DILLES BOTTOM – An Ohio State University professor believes the $5.7 billion Belmont County ethane cracker construction project would help fill hotels as far away as East Liverpool, Marietta and Zanesville, while the facility could process material drawn from a 600-mile radius once operational.

Officials with Thailand-based PTT Global Chemical are spending $100 million for engineering and design plans for the complex that would fill about 500 acres worth of space along the Ohio River and Ohio 7 to the south of the Moundsville Bridge. Meanwhile, contractors working for FirstEnergy Inc. continue working to demolish the former R.E. Burger power plant that would constitute a significant portion of the acreage needed for the ethane cracker, while the owners of the adjacent Ohio-West Virginia Excavating land have a tentative agreement to sell their property to PTT.

Matt Englehart, a spokesman for JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development agency that is helping broker the deal, said PTT would own the plant, while the firm should make a final investment decision by early 2017 at the latest.

Edward Hill, a professor of public affairs at Ohio State, tracks development in the Buckeye State’s oil and natural gas industry, as well as the related impacts in surrounding states.

He said a project of such magnitude would require thousands of construction workers.

“I suspect that the work force will be drawn from a much wider area – within an hour’s travel time. This means that existing hotels rooms and apartments from Weirton and East Liverpool to Zanesville can be used,” Hill said.

Currently, the ATEX Express ethane pipeline, as well as the Sunoco Logistics Mariner East and Mariner West pipelines, ship Marcellus and Utica shale ethane to crackers along the Gulf Coast or in Canada – or even ship it to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia for for export to Europe.

Hill said the region would be much better off with at least one ethane cracker, such as PTT Global.

“The recent research indicates that the transportation cost savings are important. It is not only the cost saved in not shipping the natural gas liquids to the Gulf of Mexico, but also the transportation cost saved in not having to ship the final product to the industrial Midwest, where it is used,” he said. “There is strong regional demand within a 600-mile radius from Belmont County.”

The proposed plant would accept ethane pumped from Marcellus and Utica shale wells, which remains in overabundance because there is still no cracker in the region. The technology would transform this material into ethylene.

“The proposed complex will do some further processing of the ethylene. However, a good deal will be shipped directly to market,” Hill said.

Although Hill said he is not sure PTT will proceed with the plant, he said he remains an “optimist” regarding the project because of the $100 million commitment.

“Also a year is a long time in the energy markets, especially when the price of oil is close to the cost of getting it out of the ground in the Arabian Gulf. I suspect that PTT will take the year to complete its due diligence on the site and to get a clearer perspective as to where the gas and oil markets will be in terms of their equilibrium prices,” Hill said.

Meanwhile, FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said the Akron, Ohio-based power producer is actively removing certain structures from the site, such as conveyor belting from the former coal yard and other small structures.

Officials with Royal Dutch Shell continue working on a potential ethane cracker near Monaca, Pa., while West Virginia officials still hope for the Odebrecht project in Wood County. However, industry leaders believe there is enough ethane in the region to justify more than one project.