CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia officials today were trying to make the best of an announcement that Shell chemical had picked a site in Pennsylvania for construction of a multi-billion-dollar natural gas "cracker" plant.
Shell said it had signed a land option agreement to evaluate a site near Monaca, Pa., about 20 miles northeast of Weirton, for the project.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other state officials have been pitching West Virginia to Shell, lobbying the company and passing a $300 million tax break, hoping to lure the facility to one of several sites in the state's Northern Panhandle.
Ohio and Pennsylvania have also been trying to land the project, which would take advantage of the boom in natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, and turn drilling byproducts into valuable chemicals, creating potentially thousands of jobs.
"Naturally, we are disappointed by this decision," Tomblin said after Shell's announcement. "We worked extremely hard to develop a competitive proposal. Ultimately, the decision was related to site-specific factors beyond our control."
During a press conference, Tomblin said that Shell's decision came down to West Virginia being unable to provide a site that met its needs for 500 acres of vacant flat land.
Shell's preferred West Virginia site, believed to be in the Northern Panhandle, featured 250 acres of flat land, but the adjacent acreage needed to expand to 500 acres is, according to Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, "very much occupied."
Citing two unnamed sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations with Shell, The Associated Press reported that the company chose Pennsylvania because its preferred West Virginia location encroached on Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort south of Chester.
Tomblin and Burdette said that economic impacts of the Shell plant in Pennsylvania would spill over into West Virginia.
"Under any circumstances, it's going to be a good thing," Burdette said before Shell's announcement. "Some of us are going to be applauding, and some of us are not."
Burdette said that all of the sites being examined by Shell were within 50 miles of each other, with some sites being just across the river from West Virginia and none of them more than 10 miles from the state border.
Any of the sites would provide jobs and economic benefits for West Virginia, Burdette said.