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Wood County officials still hoping for cracker plant

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Local officials say the proposed ethane cracker facility for Wood County is still moving forward.

Officials were responding to comments made by David Peebles, a vice president of Odebrecht, a company from Brazil considering a site in Wood County for a multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker plant.

He spoke at the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia’s winter meeting in Charleston and said the natural gas market could impact the proposed plant. Peebles could not be immediately reached for comment.

Peebles said much remains to be done before the final decision is made, but never indicated the company was reconsidering choosing Wood County as the site for the plant, said Jon Hildreth, the program director for the association who moderated the meeting, on Wednesday.

The final decision about the plant may be later than originally anticipated, Hildreth said. A decision was expected this year.

The proposed development of a petrochemical complex – the ethane cracker plant – in Wood County has sparked excitement throughout the area and the state with the possibility of new jobs and new economic opportunities.

Plans have been announced for the development of an ethane cracker, three polyethylene plants and associated infrastructure for water treatment and energy co-generation.

Cam Huffman, president of the Area Roundtable in Wood County, said everything is still progressing with development officials continuing to work with company officials on the ethane cracker plant.

“We are still moving forward optimistically, but cautiously,” he said. “We are still knocking things off the list for this.”

Odebrecht has been thoughtful and strategic throughout the process, said Chelsea A. Ruby, director of marketing and communications for the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

“As the energy market continues to change, re-thinking the best path forward for the Wood County cracker is understandable and consistent with the company’s overall approach with a project of this size,” she said Wednesday. “Our ongoing conversations with the company continue to be positive, and we remain optimistic the project will be completed.

“West Virginia officials continue to work with the company as needs arise, and the company is moving forward with the permitting process,” Ruby said.

Officials with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office referred to the statement from Ruby as the official response from their office.

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said a company as large as Odebrecht which is considering a project as large as this facility has to do its “due diligence” and adjust its plans as markets continue to shift.

Wood County was originally selected because of its access to railroad lines and the Ohio River as well as its history with the petrochemical industry and how the community understands how that affects the local economy, Anderson said. This area was also selected because of its workforce and educational opportunities, he said.

Work has to be done on how the raw materials will be transported to this facility and the infrastructure that needs to be in place, Anderson said. Consideration also has to be given to what feedstock is the most economical to buy, he said.

The energy market has continually had ups and downs. A number of companies have cut back on their natural gas operations as gas prices have fallen.

Anderson said the company is working through everything to be able to proceed.

“I am still optimistic they will proceed,” Anderson said. “It may not be as soon as I would have liked, but they are still proceeding. There has been no indication that they have changed their minds about Wood County,” he said.

From the first day the project was announced the company has always tried to manage expectations, Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch said.

As the price of energy has been falling, the company has had to re-evaluate its position and its plans in how to move forward, Couch said.

“It is never a short-term situation; there are many steps,” Couch said. “It is not an easy process.”

Couch is still confident the ethane cracker will eventually come to Wood County.

“They are committed to Wood County,” he said. “It is coming here.

“It just may not be as quick as everyone hopes.”

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