With the decision expected at some point this year, local citizens are pondering what impact the construction of a cracker plant would have on the Upper Ohio Valley region, and Wheeling resident Peter Holloway soon will offer people in the Wheeling area an inside look at the chances, the potential, and the realities associated with the pending decision by officials of PTT Global.
Holloway, senior vice president at Hazlett, Burt & Watson, served as the host for, “Shale Valley – Tri-State Ethane Cracker,” a television broadcast that will air within the next two weeks on WTRF TV 7 and on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Once WTRF staff members complete the editing process, a pair of 30-minute episodes will feature four experts in the petrochemical industry.
“I urge the people in this area to watch this because the experts we have on the program explain what’s coming and why it’s coming here,” Holloway said. “If a cracker is built, there is enough ethane here to support up to five to seven crackers, and each one of those would spin off a new set of associated plants. That makes it become extraordinary.
“Now it could be two decades before all of this development is completed, but it would turn this area in a new ‘Gulf’ region,” he said. “Now, we do have some negative people in this area, and right now they are saying this will not happen because they seem to thrive off of things not happening here. But there are reasons why this development can come here.”
The panelists are the following:
- Scott Rotruck, Director of Energy & Transportation Services, Spilman, Thomas & Battle;
- Steve Hedrick, President/CEO, MATRIC (Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center);
- John Molinaro, President/CEO, Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (Jobs Ohio); and …
- Tom Gellrich, Founder, TopLine Analytics, Expert in Ethane Development
Holloway guided a conversation that involves these items: the potential to develop a $10 billion Appalachian Storage Hub; the plastics industry; the latest updates on the potential development in the Dilles Bottom area of Belmont County; and issues such as energy independence, national security, and the environment.
The panelists also examined the reasons why the cracker plant could be constructed directly across the Ohio River from the city of Moundsville. The amount of gas within the Marcellus and Utica shale plays, the interstates, state highways, rails and the Ohio River, the large areas along the river, and the local workforce, they said, are the reasons why PTT Global has already invested $100 million for engineering and design studies in Belmont County.
“It is projected to come to this area, but there are still a lot of ‘ifs’ involved. If we are able to get it to come here, extraordinary things will happen,” Holloway explained. “What is the greatest tragedy ever to happen to this area? It has to be the fact that our children had to start moving away from here because of the lack of opportunity.
“But if this cracker is constructed and opened here, our children and our grandchildren will, for the large part, be staying in this area,” he continued. “I am a financial advisor and I am not an expert in petrochemicals, but I can tell you this much: we have enough of what a cracker needs, and that is ethane. In large part the ethane is considered a waste product in the fracking industry.”
Holloway suggests considering the potential cracker development as a regional one, and the amount of available employment for those building it and then operating it could be a huge game-changer for an area whose citizens have witnessed most manufacturing jobs vanish.
“Since the fracking industry arrived to this region, we’ve not been big fans of seeing the out-of-state license plates because we’ve all wanted more employment opportunities in this area for a very long time,” Holloway said. “But that is a positive because they are spending a lot of money here, and they’ve helped our local economy a great deal. And most of them are good people, too.
“What our experts have pointed out is that if this cracker is built at Dilles Bottom, we will see even more of those Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana plates, and the reason will be so many jobs that the local workforce will be depleted, and others will have to come in,” he continued. “They are talking about thousands of workers to build the cracker, and then hundreds of new jobs to operate it.”
That is where the school systems and local colleges come into play, Holloway said, and he expects educational opportunities to expand if PTT Global officials greenlight the Belmont County facility.
“Our schools, our colleges, and our universities have reacted to new opportunities before, and if this facility is announced as a goal I expect them to do the same for the cracker jobs,” Holloway said. “Those schools have displayed the ability to turn on a dime when new job opportunities come into the area, and if this cracker does come, the first thing those officials will do is go to the company officials to find out what classes they need to develop.
“The schools will have four or five years if and when this is announced, so there will be plenty of time to ramp-up and do whatever is necessary,” he said. “For example, when Wheeling Island Casino was bringing in the table games, West Virginia Northern Community College immediately developed and started offering the classes concerning how to deal poker and the other games, and I suspect they will react in the same way if this is announced.”
The cracker plant proposed by PTT Global would need as many as 500 acres just south of Shadyside, Ohio, and the owner of one large parcel in the area – First Energy – began the process three months ago of dismantling the former Burger Power Plant. The cracker, described as a 30-50-year opportunity for the area’s economy, would process ethane gas into ethylene to sell to manufacturers of plastic products such as garbage bags, water bottles, Tupperware, and so forth.
In areas where cracker plants have opened, more development has followed, Holloway reported, and that would, in turn, increase the economic impact in the Upper Ohio Valley. The Belmont County project is one of two in the tri-state region with Shell Oil Inc. currently in the process of establishing a similar facility in Monaca, Pa.
“We are talking about billions and billions of dollars flowing back into this area’s economy,” Holloway said. “I really believe if this project does happen at Dilles Bottom, the petrochemical industry would surpass steel, glass, and coal all together and in their heydays.
“It’s very important that we are 500 miles from two-thirds of the country’s population, and that makes a difference to the people who ultimately will make this decision,” he said. “So, personally, I am very hopeful that this development will take place because of the impact it will have on this entire region. We’ve all heard of Silicon Valley. Well, ‘Shale Valley,’ we’ve decided, would be an appropriate name for this valley.”
Local residents will also hear the panelists address several more realities connected to the potential development during “Shale Valley – Tri-State Ethane Cracker.”
“There are people asking about the impact to the environment,” Holloway reported. “Our experts went into great detail on that subject, and they talked about the safety of our environment. If there are environmental issues, I am sure that the lawyers will flock to that scenario, and that’ll keep the industry honest. Nothing is perfect, but I believe they will do their very best to keep the potential for environmental hazards as low as possible.
“And some may wonder why would a cracker plant have anything to do with national security? Think about it. The entire plastics industry is now located near the Gulf of Mexico. That’s where the crackers are now, and that’s where all the storage facilities are located,” Holloway said. “One word – Katrina. When that hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, it completely shut down many operations connected to oil and gas for months. It was a disaster, and it caused a price spike.
“A terrorist attack could have the same impact, but I believe we would have a better security system here to protect against things like that. That may sound paranoid, but the possibilities are very real, and we’ve realized that,” he added. “So that’s why national security also is a part of this potential project.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)