CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha Valley was never on Shell Oil Co.'s short list of potential sites for a multibillion-dollar ethane cracking facility, area economic development leaders said Thursday.
So Shell's announcement that the company plans to build a massive petrochemical plant in southwestern Pennsylvania didn't come as a surprise to local officials, who continue to court other companies interested in building a "cracker" in Kanawha County.
Shell wanted to build its plant closer to drilling operations near the northern Panhandle and southwestern Pennsylvania, Kanawha business and political leaders said.
"I'm not surprised at all by Shell's announcement," said Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance economic development group. "[Thursday's] announcement doesn't change anything. We're still in the game."
Ballard said "global companies" with an interest in building a cracker continue to conduct "due diligence on sites in the area." Ballard and other economic development officials have declined to name the companies, but the Gazette has previously reported that Brazil-based Braskem is one of them.
South Charleston-based Aither Chemicals also is looking at sites, and plans to build a smaller-scale cracking facility.
Kanawha economic development leaders have been shopping the Bayer CropScience Industrial Park in Institute as a site for a cracker.
Ballard said he expects additional companies to build cracker plants that will process gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.
"I'm very optimistic," Ballard said. "This is going to come in waves. It's still very early."
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said Shell's cracker in Monaca, Pa., would not have enough capacity to process all the natural gas being drilled in the Appalachian region.
"A second cracker is a very viable opportunity," Carper said. "I can't emphasize this enough: All of the things we've done, and will continue to do, have put West Virginia in a position to obtain a cracker. The only thing to do is to keep on working."