Johnson confident about cracker

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson said he is “extremely optimistic” about the possible construction of an ethane cracker along the Ohio River in Belmont County, he told members of the Ohio Valley Oil and Gas Association on Tuesday.

Johnson, R-Marietta, spoke during the industry association’s monthly meeting at Belmont Hills Country Club.

He cautioned that although the plant is not a sure thing, he left a meeting in Thailand earlier this summer with PTT Global Chemical officials and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha feeling confident about the project.

PTT Global Chemical America officials expect to make a final decision on the project, proposed for a site along the Ohio River near Dilles Bottom, by the end of the year.

“They want to see this work,” Johnson said of PTT Global Chemical officials. “They’re just looking for reasons to say yes.”

If the plant is built, Johnson said, it would be a “game-changer” for the area, attracting workers to the area for several years during construction and providing hundreds of long-term jobs, as well. He added the cracker itself would be the “tip of the iceberg,” predicting that plastics and textile plants would set up operations all over Eastern Ohio.

Johnson noted the area needs to begin setting the groundwork for these new residents and jobs, as they will need infrastructure such as roads, improved water and sewage, reliable broadband Internet and more to be successful in the area.

Johnson also said it is necessary to have a “broad spectrum of education” for young people in the area when it comes to the energy industry.

Not every student will want to attend a four-year college or university, and educators need to offer options and support for students who are interested in seeking jobs in the industry, he said.

Ohio Valley Oil and Gas Association board member Ed Mowrer is a member of a recently formed education subcommittee of the association, which invited representatives of the Bridgeport and St. Clairsvillle-Richland school districts, as well as Belmont College and the University of Akron. Mowrer said the association is looking to work with school officials to improve education about the industry.

“Any ideas we we can take back to our schools is a plus,” said Walt Skaggs, superintendent of the St. Clairsville-Richland City School District.

Johnson said he knows times have been tough for the Ohio Valley economically, but he believes the region is on the cusp of better fortunes, and advised everyone to stay optimistic.

“We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic around here,” Johnson said, noting the area boasts one of the richest natural gas deposits in the country, and all eyes are on Eastern Ohio as a result. “Weather the storm. We’re not out of the woods yet, but there are brighter days ahead. I really believe that.”

Ohio Valley Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Lisa Kindler said that she thought the meeting went well and that Johnson had given members a lot to consider.

“I think it went great,” Kindler said. “There were a lot of new faces here, and we’re excited about the future of the gas and oil industry here in the Ohio Valley.”

A.J. Smith, president of oil and gas association’s board, said his group’s members value Johnson’s input.

“We just wanted to hear what he has to say regarding out local communities, as well as what he’s doing on the federal level that could impact us and help us out,” Smith said.