CHARLESTON – Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher offered legislators a few new tidbits — though still no specifics — on the $83.7 billion China Energy agreement. Thrasher addressed a Jan. 9 joint meeting of the interim Natural Gas Development and Energy committees. Answering a question if this is a deal to simply sell off our resources, he said no. “It is bricks and mortar facilities for the purpose of generating value-added products in the petrochemical industry.”
The immediate goal is a single project, though he wouldn’t say what it is. “We are working actively on that project one step at a time.” He continued, “Our goal is to expedite the initial project as quickly as we can for a variety of reasons. And I’m hopeful that the details of that begin to unfold in the next few months.” He hopes to see some construction by the end of this year, he said.
Most people guess that the unspecified projects are some sort of manufacturing facilities that would use the products generated from cracker plants being developed for the region. Thrasher speculated that the majority of the market for the China Energy-related projects would be overseas, predominately China. But the focus is on employing local residents in businesses that pay taxes to West Virginia, and selling the products those businesses produce. “It makes sense from a business model.”
Thrasher said he had no specific timeframe for any aspect of what’s unfolding, but during three visits with the people from China Energy, he’s seen a “great sense of urgency.” He’s heading back to China on Saturday, he said, to meet the company’s new board. “These are big projects. They’re significant.”
Thrasher said last week’s announcement from Appalachia Development Group – a subsidiary of Charleston-based high-tech firm MATRIC – provides an important step forward. The group announced on Jan. 3 that it was invited to submit a Part II Application for a $1.9 billion U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee to support the development of infrastructure for the Appalachia Storage & Trading Hub, which would store natural gas liquids for a regional plastics industry.
Thrasher said that the Department of Energy’s action “has significant impact in terms of the risk level of folks coming in.” Jim Crews, vice president of business development for MArkWest Energy Partners, offered the legislators additional prospective on the region’s potential.
Colorado-based MarkWest is a midstream gas processor with three West Virginia facilities. It’s Sherwood plant in the Doddridge County is the nation’s fourth largest and will soon be expanded to become the largest. He offered a somewhat technical slideshow on how the gas liquids – ethane, propane and butane – are separated from the methane and sent on for further production.
The wet natural gas in this region, he said, contains enough ethane – used in light plastics – to feed six cracker plants. Some of it now gets shipped south to the Gulf for processing, but most goes to waste because it’s too expensive to ship and there’s no industry here yet to process it.
Article By David Beard, The Dominion Post