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Chemical hub pitched for Appalachia

Trade association sees potential for $36 billion in investment

by Marc S. Reisch
May 28, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 22

A four-state region in Appalachia could become a petrochemical supply and manufacturing hub on par with similar hubs on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

That’s the thesis of a new report from the American Chemistry Council. The trade association envisions underground cavern storage facilities and an 800-km pipeline for ethane, propane, ethylene, and propylene “along an arc stretching from Monaca, Pa., to Catlettsburg, Ky., including a spur to serve the Charleston, W.Va., area.”

Driven by a surfeit of natural gas liquids from the Marcellus, Utica, and Rogersville shale formations in the northeastern U.S., the $10 billion storage hub and pipeline could create 100,000 permanent jobs by 2025, the trade group says. Included in that tally are 25,000 chemical and plastic manufacturing jobs, 43,000 supplier jobs, and 32,000 additional jobs in communities where workers spend their earnings.

The report envisions five big ethylene crackers built in the Ohio River Valley. Along with them will be projects for polyethylene, other derivatives, and propane dehydrogenation. All told, the report suggests, chemical makers could invest nearly $36 billion.

So far, though, the only definite project is Shell’s cracker and polyethylene plant in Monaca. PTT Global Chemical is considering a cracker in Mead Township, Ohio, but has yet to put steel in the ground. In 2015, Braskem put off a cracker and polyethylene project it was considering in West Virginia.

U.S. Sens. Shelley Capito (R-W.Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are backing the concept of a petrochemical hub. The three introduced a bill on May 9 directing the government to conduct a feasibility study of an Appalachian ethane storage hub.


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