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West Virginia Ethane Cracker Rumors Abound

March 26, 2012
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Days after a Royal Dutch Shell plc subsidiary announced that it intends to purchase a site in Pennsylvania -- presumably for its "world-scale" ethane cracker in the Marcellus Shale -- media reports are fueling speculation that two other companies are interested in building crackers in West Virginia.

The Charleston Gazette reported earlier this month that Aither Chemicals LLC would announce plans to build a $300 million cracker that would employ up to 200 workers at an industrial park in Institute, WV, by 2015, citing unnamed state and economic development officials. Bayer CropScience and MarkWest Energy Partners LP were identified as partners in the project. Aither spokesman Jason Keeling declined to comment.

Aither announced in January that Renewable Manufacturing Gateway (RMG) had agreed to collaborate on a $750 million cracker, to be built in either Ohio, Pennsylvania or West Virginia (see NGI, Jan. 23). That announcement said such a facility would employ 200 people and be operational by 2016.

Shell Chemical LP earlier this month signed an option to purchase a parcel in Beaver County, outside of Monaca, PA, for developing a petrochemical complex (see NGI, March 19).

Two days after publishing its report on Aither, the Gazette said officials in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration privately told reporters that Brazil's Braskem --the largest petrochemical company in the Americas in terms of production capacity -- was a "more interested corporate player" in siting a cracker in the state.

Not true, state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said. "I was in the meeting with the reporters, and the governor did not mention any company," Burdette told NGI. "I have read reports speculating that it's Braskem, but we'll have no official comment. We have a signed confidentiality agreement with this [unnamed] company and we will not disclose their name."

Kimberly Osborne, Tomblin's press secretary, dismissed the Braskem rumor but, in a twist, made mention of the story about Aither. "All along the governor has said that Shell wasn't the only game in town," Osborne told NGI. "To my knowledge, we have not identified any other potential [companies]."

Press reports last year quoted Braskem's CEO as saying the Sao Paulo-based company was considering a greenfield investment in a cracker and polyethylene plant in the United States.

According to its website, Braskem America has headquarters in Philadelphia and operates in Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia. The company has a technology and innovation center in Pittsburgh, and manufactures polypropylene from facilities in Marcus Hook, PA, Kenova, WV, as well as La Porte, Freeport and Seadrift, TX.

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