Time to get ethane cracker up and running in Northern Panhandle

The sooner we get ethane crackers up and running in our region, the sooner our state can increase the benefits it sees from the natural gas liquid supplies we have. In West Virginia, most of the resources being developed from our shale basins from natural gas is being used for heating homes, fueling vehicles and burning on our stoves. However, we also have an immense supply of natural gas liquids that will be a critical player in efforts to diversify our economy in other industrial sectors, in addition to what the natural gas industry has already managed to accomplish.

Natural gas liquids include substances like propane used for summer grilling, butane found in lighters and ethane — which is the base material for a huge number of plastics. And, in that ethane is the additional value to the natural gas found in certain parts of Appalachia that makes our region so special. Ethane is made into ethylene by a process called “cracking” first developed in the 1920s in Clendenin, West Virginia. Because of the historic supply of ethane, our nation’s ethane hub is currently centered on the Gulf Coast where ethane crackers transform the raw resource of ethane into ethylene pellets used to create plastics and products we use every day.

Around the region, there are nearby projects planned for construction, such as the Pennsylvania ethane cracker led by Royal Dutch Shell. Similarly, an Ohio ethane cracker has been proposed by PTT Global Chemical. Both plants are within close proximity of our borders and will benefit the economy of West Virginia, providing sustainable, good-paying jobs for citizens throughout the region. Property taxes may be based on a plant’s location but economic growth doesn’t stop at the border. Residents and businesses right here will also benefit largely from the proximity of these ethane cracker plants no matter which side of the state line they are built.

These cracker plants provide an opportunity to enhance the manufacturing industry in our region. By centering ethane crackers in the tri-state region, they are much closer to the supply from the Marcellus and Utica Shales and greatly reduce shipping costs. No longer will ethane need to be shipped from this region to the Gulf Coast — it can be processed right here and turned into products by our own regional businesses. And if we are going to have a regional hub of ethane supply, processing and manufacturing, we too must approach these opportunities with a regional perspective.

These ethane crackers are long-term investments and can shape the future of business. In fact a recent study concluded the amount of natural gas liquids in our region’s basins would be enough to supply an additional six ethane crackers. The sooner we realize the possibilities of the natural gas industry and move towards capturing the opportunities for other West Virginia businesses and our region as a whole, the better.

If West Virginia and the Appalachian region is going to see the most benefit possible from its world class supply of oil and natural gas, then we are all going to have to start working together and keeping an eye on the bigger picture. We can all benefit from these projects and the industries that are operating in and around the basins of the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays.

George Stark is a resident of Wheeling, West Virginia. Stark has spent nearly 10 years with Cabot Oil & Gas and has more than 25 years experience working on public policy.

This piece was authored by George Stark for WV News. Click here to read it on the publication's website.