However, he noted that it would be at least three to four years before a cracker would be in operation in West Virginia.

Chesapeake Energy recently announced plans to send 75,000 barrels of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio ethane daily to Texas, via a pipeline Enterprise Products Partners will build. This pipeline could reach a capacity of 125,000 barrels of ethane daily, while another 50,000 barrels could be pumped to Canada via a Sunoco pipeline.

Even so, Dettinger has said state officials anticipate generating 270,000 barrels of ethane daily at peak production, leaving 95,000 barrels per day for a West Virginia cracker.

“It was a blow,” Dettinger said following the meeting of Chesapeake’s announcement.

“But with 95,000 barrels each day, that would still be enough.”