JobsOhio invests in prep work for proposed Belmont County ‘cracker’ plant

An Asian petrochemical company likely won’t decide for many months on whether to proceed with plan for a major ethane “cracker” project in eastern Ohio, but Ohio economic-development officials have taken steps to keep plans for that plant on track.

JobsOhio disclosed Tuesday that it has spent $14 million to reimburse some of the costs of cleaning up and preparing the Belmont County site for the potential project.

A clear site was requested by PTT Global Chemical of Thailand, a business that is exploring the feasibility of building a plant there.

“This was really critical for the timeline,” said David Mustine, senior adviser for JobsOhio.

The location, near the village of Shadyside, was home to FirstEnergy’s R.E. Burger power plant, which has been closed since 2011. FirstEnergy supervised the demolition of the plant and the cleanup of the site this year, working on an expedited schedule.

FirstEnergy paid for the work, and now JobsOhio is reimbursing most of those costs, said Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman.

“When this opportunity came up, and JobsOhio talked to us about how to make it happen in the right time frame, we were excited to be a part of it,” she said.

The PTT Global plant is one of the largest, if not the largest, projects in the state being courted by economic-development leaders. The company has said it is spending about $100 million to assess the feasibility of the plan. If the project moves forward, it would represent a multibillion-dollar investment, based on the costs of similar plants.

A cracker plant takes ethane, a component of natural gas, and breaks it down to produce ethylene, which is used in chemical manufacturing. Belmont County is an attractive location for a plant because of proximity to the plentiful gas of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

“We believed that this project holds great prospects for the economic future of that part of eastern Ohio,” Mustine said.

JobsOhio is a private economic-development office that gets its money through a lease of the state’s liquor sales enterprise.

From The Columbus Dispatch  |  December 5, 2016