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Brazil trip has officials confident about cracker

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia officials are more confident the proposed multibillion-dollar ethane cracker facility being planned for Wood County will become a reality following a trip to South America to meet with project officials, the state’s commerce secretary said Tuesday.

West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, in a telephone interview, said he, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Wood County Area Roundtable President Cam Huffman and others recently completed a series of meetings with Odebrecht and Braskem executives in Brazil.

Odebrecht and Braskem have been planning for the development of an ethane cracker, three polyethylene plants and associated infrastructure for water treatment and energy co-generation on the site of the SABIC facility in Washington, W.Va.

A cracker plant converts ethane, a byproduct from Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale natural gas, into the widely used ethylene, a key component for the plastics industry.

The proposed complex is called ASCENT, which stands for Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise. If the plant is built, it would be operated by Braskem America.

”This has been a good week,” Burdette said. ”This was just one more part in an ongoing process.”

Burdette said officials discussed timetables, work being done, and things that needed to be completed.

”We left there with a greater sense of the complexity of this project,” he said.

Since announcing the proposed project in November 2013, officials with Project ASCENT have purchased the property, done environmental studies, applied for permits, secured ethane supplies and arranged for some of the technology that will be used in the facilities.

”They are systematically kicking things off their list,” he said.

Tomblin was pleased with the progress being made.

“Last week’s visit with Odebrecht and Braskem officials gave us the opportunity to come together and review the continued progress of the cracker project and chart our next steps moving forward,” he said in a press release. “This type of project is a substantial investment and this visit allowed us to reiterate our commitment to bring this facility, and the thousands of jobs that come with it, to the Mountain State.

”Company leaders are pleased with the progress they have been able to make over the past year and the tremendous welcome they’ve received here. I look forward to working hand in hand with them to see this project come to life,” Tomblin said.

Next, work will be done on preliminary engineering.

”This is a huge expensive undertaking,” Burdette said.

Officials with Project ASCENT have said it would be about a year before the decision is made to move forward with the project.

However, Burdette said a lot of work will be done and things will be in place by that time, so once a decision is made officials would be practically ready to start on the construction phase of the project.

”They would be close to breaking ground at that time,” he said.

Burdette said the Braskem Advisory Board they met with was a “Who’s Who” of the petrol chemical industry.

”They are really high on this project and very excited about it,” he said.

They also met with representatives from Odebrecht Environmental, the Braskem president and top officials with ASCENT.

”Our comfort level is very strong,” Burdette said.

It was important for the officials from West Virginia to go to South America to meet with these officials in that they are proposing to invest around $5 billion to build this facility, he said.

”They have spent a lot of time in our offices; it was important for us to spend time in theirs,” Burdette said.

While in South America, officials from West Virginia got to see some of the ways Odebrecht and Braskem are involved in the communities they are located. They are doing work to help get Rio de Janeiro ready for the 2016 Summer Olympics and other projects.

“Odebrecht is engaged in the communities in which they operate, and the scope of their work and their commitment to the regions in which they operate is exciting,” Tomblin said. “I had the opportunity to visit both the Maracana Stadium, the site of this year’s World Cup finals, and Porto Novo Concession, which is a major community redevelopment project in Rio de Janeiro.

”Odebrecht has been an instrumental partner in both efforts. They believe in collaboration and partnerships, and I am confident that they will bring that same outlook to Wood County and the entire region,” Tomblin said.

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