Economic Development

OEPA Completes Review of Belmont Cracker Project

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has issued what are likely the final permits that would clear the way for development of a nearly $6 billion ethane cracker plant in Belmont County.

However, investors in the project – Thailand-based PTT Global Chemicals and South Korea’s Daelim Industrial Co. – have yet to make a final investment decision on whether to go forward with the plant.

On Dec. 21, the Ohio EPA removed one of the final pieces of regulatory red tape by issuing an air permit-to-install related to the project, which is proposed for a former industrial site along the Ohio River at Dilles Bottom in Belmont County.

“Ohio EPA is proud to be part of the effort to bring critical jobs to Ohio,” Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler said in a statement. “We have been careful to ensure this facility will not have an adverse impact on the air, water, or health of the surrounding communities.”

The permit allows the construction of an ethane cracker plant that is capable of producing 1.5 million tons of ethylene and polyethylene annually. Manufacturers use this material to produce countless everyday consumer plastics products.

The complex would be similar to the $6 billion plant now under construction by Royal Dutch Shell near Monaca, Pa. along the Ohio River. The Belmont County structure would include six ethane furnaces used to manufacture ethylene, high-density polyethylene and linear low-density polyethylene.

Upon the Ohio EPA’s review, the agency determined that byproducts such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gas emissions from the plant would be within acceptable levels.

Changes to the initial permits were made after a public comment period, the agency noted. These changes included adding an infrared camera to detect possible equipment leaks, the correction of “multiple minor errors,” and another run through of the computer modeling emissions sequence in order to correct inconsistencies between the original modeling and the permitted limits.

The Ohio EPA also on Dec. 27 issued a modified water permit that essentially closes the environmental assessment of PTTGC America’s project, the agency reported.

“With today’s issuance of this modified permit, Ohio EPA’s environmental review of PTTGC America’s proposed ethane cracker plant is complete,” the Ohio EPA’s Butler said.

Among the modifications to the project’s initial permit include a decrease of the levels of pollutants discharged into the Ohio River, a change in the locations where stormwater would be discharged, and modify limits at an internal monitoring station that does not directly discharge to surface water.

A project of this magnitude is likely to attract “thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of permanent positions to the region,” the Ohio EPA said.

“The completion of Ohio EPA’s review process is an important step in the direction of a final investment decision by PTTGC America and Daelim regarding the proposed petrochemical complex in Belmont County,” PTTGC America Spokesman Dan Williamson said. “We appreciate Ohio EPA’s thorough and open process, and it has been a pleasure to work with the agency.”

PTTGC selected the site because of its proximity to the Utica and Marcellus Shale plays, which together represent one of the largest natural-gas fields in the world.

Still, there has been no final investment decision to move ahead with construction of the plant. Indeed, the company has indicated on several occasions over the last two years that it would make an announcement, only to postpone a final decision.

In March 2018, the company said it would make a final investment decision by the end of that year.

PTTGC first announced it had selected Belmont County as a possible site for the plant in April, 2015. Since then, the company has signed a memorandum of understanding with JobsOhio, invested more than $100 million in a front-end engineering study, signed an agreement with Daelim Industrial to participate in the feasibility study, and has exercised an option to purchase the property where the complex would be built.

“PTTGC continues to work with the Ohio Governor’s Office and JobsOhio through this next stage of the project to ensure the project milestones are met to allow it to move forward,” the company’s website said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.