WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Steven Winberg, the U.S. Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for fossil fuels, says a renaissance is coming to the Appalachian region.
“I would say that the “renaissance” is not coming, it is here now,” said Bryce Custer, principal of NAI Ohio River Corridor. “What we have known in the Tri-State region for years is finally getting attention in Washington, D.C. Thank you Steven Winberg for speaking to WV IOGA (Independent Oil & Gas Association) at the annual Summer Meeting.”
While speaking before members of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia during the organization’s annual Summer Meeting, Winberg said the tri-state region of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia is on the verge of what he calls an “Appalachian petrochemical renaissance.”
“West Virginia is emerging as an enormous natural gas supplier and with natural gas comes liquids — ethane, butane, propane. And there’s an opportunity in not just West Virginia but in the Appalachian region — but certainly West Virginia is key to this — there’s an opportunity to build a petrochemical industry,” Winberg said. “It was here before and went down to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Because of the high volumes of oil and gas in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations, there is an opportunity for the tri-state region to build cracker plants and develop an industry producing polymers and plastics, Winberg said.
“A lot of the customer base — 70 percent of the customer base — is already in this region,” he said. “So let’s take that ethane, let’s create the feedstock for the plastics and polymer industry and do it right here in this area. We’re talking about 100,000 jobs and billions of dollars of capital that could pour into this region.”
Building such an industry in the region will be accomplished by business leaders working in conjunction with state and federal officials, Winberg said.
“This Appalachian petrochemical renaissance is going to be private capital coming into the region. But there’s an opportunity for the federal government and the state government to work together on things like roads,” he said. “The fundamental infrastructure that’s going to be needed, like pipes and broadband.”
When he talks about “polymers and plastics,” he isn’t talking about manufacturing environmentally worrisome items like single-use bags or bottles, Winberg said.
“I know there’s a lot of concern about plastics — people think about plastic bottles in the ocean and plastic bags littering our ground,” he said. “This petrochemical industry — that’s going to produce the raw materials for the plastics — it’s far more than that. It’s a lot of the materials that you have in your car and that support the automobile industry. It cuts across everything that we use daily as citizens of the United States.”
The plants and facilities would be built to the highest environmental standards possible, Winberg said.
“If we build this out in Appalachia, it’s going to be the most efficient, lowest-emitting crackers and plastics industry in the world,” he said. “We could certainly ship ethane over to China and then they could ship these products back to us, or we could make them here in the United States. And that’s what I think we should be doing.”
Charlie Burd, IOGA executive director, said the oil and gas industry is “all in” on the prospect of developing a petrochemical industry.
“It will bring surety of supply, particularly ethane, to downstream manufacturing and chemical uses,” he said.
However, it could be some time before the goal is fully realized, Burd said.
“The timeline on a cracker could be many years,” he said. “We produce enough liquids to suit the needs of five world-class crackers. That’s generally in the 80,000- to 100,000-barrel-a-day size facility.”
written by Charles Young