Competing for new plant

There was good news for Northern Panhandle and East Ohio residents last week, when West Virginia University researchers released a study regarding sites for an ethane storage hub.

There’s been a lot of hype regarding ethane storage hubs during the past several weeks. Having one in your area is a gold mine for the economy, we’re told. As many as 100,000 new, permanent jobs could be created around a hub, WVU’s experts say.

How and why? The short explanation is that ethane comes out of the ground with the natural gas we’re producing in this region of the country. Ethane is used in manufacturing a variety of products, including plastics.

But plants using it want a reliable supply. A giant, underground storage site for ethane — the hub — provides it. That, along with an ethane cracker plant, could attract many manufacturers.

There’s a very good chance a Thai company, PTT Global Chemical, will build a cracker in Belmont County. Adding an ethane storage hub to that could result in an economic boom in our area.

So, local officials have been waiting for the WVU study, perhaps crossing their fingers it would conclude the Northern Panhandle/East Ohio region is ideal.

It nearly did. As we reported, the study identified three sites considered geologically promising for an ethane storage hub. Two of them are centered in our area — one near the tip of Hancock County, but including it and most of Brooke County, and the other centered in southern Wetzel County and including it, Tyler and a few other counties.

So, we’ve got it made, right?

Wrong. There’s a third good site identified by the WVU study. It includes most of Kanawha County and several others in that region.

That could be trouble for the Northern Panhandle, for a couple of reasons.

First is that the Kanawha Valley, like our area, once was a very big chemical manufacturing area. It still has some plants. Rest assured, economic development officials and many in the private sector in Kanawha County will be working hard to land an ethane storage hub to revitalize their chemical and plastics sector.

Second is politics. Control of state government by politicians from the southern counties has waned from its high (or low, from our point of view) several years ago. But they remain very powerful. And Kanawha County has lots of clout in the Capitol, in part because Charleston is the capital.

Consider this: State Senate President Mitch Carmichael lives in Jackson County, adjacent to Kanawha and part of the area cited by WVU as a good place for a storage hub.

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead represents Kanawha County.

So, if it down comes to politics — and what doesn’t? — the southern site has an advantage. When developers begin to talk about state tax incentives, that could be a big advantage.

We in the Northern Panhandle are not without our own clout, however. Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, the second-most powerful leader in that chamber, is from Ohio County.

And last week, we gained even more political power, with the naming of Sen. Ryan Weld, of Brooke County, as Senate majority whip. That’s the third-most powerful post in the Senate.

We have a not-so-secret weapon, too. The vast majority of gas wells in West Virginia are in the northwest quadrant of the state. Add wells just across the river in Ohio, and we have a major advantage in supplying ethane to go into a storage hub.

How will it all shake out? Too early to tell. But landing the PTT cracker would help bring an ethane storage hub to our part of the state.

Gas supply is an advantage.

And when the process gets political, again because of demands for economic incentives from the state, count on Ferns and Weld going all out for our region.

We’ll see.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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