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A methanol production company is making slow progress toward beginning construction of a methanol plant in Pleasants County three months after West Virginia environmental regulators approved an air quality permit for the site.

“It’s just slower than we hoped it would be,” said Lars Scott, executive vice president of West Virginia Methanol, Inc.

The project for the natural gas-to-methanol plant is in the detailed design and engineering phase and has been slowed by supply chain issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott said.

“The engineering team has to get quotes and bids and detailed information from vendors all over the world, and some areas of the world are still really shut down,” Scott said. “ … It’s just causing delays in getting information they need back from suppliers for different types of equipment.”

Scott is hoping the design and engineering phase is complete by the end of the year. Finishing this phase will allow the company to pursue the additional financing it needs for the project from capital markets, according to Scott.

The total project cost is $350 million.

“That’s ultimately what we need,” Scott said, adding that construction will start after the company secures the financing.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection approved an air quality permit for the site this summer.

Pleasants County Development Authority Executive Director Diane Braun said her agency is involved in preliminary land preparation for future West Virginia Methanol development at the site, the former location of a Cabot Corporation carbon black manufacturing facility off W.Va. 2 between Belmont and St. Marys near the Ohio River.

The project will create 35 to 50 jobs once the plant is constructed, Scott said.

Representatives of Boilermakers Local 667 and UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 565 expressed support for the plant during a Department of Environmental Protection meeting in May to gather public input on the then-proposed air quality permit. The union officials saw construction of the facility as an opportunity for job creation.

But environmentalists lobbied the Department of Environmental Protection to reconsider the permit, expressing concern about its air quality impacts.

The facility as proposed does not have the potential to emit more than 100 tons per year of any regulated pollutant according to the permit application, meaning that it was not subject to a state legislative rule that would require a full environmental impact statement and consideration of greenhouse gases and non-air quality impacts, including potential impacts on property values, traffic, zoning and national energy issues.

But the facility is close to meeting that threshold in potential to emit nitrous oxides (92.98 tons per year) and carbon monoxide (91.76 tons per year), which those wary of the project contended was close enough to subject the permit application to the more rigorous review process.

The facility has the potential to emit 91 tons of carbon monoxide, 92 tons of nitrogen oxides (poisonous, highly reactive gases), 54 combined tons of three different kinds of particulate matter, and 11 combined tons of the known or probable human carcinogens formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene and 1,3-butadiene, according to West Virginia Methanol’s permit application.

The facility is slated to consist of three methanol plants with a maximum production capacity of more than 300,000 tons of methanol per year that would use an average of 36 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. The first unit is slated to start up two years after construction starts, with the final unit starting up six months later, according to West Virginia Methanol’s application.

Plans for the site include eight 375,000-gallon methanol storage tanks and a ninth tank of the same size for venting, plus truck and railcar loadouts each using two 400 gallon-per-minute methanol loading racks.

West Virginia Methanol noted in its permit application that it would operate all above-ground storage tanks in compliance with state tank regulations.

Scott has said that available gas supply and an ample number of users of methanol in the state and region not served by local sources attracted the company to select the Pleasants County site for what he said would be the company’s flagship facility.

Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia Executive Director Charlie Burd hailed the project in a statement.

“WV Methanol’s decision to further invest in our state demonstrates the competitive energy advantage manufacturers have in Appalachia thanks to our skilled workforce and valuable natural resources,” Burd said.

West Virginia Manufacturers Association President Rebecca McPhail welcomed the project in an email, saying it represents the opportunity to further develop downstream manufacturing in the state.

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