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Daily Archive for May 05 2011

Cracking the Future

The Marcellus shale certainly is something we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. But what does it mean for West Virginia’s future?

Marcellus shale has the potential to be the second largest natural gas reserve in the world. In addition to its size, the Marcellus shale is also distinguished by its especially high concentration of ethane. Through a process known as “cracking,” ethane can be converted into ethlyene, the most produced organic compound in the world. Development of a cracker could create hundreds of jobs and bring several billion dollars in capital investment to the state.

The formation is named after an outcrop of the shale near Marcellus, N.Y., and lies beneath eight states. The most easily accessible and gas-heavy portions of the shale are located mostly in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. While developers have known about Marcellus since the 1940s, changes in economics and technology have made the rock a viable source of natural gas.

That “gas” is really several types of gas that result from drilling, including natural gas, ethane, butane and propane. The heavy ethane content must be removed before natural gas enters a pipeline to be transported throughout West Virginia and surrounding states.

It is estimated the Marcellus shale contains enough natural gas to fuel the U.S. for 25 to 30 years.

The ethane content within the Marcellus shale creates an opportunity for West Virginia, and we have to act quickly to take advantage. It can be isolated and processed through a “steam cracker.” The cracker uses high temperatures and high pressure to “convert” ethane into ethylene. The chemical industry transforms ethylene into compounds that find themselves in everything from water bottles to diapers.

Experts estimate that constructing one or more crackers in West Virginia and the subsequent downstream chemical processing facilities would mean between $1 billion and $3 billion in investment.

This wouldn’t be the first time West Virginia would be at the heart of cracking and chemical manufacturing. West Virginia benefited nearly a century ago from the nation’s first cracker in Clendenin. The state and the Charleston Metro Region are well-positioned to once again be a leader in the country’s energy future. With a large supply of ethane, an existing chemical industry and infrastructure, our region can offer attractive reasons to invest in West Virginia.

If we work together to attract the investment and win a crucial race, we can help supply the nation with an environmentally-responsible energy source. That investment would bring new employers and industries. Existing businesses could flourish, and the state’s youth would have a concrete reason to remain in what would be a progressive, exciting and innovative state.

West Virginia can lead the way, but we must act aggressively and responsibly. We face competition from already existing natural gas infrastructure and pipelines to the Gulf Coast and Canada, as well as neighboring states also looking for cracker investment.

The future is literally beneath our feet. Do we continue to stand around? Or do we make our move?   

Rest assured, the Charleston Area Alliance is working with its partners, the transmission industry, the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association, the chemical industry, the Chemical Alliance Zone, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, government agencies at all levels and other stakeholders to put this project together.

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admin in Economic Development on May 05 2011 » 0 comments

State Begins Look at Marcellus Offshoot Project

The story below aired yesterday on WSAZ-TV. The Charleston Area Alliance is working to push and promote the potential of cracker plants in West Virginia.

West Virginia could expect more than 2,300 direct jobs from building a plant to convert a Marcellus shale natural gas byproduct into a chemical industry staple.

That’s the estimate that state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette gave Wednesday to fellow members of the Marcellus to Manufacturing Task Force.

The group held its first meeting since acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin formed it earlier this year. Its key goal is to attract and encourage employers that convert ethane into ethylene.

Task force members say Marcellus shale drillers are removing more than enough ethane during refining for a plant to turn it into the widely used chemical compound ethylene.

Burdette said building this $1.5 billion cracker plant would also create 498 indirect jobs while inducing 3,500 more throughout the state’s economy.

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