By Casey Junkins
The Intelligencer of Wheeling
WHEELING, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin represents West Virginia, but he’ll gladly share $36 billion worth of potential capital investment with Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky — which could become reality if any of these states can land an ethane storage hub.
While meeting with numerous Upper Ohio Valley public officials and industry leaders Friday at the City-County Building in Wheeling, Manchin, D-W.Va., discussed both legislation he recently introduced to help make the ethane storage hub a reality, as well as a recent report from the American Chemistry Council. This study estimates the four-state region could attract $36 billion worth of investment, while generating more than 100,000 jobs, by 2025 — if there are ultimately five ethane crackers and two propane processing facilities.
“People keep talking about diversifying the economy. You have to use what you’ve got,” Manchin said. “I don’t think anyone ever imagined that we would have access to these liquids and to this much natural gas.”
Royal Dutch Shell is moving forward on its ethane cracker in Beaver County, Pa., while Thailand-based PTT Global Chemical continues evaluating the prospects of a similar project along the Ohio River at Dilles Bottom.
According to Manchin, further development of shale natural gas from the Marcellus, Utica, Rogersville and other potential rock formations is one of the region’s best hopes for prosperity.
Manchin is sponsoring legislation to create a “subterranean ethane storage and distribution hub.” This would call for analyzing potential locations based on favorable geology, existing infrastructure and proximity to well sites and end users, such as cracker plants.
“We don’t have to reinvent ourselves. We just have to use what we have,” Manchin said.
Earlier this year, PTT officials said they would wait until the end of 2017 to make a final decision on whether to proceed. On Friday, Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas told Manchin and others in attendance the prospects remain “positive.”
About 12 miles south of the Dilles Bottom site, Denver-based Energy Storage Ventures hopes to begin storing ethane before the end of 2018. Officials said the ethane would be pumped into and out of the underground caverns through pipelines.
Some Marcellus and Utica shale ethane is now being shipped out of the region for cracking via pipelines. Manchin said he hopes West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky — as well as Congress, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and other divisions of the federal government — can act before it is too late.
“Once the pipelines are built to take the product out, you’ve got to compete to keep it,” he said. “We can’t blow this opportunity.”
Also during the meeting, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott noted the diverse group on hand, which included officials from Belmont County, Jefferson County, Marshall County, the city of Moundsville, the city of Wellsburg and others.
“It is no longer a zero-sum game. We can’t allow arbitrary borders to divide us anymore,” Elliott said of the need to collaborate in terms of economic development.