Reports: JSW set to refire Mingo mill

WHEELING — JSW Steel is expected to refire the electric arc furnace at the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. mill in Mingo Junction by the end of the month.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, made the announcement to members of the Wheeling Rotary Club during a Tuesday luncheon at WesBanco Arena. McKinley used the plant’s efforts to restart the furnace as one example of what he called a surging economy, and as a reason to be thankful this holiday season.

“We’re also seeing the chemistry of a comeback,” McKinley said of the improving industrial uptick in the Ohio Valley.

Multiple published reports and sources familiar with the company indicate JSW was expected to have brought the furnaces back online as early as this week. However, sources indicate the company decided to push the date back so as not to interfere with the Thanksgiving holiday schedule.

The EAF has a production capacity of 1.6 million tons per year. Wheeling-Pitt originally installed it in 2004. However, the furnace has not been operational since 2009, and its previous owners had said they had trouble getting it to produce to its capacity.

Several owners have worked for nearly a decade to get the plant back online.

India-based JSW purchased the Mingo Junction mill earlier this year from Acero Junction, which bought it from Frontier Industries in 2016. Frontier had acquired it in what was almost a fire sale after RG Steel declared bankruptcy shortly after purchasing it in 2011.

Frontier then changed the plant’s landscape. It demolished and scrapped much of the plant before selling it, although company officials said at the time that a sale was always part of the plan.

RG Steel’s purchase came a couple of years after OAO Severstal idled the mill nearly 10 years ago. It had acquired the plant from Esmark Inc., which had purchased several former Wheeling-Pitt assets in the mid-2000s.

But the new company has said it plans expansion in addition to restarting the existing operations. At the time it purchased the mill, John Hritz, president and chief executive officer of JSW Steel USA Inc., said the company would spend $250 million to get the EAF running again. But if market conditions warranted it, the company would match that with another $250 million for a second EAF and additional hot strip mill equipment, pending the outcome of feasibility studies and permit approvals.

“It is real, it is happening and it is a phenomenal vision,” Hritz said at the time. “They have investments all over the world, and, of course, everything has to have good return on investment. What is happening now in Mingo Junction is so ridiculously exciting.”

One of the company’s major competitors is ArcelorMittal. That company, based in Luxembourg, operates the tin mill and associated production facilities in Weirton that were formerly part of Weirton Steel. ArcelorMittal produced 97.03 million tons of steel in 2017 compared to JSW’s 16.06 million tons. However, plans are to take the Mingo Junction plant to 3 million tons per year.

Mingo Junction wasn’t the only bright spot McKinley noted in the Northern Panhandle and Eastern Ohio economy. The congressman said talks are ongoing with PTT Global Chemical about a proposed ethane cracker in Dilles Bottom.

“We’re talking to them two to three times per week,” he said.

PTT is working through some air permit issues, but McKinley said he believes the company is still on track to develop the plant in Belmont County. Thailand-based PTT began to explore construction of a cracker plant near Shadyside in 2015, and the company partnered with South Korea’s Daelim Industrial Co. on the project early this year.

Meanwhile, McKinley said brownfield legislation is helping Weirton re-invent itself from a former steel-centric town into a more diverse economic leader.

“It was a one-trick pony,” he said. “This is helping put it back on the map again.”

The congressman also cited signs of an improved economy throughout the Mountain State: the second-highest gross domestic product in the United States, along with the second-highest construction growth rate in the country. From coal mines to research at West Virginia University and technical interests throughout the state, McKinley said West Virginia has found its economic footing.

“We’re moving in the right direction, and for that, during this season, we can all be very thankful,” he said.