Drilling Down

Asian Companies Eye Belmont County for $5B Cracker Plant

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A chemical conglomerate owned by the country of Thailand and a global financial trading house based in Tokyo are looking closely at an undisclosed site in Belmont County to potentially build a $5 billion petrochemical complex, The Business Journal has confirmed.

An announcement of the site selection may come as soon as this week from JobsOhio, sources say. Requests for comment were not answered.

PTT Global Chemical PCL, based in Bangkok, looked at sites in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before settling on land in Belmont County, where Utica shale exploration is producing some of the best results in Ohio, sources say.

PTT’s Ohio cracker plant – if the decision is made to go forward and there is no certainty that it will — would be financed by Marubeni Corp. of Japan.

Marubeni describes itself as “involved in the handling of products and provision of services in a broad range of sectors” that include chemicals, power projects and infrastructure as well as “business investment, development and management on a global level.”

PTT Global, described in press reports as one of the world’s top-10 producers of ethylene, said in February that it is evaluating whether to invest $5 billion to build an ethane cracker plant in the United States. At the time, the company also said it would partner with an Indonesian company to build a petrochemical complex in Indonesia.

Over the course of the next four to 16 months, PTT will perform engineering and feasibility studies at the Belmont County site with a final decision on whether to build the plant expected no later than the second quarter of 2017.

If built, the cracker plant could go online in the third quarter of 2020, creating 1,000 permanent jobs, according to those familiar with the project.

Construction could mean jobs for as many as 10,000 skilled trades workers.

PTT’s cracker plant projects here and in Indonesia would be funded from the company’s cash flow and financing from Marubeni, press reports say.

Three other cracker plants projects remain under consideration for the three-state region.

Royal Dutch Shell’s site in Monaca, Pa., is in various stages of the permitting process for its $4 billion cracker although the company emphasizes a final decision to proceed has not been made.

Brazilian energy companies Odebrecht and Braskem are contemplating building a $3.8 billion ethane cracker in Wood County, W.Va., while the startup Appalachian Resins is considering a site in Monroe County, for a smaller operation.

With the downturn in the oil and gas industry, the Odebrecht and Appalachian Resins projects appear to be stalled.

Still, these companies are drawn to the region by trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that can be tapped in the Marcellus shale plays in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the Utica shale play in eastern Ohio.

Ethane, one of the liquid gases found in the Utica and portions of the Marcellus, especially in southwestern Pennsylvania, is the major feedstock for cracker plants such as those proposed for the region.

The plants use a process that “crack” ethane molecules, that is, breaks them into ethylene, and transforms that material into polyethylene resin pellets — the base ingredient for thousands of petrochemical products.

Reported by Andrea Wood and Dan O’Brien.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.