Cumberland Times-News

Local News

November 14, 2013

Company exploring ethane cracker plant at West Virginia site

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Petrochemical giant Odebrecht has chosen a site in West Virginia to explore the possible location of an ethane cracker plant and three polyethlene plants, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday.

The estimated cost and timetable of the potential project weren’t disclosed, although officials said Odebrecht has a purchase option on land for the site in Parkersburg.

The complex would be known as Ascent, which stands for Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise. Odebrecht will lead the project’s investment and financing, along with the operation of water and electric utilities. Plastics maker Braskem S.A. of Brazil will handle petrochemical-related activities.

Tomblin said groundwork on the project through the West Virginia Development Office has been going on for three years.

“Although we realize much work remains to be done, this announcement of a potential project is tremendous news for our state and our region,” said Tomblin, who was joined by Odebrecht officials at the announcement in Parkersburg. “It’s going to be a game changer for the state of West Virginia.”

In addition to securing financing, the project would have to meet various regulatory and governmental approval and obtain contracts for long-term ethane supply.

“We’re not going to jump into a pool without knowing how deep the water is,” said Ascent spokesman David Peebles. “We are spending a fair amount of money. We’re going through a very deliberative process. I think we want to manage expectations. It’s not that we’re trying to be evasive, but we do not want to exaggerate or overestimate and have people’s expectations raised.”

Tomblin said the project’s timetable “depends on a lot of things, a lot of hurdles that we have to go through. It’s a huge facility, so we’re looking sometime down the road. But it will be worth it when the production starts.”

According to its website, Odebrecht has provided services to the Brazilian oil industry for more than 50 years. It operates in 26 counties, has more than 180,000 employees worldwide and its U.S. operations are based in Coral Gables, Fla.

“Project Ascent fits within Odebrecht’s commitment to be a partner in development in the regions where we operate,” said Odebrecht Environmental CEO Fernando Reis. “Moreover, Ascent fits into the strategy of our Utilities division, which seeks to invest and manage industrial assets.”

Braskem has 36 industrial plants in Brazil, the United States and Germany and produces more than 35 billion pounds of thermoplastic resins and other petrochemicals annually.

“As the United States’ leader in polypropylene production and with a significant footprint already in the region, we are excited about today’s announcement,” said Braskem America CEO Fernando Musa. “Should Ascent materialize, we look forward to serving our clients in the polyethylene market.”

The Marcellus Shale natural gas bed extends below parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and New York.

Last year, a site in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle lost out to a site in western Pennsylvania for a facility that Houston-based Shell wants to build. Such plants crack or convert a byproduct of natural gas drilling into a widely used chemical compound.

Shell is still a year or more away from making a final decision on whether to build the multi-billion dollar plant at an industrial site about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh. It currently has an option to buy the property.

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