Engineering News

EDITORIAL: Chem Plants Could Follow Ethane Cracker to W. Va.
February 7, 2011

West Virginia could be on the brink of an industrial upsurge creating tens of thousands of new jobs, several experts say. The new Marcellus Shale gas drilling spree could open a gold mine rivaling or exceeding the coal industry.

Briefing Kanawha County members of the Legislature Thursday, the head of the Institute Industrial Park said various new chemical plants could sprout if a $1 billion "ethane cracker" plant were built to separate heavier ethane from lighter methane from the mile-deep hydrocarbon supply.

"There are 60 derivatives that can come off an ethane cracker," Steve Hedrick of Bayer CropScience was quoted. "...That ethane is 20 to 25 percent of what is underground. The other components -- propane, butane, methane -- create an opportunity to have much cheaper electrical sources."

Hydrocarbons are chainlike molecules of hydrogen and carbon atoms, mostly formed 300 billion years ago from decaying vegetation under geologic pressure. Denser compounds like pentane and octane are liquids. The densest are solids. They're used to make hundreds of products such as plastics, paints, drugs, cosmetics, detergents, insecticides, etc.

If West Virginia doesn't land an ethane cracker plant, Hedrick said, "the opportunity will go elsewhere." He urged government and industry leaders to team up to cash in on the Marcellus boom. "I can't overstate the importance of this to us."

Meanwhile, on Friday, legislators held a major hearing on both benefits and problems from the Marcellus drilling surge in northern counties. Highway officials said some rural roads are being crushed by heavy machines rolling in to drill the extra-deep wells that branch off horizontally and require underground fracturing by high-pressure liquids.

Meanwhile, Charleston-based Triana Energy has joined Marathon Oil in a plan for hundreds of Marcellus wells.

It's obvious that the gas bonanza is coming, unstoppably. West Virginia leaders should take intelligent steps to minimize damage to the green hills, and maximize the growth of jobs and prosperity.

Source: The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.

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