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PTT scraps timetable for decision on Belmont County cracker plant

DILLES BOTTOM — PTT Global Chemical America has scrapped its timetable for making a final investment decision on a proposed ethane cracker plant in Belmont County.

PTTGCA spokesman Dan Williamson said Friday that plans to announce a decision in the first quarter of 2021 are no longer realistic. He said the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the global economy are primarily to blame for the delay.

Rather than establishing another goal for the timing of such an announcement, Williamson said Thailand-based PTT is “not setting a time table right now.” In an interview with the Bangkok Post, PTT CEO Auttapol Rerkpiboon reportedly said a new feasibility study of the project will be conducted. He added that he would “expect it will be finished in the middle of next year at the soonest.”

In that same interview, he reportedly said that Democrat Joe Biden’s lead over President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election’s unofficial vote count is a factor in the FID’s delay. The article indicates that he cited Daelim Industrial’s withdrawal as an investor on the project combined with the pandemic as the cause of a project revision, adding that “now we have to revise it again because of changes including the new U.S. president.”

Williamson said, however, that the CEO’s remarks about Biden’s election were “misconstrued” in that report.

“It’s true that the developers have been very interested in the election,” Williamson said. “They have been watching what the candidates said and they feel confident going forward just as they would have under a Trump administration.”

Williamson pointed out that the project was launched when Biden was vice president and said many people expected it to continue under a President Hillary Clinton — prior to her loss to Trump in 2016.

“Both what the vice president said during the election — that he is not opposed to natural gas development — and his history and the folks around him suggest that is the case,” WIlliamson said.

He added that the project leaders are not discouraged by the results of the election, saying that COVID-19 has been the biggest obstacle to moving the project forward.

“If not for the pandemic, we would have had an exciting announcement last summer,” he continued. COVID-19 “put everything off track. We had hoped to be further along than we are now in terms of travel back and forth from Thailand. But the restrictions are still there, and the impact on the economy is still here.”

If it is constructed, the facility would use heat and chemical processes to “crack” or break down ethane, one of the abundant “wet gas” components of the local natural gas stream drawn from the Utica and Marcellus shales. The resulting product is ethylene, a component of plastics and other products, such as textiles, paint, household cleaners and more. If the PTTDLM plant is constructed, it will use local natural gas to fuel its six furnaces.

WIlliamson said PTTGCA continues to invest in site work despite slowing down the process.

“I think the best indication of the intentions and priorities of PTTGCA is where they invest, and they are investing their time and resources in this project,” he added.

He pointed to the fact that the company recently had two homes at the proposed plant location — the former site of FirstEnergy’s R.E. Burger coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River south of Shadyside — demolished. He said the vacant homes would not have been sold and that abandoned properties in any neighborhood can cause problems by attracting loiterers or pests. He said PTTGCA is continuing that type of work in an effort to be a good neighbor.

Williamson stressed that the timeline for an FID shared with the public at the beginning of summer is no longer realistic.

“I think we were optimistic about the virus itself and its impact on the economy,” he said. “We know both of those things are headed in the wrong direction right now. But project leaders are still committed, still investing time and resources. And we will be making more announcements in the future.”

Upon hearing that the final investment decision had again been delayed, opponents of the project said they believe it simply is not feasible.

“Since 2015, PTTG has missed six of its own final investment decision deadlines, leading us on for five years!” organizers of the Concerned Ohio River Residents group wrote in a news release. “Two partner companies, including their majority financial backer, have abandoned the failing project.

“The permits for this and partner projects that were already delayed by lawsuits either have expired or are coming due to expire. And now the world is in a fossil fuel and plastic glut as its citizens are more committed than ever to caring for the environment.”

CORR spokesman Vincent DeGeorge provided the release in response to PTTGCA’s announcement of the delay. He added that, unlike with previous delays, the company did not set a new deadline for its FID with this announcement.

“We deserve straight answers and not rosey lies about the factors that affect our lives — our jobs and real estate prospects, safe and healthy air and water, and public servants who work for us. We deserve better than this unfeasible PTTG cracker plant charade.”

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