There’s no doubt that last week’s announcement by Shell that it intends to build a cracker plant in Pennsylvania sent political shockwaves through West Virginia, a state that heavily courted Shell (see this MDN story). West Virginia’s Democrat governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, is doing damage control by leaking information to favored reporters that Shell was not the only game in town, and in fact was a longshot:
With multiple players interested in developing cracker plants in the Marcellus Shale basin (including multinational companies like Brazil-based Braskem), this was never a one-strike-and-you’re-out competition.
Privately, Tomblin administration officials had said that of the major players, Shell was probably the long shot at locating in West Virginia. Braskem supposedly is the more interested corporate player.*
Democrats, like West Virginia Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, blame a casino bordering the West Virginia site that Shell was considering. Shell would have needed more land for the cracker plant and apparently the casino would not sell any land for the project:
"You can believe what you want to believe," Swartzmiller said. "The fact is, Pennsylvania had a little bit more property available for future expansion."
Ironically, the Pennsylvania site was available because the location, a zinc plant, is being vacated as the company is relocating operations to North Carolina.
West Virginia’s proposed site was landlocked because the adjacent property is "very much occupied" by a significant employer and revenue-producer for the state, Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino.*
The interesting point is not the back and forth charges between the two political parties about WV losing the Shell plant. The interesting point is that for the first time MDN can recall, the long whispered “unnamed” second corporation interested in building a cracker plant in the Marcellus/Utica region has now been named by “Tomblin administration officials”—Braskem.
Braskem may not be familiar to many Americans. It is a Brazilian company—a petrochemical giant that in 2010 bought the chemical division of Sunoco and along with it, three chemical plants in the U.S. (one of them in West Virginia). By production, Braskem is the largest petrochemical company in both North and South America, and the fifth largest in the world. By revenue, it’s the fourth largest petrochemical company in the Americas and seventeenth largest in the world. By anyone’s standards, it’s huge, and an investment by them anywhere in the Marcellus would be every bit as economically important as Shell’s investment.
*The Charleston Gazette (Mar 18, 2012) – Statehouse beat: The real prize with a cracker plant