WHEELING - West Virginia-based Aither Chemicals plans to have a $750 million ethane cracker running by 2016, a project the company said should create thousands of jobs for both the Mountain State and Ohio.
"The technology is proven - and we have the necessary resources in this region," said Ieva Abolina, director of development for Pittsburgh-based Renewable Manufacturing Gateway, which is partnering with Aither to build the cracker.
"There is still debate as to which of the three states we will build it in," she added in reference to the Marcellus and Utica shale producing states of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. "We certainly plan to locate it on a river, though."
South Charleston, W.Va.-based Aither's announcement comes as leaders in all three states are still waiting to see where Royal Dutch Shell will build its multibillion-dollar cracker, which officials with the global oil giant said should be announced early this year. Though not quite to the scale of the Shell project - that leaders expect to employ as many as 10,000 construction workers and several hundred permanent employees upon completion of the plant - the Aither cracker could help spur industrial growth throughout the Marcellus and Utica regions.
"We hope our project, as well as Shell's, will catapult this industry in this part of the country," said Abolina, noting this particular project should employ about 2,000 construction workers and roughly 200 permanent chemical employees by the time it begins cracking.
Although no one yet knows for sure where the plants will be located, information from Aither states most of the jobs resulting from the cracker should be created in "western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia."
Many believe the ethane crackers would be a good fit for the Northern Panhandle - or on the Buckeye State side of the Ohio River in the same locale - because the area is situated right in the middle of the ethane-producing Marcellus and Utica fields. Officials with Bayer Corp. said the company's site north of New Martinsville would be a prime location because of the proximity to rail, road and water transportation.
Leonard Dolhert, chief executive officer Aither, said, "Together, RMG and Aither will finance and build one of the largest manufacturing plants that has been built in the region for the past few decades. This will create many jobs and help the regional economy significantly."
Company information states that Aither is a petrochemical firm whose technology will use a patent-pending catalytic cracking method to transform the ethane into ethylene, which is the basis for plastic production. Officials said the technology allows to operate at a lower cost than steam crackers, while using 80 percent less energy and producing 60 percent less carbon dioxide.
Enzo Zoratto, chief operating officer of Renewable Manufacturing Gateway said, "Aither's technology is a natural fit to our region. It cost-effectively uses the ethane-rich natural gas from our vast Marcellus gas deposit to produce highly sought after byproducts, while creating high-value employment in the region."