PARKERSBURG, W.Va. -- West Virginia is again in the running for a petrochemical complex. This time around, a Brazilian company, Odebrecht, will look to capitalize on the regional opportunities in the Marcellus and Utica natural gas shale regions.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Odebrecht officials announced on Thursday in Parkersburg that the company will explore developing a new petrochemical complex in Wood County.
Tomblin called the announcement of the potential complex a "defining moment in the economic development of our state." The complex, which would be known as Ascent -- Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise -- would include an ethane cracker plant, three polyethylene plants and associated infrastructure for water treatment and energy co-generation.
Odebrecht officials did not announce financing details or how many potential jobs the project would create or when.
"We realize much work remains to be done," Tomblin said. "However, project Ascent is tremendous news for our state."
Tomblin committed his full efforts and his administration's efforts to completing the deal.
Odebrecht still has yet to purchase land in West Virginia, secure a long-term supply of ethane for its complex or announce how they will finance the project, said West Virginia Department of Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette.
Both Tomblin and Burdette are optimistic about the project becoming a reality in the Mountain State.
"It represents the largest single industrial project in the history of the state of West Virginia if we can make all the pieces come together, and we are confident we can," Burdette said. "It will drive other plants. It will drive manufacturing plants that use their ethane products."
West Virginia officials have recently tried, but have been unsuccessful, in their efforts to attract a multibillion-dollar cracker plant to the Mountain State. Last year, Shell opted to build a plant in southwestern Pennsylvania.
"I don't think these folks would be here today if they didn't have an expanding level of confidence that we can get this done," Burdette said.
Cracker plants break down larger molecules and separate ethane from natural gas. Polyethylene is a byproduct of this process and a base chemical for plastic products manufacturing. Crackers also remove the natural gas liquids, making the natural gas product ready for pipeline transportation.
Company officials said they are going through what is known in the industry as an "FEL" process, or Front End Loading. Officials likened it to a diagnostic check-up.
"Bare with us," said Odebrecht official David Peebles. "The timeframe for us is as soon as possible but we are not going to jump into a pool without knowing how deep the water is."
The three-stage FEL process includes designing, assessing and mitigating infrastructure needs and construction. Odebrecht officials have completed a first stage, but did not detail what that stage entails.