Cracker plant progress slow but steady
The companies that have proposed construction of an ethane cracker plant in Belmont County began 2019 with environmental permits for construction in hand, but they still faced a legal challenge and have note yet made a final investment decision.
Martins Ferry Times Leader
Published December 29, 2019
The companies that have proposed construction of an ethane cracker plant in Belmont County began 2019 with environmental permits for construction in hand, but they still faced a legal challenge and have not yet made a final investment decision.
PTT Global Chemical America and Daelim Industrial Corp., based in Thailand and South Korea, respectively, obtained an air permit-to-install and a modified wastewater discharge permit in 2018, clearing the way for construction. Environmental groups opposed to the project immediately challenged one of those permits, but that issue was resolved this September, when a settlement was announced.
In working with the three organizations that challenged the air permit, PTTGCA agreed to enhance environmental protection and public transparency measures beyond what is required by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency if the project goes forward. Sierra Club, Earthworks and FreshWater Accountability Project agreed to withdraw their appeal of the air permit.
Also in 2019, it became apparent that the site for the proposed plant is being prepared for construction. The former R.E. Burger coal-fired power plant already had been demolished, but this year crews set to work removing trees from the property and leveling the earth. Heavy equipment and earth work activity can easily be seen from several vantage points around the area.
Otherwise, people at the state and local levels continued to talk about their hopes for or opposition to the potential plant. In January, Gov. Mike DeWine said he was “cautiously optimistic” the ethane cracker plant would become a reality.
“I think the benefits for Eastern Ohio will be not just the jobs that come from the cracker plant, but there’s going to be all the related industries and companies that spring up,” DeWine said. “This is very exciting, and will extend well beyond Belmont County.
“It’s going to be important for West Virginia as well as Ohio. This is very big, big deal.”
In March, representatives of a group opposed to the project expressed a desire for more communication with Belmont County commissioners. Lea Harper, director of the Freshwater Accountability Project, said the group planned to hold a meeting in Moundsville May 11. She said the group is focused on the long term and environmental impact of the industry.
“When all the fracking (is) gone and the bonds are revoked and taken back with them, who cleans up?” she said. “Belmont County is the most heavily fracked county in Ohio and I’m very concerned.”
Commissioners explained they have no authority to regulate such a project and said they disagreed with Harper about a lack of regulation.
“There is the EPA, the Department of the Interior, ODNR. … Those are the entities that are regulating the industry,” Dutton said, adding that they are also the proper entities to pose her questions.
Later that month, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson urged patience while awaiting official word on the plan. While giving the keynote address at the Project BEST “Excellence in Construction” Awards, Johnson reminded that the project represents a $9 billion investment by PTT Global Chemical and Daelim that would take six years and thousands of construction workers to build. He said the cracker plant would be the largest construction project ever in the state of Ohio, according to Johnson.
“For the biggest project ever in our history to happen right here in Belmont County – and not in Cleveland or Columbus or Cincinnati – is a really big deal. … It would be a game changer for our region. Everybody knows that,” he said.
June brought word that Bechtel Corp. had been selected to oversee construction of the plant, if it is built. Paul Marsden, Bechtel’s senior vice president, confirmed the news during a presentation at the Northeast Petrochemical Conference & Exhibition in Pittsburgh. Bechtel currently is overseeing construction of Royal Dutch Shell’s cracker plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania.
Finally, in early December, company officials met with state and local leaders to informally discuss their plans. Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton was present at the proposed site south of Shadyside along the Ohio River and said he does not believe any announcement about the project is imminent.
“There was a meeting (Tuesday) but it was just informational in nature,” he said. “The company again has been very open with us whenever we have questions as to the process, and we’ve spoken at length about how complex this project is. It continues to move in a positive direction, but there’s still work to be done and we feel confident the company will continue on with that work. … Anything we can provide as local partners, we stand ready to assist.”
He said entities represented at the meeting included JobsOhio, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Dutton said the meeting lasted several hours and topics ranged from changes in the energy industry to state-level regard for the industry. He declined to comment on whether there might be further news in 2020.
Also present was state Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction. Hoagland added that participants also delved into local preparation.
“We really need to get the infrastructure ready for this when it does happen,” he said. “Our roads have taken some pretty heavy (hits) with the weather that we’ve had over the past few years, so road construction funding – that’s going to be a huge necessity so we can maintain the mobility and access, not only to Dilles Bottom but everywhere else. Up and down our district we’ve got a lot of road slips.”
He said expanding internet access is another priority.
DeWine had a separate meeting with PTT officials that same week. His office said no “substantive update” resulted from the session.
If the plant is built, it will convert ethane, which is plentiful in the local “wet” natural gas stream, to polyethylene – a component of plastics, household chemicals, textiles and many other products.