Coal state lawmakers will be looking to another source of jobs for Appalachia on Thursday by promoting a bill to remake the region into a hub for the chemical ethane.
Yes, ethane. It's a highly sought after chemical derived from natural gas production, and used in everything from making chemicals that cause fruit to ripen faster to manufacturing plastics and polymers.
West Virginia Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat, introduced a bill last week to study the prospects for developing their state into a hub for ethane storage and production.
"Making the most of our energy and manufacturing potential plays an important role in creating jobs, attracting private investment, and helping to grow our economy," said Tyler Hernandez, a spokesman for Capito. "An ethane storage and distribution hub in Appalachia would benefit West Virginia – as well as communities across the country – in a number of important ways, and we plan to highlight those benefits in greater detail" on Thursday.
The senators will be joined by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., for a special press conference to highlight the prospects for their legislation, the Appalachian Ethane Storage Hub Study Act, which the West Virginia delegation "hopes to move as part of any larger infrastructure package the Senate considers," Hernandez said.
The bill directs the Energy and Commerce departments to study the construction of a massive complex of facilities to store ethane, which currently has very little infrastructure available to move it from the ground to market. The storage facilities would attract development and manufacturing jobs, the senators said.
Ethane demand globally is currently soaring, with traditional producers in the Gulf states struggling to keep up with demand.
West Virginia and Ohio sit on one of the largest deposits of ethane in the country, as part of the Utica, Marcellus and Russellville shale regions, which are also one of the biggest sources of natural gas for the Midwest and East Coast.
"Our region's access to natural gas and natural gas liquids, like ethane and propane, combined with our proximity to manufacturing markets in the Midwest and the East Coast make West Virginia an ideal location for a storage hub," Manchin said. "I intend to pursue additional legislation that Congress can pass to support this vital project and create jobs for West Virginia and the Appalachian region."
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, introduced the bill with Capito and Manchin last week. His state is receiving interest as far away as Thailand to begin building ethane refining facilities in the Buckeye State, say industry officials.
The major oil company Shell recently chose to build an ethane refining facility, or steam cracker, in nearby Pennsylvania. The goal is to transform the tri-state region into something resembling the Gulf Coast's petrochemical industry, but in Appalachia, say developers.
"According to a recent study, southeastern Ohio and the surrounding region could see billions in private investment in new petrochemical manufacturing by 2025," said Portman in introducing the bill with Capito and Manchin. "This legislation is a first step in the process of making the potential plans a reality by ensuring that the region has the infrastructure in place to meet anticipated demands."