As fears over a trade war with the United States loom, executives from China Energy Investment Corp. canceled an appearance they were scheduled to make at an industry conference in Pittsburgh this week, where a key announcement was expected about its multi-billion dollar plans for shale gas-related projects in West Virginia.
Brian Anderson, director of West Virginia University’s (WVU) Energy Institute, said as recently as a month ago, China Energy was expected to attend the Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction Conference to announce specifics about the “first, or first few projects” the state-owned company planned to develop as part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with West Virginia to spend $83.7 billion in the state over the next 20 years.
“What has happened, outside of the business sector, outside of the business decisions that involve net present values and return on investments, is a pending trade war between the U.S. and China that has put this project in jeopardy,” said Anderson, who has worked closely with the company over the years and is working to make the MOU become reality. “And quite frankly, the delegation from China Energy was going to include the CEO, who was going to be here in this room today, and they canceled their trip three weeks ago specifically citing the pending trade wars.”
The Trump administration announced a 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods last week, fulfilling a campaign promise that the president believes will better protect American jobs. China retaliated immediately, announcing a similar package and calling on other countries to act in what could pose broader threats to the global economy.
Tensions have only been building after the European Union, Canada and Mexico each took retaliatory steps against the United States last month after the Trump administration imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports.
Ironically, West Virginia’s MOU with China Energy was signed last November at a meeting with Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinpingn. It outlined plans for China Energy, the world’s largest power company, to spend heavily in the state on electricity generation, underground natural gas liquids storage and chemical manufacturing projects.
The company was formed last year after the Chinese government approved a merger between Shenhua Group Corp., then its largest coal miner, and China Guodian Corp., which was among the country’s largest power companies. The Shenhua Group had long worked with WVU on joint coal-related research. It also has interests in Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania.
“It’s a behemoth company that is very much looking forward in terms of technology and innovation,” Anderson said on Monday during a presentation he gave at the conference. “They have a vision to become a much more western company than a typical state-owned enterprise.”
Details about the proposed projects and where they could be sited have not yet been released. But boths sides have reportedly been working out the details.
Charles Schliebs, managing director of Pittsburgh-based Stone Pier Capital Advisors LP, who is also chairman of this year’s conference, said he was aware that China Energy was expected to attend the event. Until Anderson delivered his comments on Monday, Schliebs told the crowd that he had heard an announcement from China Energy was likely sometime in the third quarter.