Cracker plant proposal sees forward progress

While it is still a long way from fruition, the announcement Wednesday by Antero Resources that it will be an anchor supplier for a proposed cracker plant and related operations near Parkersburg is great news for all of West Virginia.

There is positive movement in the potential rebirth of a chemicals and plastics industry in West Virginia, thanks to the Marcellus and other shale natural gas reserves found in the northern part of the state and surrounding areas.

The cracker project -- known as “Project ASCENT” for Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise -- was announced last fall by officials from the state and Odebrecht, a Brazilian company. A cracker plant would be a multi-million dollar investment to ‘crack’ ethane chemicals into ethylene, the primary building block of polyethylene, which is the basis for plastics.

West Virginia has much to gain from a cracker and related plants in West Virginia.

West Virginia University professor emeritus of economics Tom Witt recently released a study to show that construction and operation of a large cracker plant could have a $2 billion economic impact in West Virginia, with ongoing operations driving more than $110 million in annual employee compensation and more than 2,000 permanent jobs during the life of the facility.

Furthermore, downstream investments in enduse plants that convert polyethylene into hundreds of consumer products could create more than 900 additional jobs and $280 million in annual output.

Such a series of investments would expand a high-value manufacturing industry that creates high-wage jobs, new technologies and the prospect for expanding investments, reminiscent of the time when Kanawha Valley chemical plants paid millions in taxes, gave hundreds of thousands in local contributions while employing thousands of workers who brought home hefty paychecks.

Witt’s study goes into detail about strategies for West Virginia to be successful in its goal to recreate a robust chemical manufacturing industry, include progressive policy and selective economic development tools, developing a market and getting products to market.

State policy makers would do well to follow his recommendations closely.

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