Calling it a “renaissance of opportunity,” U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said construction of an ethane cracker in Western Pennsylvania is creating “come-back” opportunities for Northern Panhandle communities hard hit by the downturn in steel and coal.
“It’s up to the people,” said Manchin, who was in Weirton on Sept. 8 to meet with business leaders and get an update on construction of the Pietro Fiorentini plant in the city’s Three Springs Drive Business Park. “You can look at it as the challenges you have; you can look at what you’ve lost in the past and think it will never (come) back. I believe not only can the Northern Panhandle come back, but it will be stronger and more stable than ever. But it will be different; it will be more diverse. Where we relied on coal and steel before, it will be a more diverse market — oil and gas and the liquids that come from that.”
Shell is spending upwards of $6 billion to build the cracker in Monaca, Pennsylvania, just a 20-minute drive from northern Hancock County, creating downstream opportunities in both Ohio and West Virginia.
All three states teamed up to have a study done to identify sites geologically suited for an underground storage hub for high-value natural gas liquids. The study, done by the West Virginia University Energy Institute, scrutinized areas of interest extending from southwestern Pennsylvania “all the way to the base of the Northern Panhandle.
The study concluded there are opportunities for “a whole portfolio of storage for ethane, propane and ethylene, and having that portfolio connected to infrastructure and site locations.”
Manchin said developing the hub could cost upwards of $10 billion but pointed out it would allow all three states to capture the full value of the natural gas liquids by attracting downstream development. He said the hub would take both public and private funds.
“West Virginia is very much committed to keeping gas in this area,” Manchin said. “(And) for the security of our nation, we need to be able to have the ability to continue to provide the products this country needs and the energy this country needs. … Locating a storage hub in the Mid-Atlantic, having that security, would be great for the nation.”
Manchin pointed out the Northern Panhandle “is blessed to be within a day’s drive of about 65 percent or 70 percent of the U.S. population. (It’s) within driving distance of almost 200 million people.”
“That’s an unbelievable strategic location,” he said, adding, “We’ve always done the heavy lifting in West Virginia. Now, our new-found energy wealth in the Marcellus and Utica (Shale) is bringing untold opportunities. We’re in a perfect position to take advantage of that. … It’s created unbelievable opportunities.”
Manchin also said he sees “a lot of good things” happening, but Americans can’t let politics divide them.
“The politics of our country, politics state-by-state, has just become so toxic, its driven more ideologically than responsibly,” he said. “I’m hoping that West Virginians will stand up and speak out and say, ‘We don’t care about the Republican or Democratic parties. We care about our region and our state. They want a job. They want to take care of their families, have a quality of life and keep their kids here.’ That’s what it’s about.”
He also said it’s time for Congress to “put the hammer down. We need to get tax reform done. We need to get infrastructure done. We need to get health care fixed. We need to do the responsible thing for the American economy.”
“It can’t be about one side vs. the other,” he added. “We’ve got to … identify the issues and, once they’re identified, figure out what’s the best path forward. It seems like the norm anymore is that a lot of things aren’t getting done because people are afraid (someone else) will get the credit for it.”