Thai company gets serious about possible Belmont County chemical plant

A giant Asian petrochemical company is taking the next step in a process that could lead it to build a multibillion-dollar petrochemical complex in eastern Ohio along the Ohio River.

Thailand-based PTT Global Chemical said on Thursday that it will spend $100 million on engineering work over the next nine to 12 months at the site of the proposed complex — a shuttered coal-fired power plant in Belmont County.

The company said it will decide by late 2016 or early 2017 whether to proceed with the project, which would be a boon in an area of the state where job growth has been weak in recent years.

“We have put so much time and energy in the project. … Today, I’m pleased to announce an important milestone for the project,” said Supattanapong Punmeechaow, the company’s president and CEO.

If PTT proceeds with the plant, it would mean hundreds of full-time, permanent jobs and thousands of temporary construction jobs. The plant would be the largest of its kind in the Midwest, according to state officials.

The company first announced its interest in the site in April. The site is a former FirstEnergy plant that was closed in 2011.

“This is a really, really exciting opportunity for the state. To use a baseball analogy, we’re on third base and now we’re looking to cross home plate,” said Gov. John Kasich, who announced the next step of the development along with PTT executives and state and local jobs officials and legislative leaders. “It’s full steam ahead.”

The plant would take ethane — a key component of natural gas — and break it down into a substance that can be used to make chemicals and plastics.

The plant would take advantage of the state’s growing oil and gas production in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations in eastern Ohio.

This is the latest of what have been several announcements for “cracker” plants proposed for that region, projects that ran into problems before breaking ground.

The state is particularly excited about this project because of its potential to attract other companies that would want to be located near the plant.

“The benefits of an ethane cracker in Belmont County would reach far beyond the walls of the petrochemical complex itself. It would facilitate additional investments in the growing shale and petrochemical industries, leading to even more job opportunities for Ohioans,” said John Minor, president and chief investment officer for JobsOhio, the state’s privatized economic-development entity.

If PTT proceeds with the project, it would take about 3 1/2 years to build the plant.

PTT has signed contracts with two consortiums of engineering firms to do design work and develop cost estimates.

From The Columbus Dispatch  |  September 4, 2015