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WV Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announces Odebrecht will explore building a cracker in Wood County

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Days after Royal Dutch Shell hinted that it's edging away from a $2 billion investment in an ethane cracker in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Odebrecht, a Brazilian company, will lead the exploration efforts to develop a new petrochemical complex in Wood County.

Tomblin was in Parkersburg for the announcement, at West Virginia University-Parkersburg, flanked by flags from the U.S., Brazil and West Virginia.

The announcement was hailed as a cracker plant on the way. Crackers convert ethane from gas shale deposits to ethylene, a compound used in manufacturing plastics.

The complex, called Ascent, would include an ethane cracker, three polyethylene plants and other infrastructure for the water treatment and energy co-generation, according to information from Tomblin's office. A purchase option on the anticipated project site in Parkersburg already has been secured.

Tomblin said Wood County's location "presents a unique opportunity to construct a cracker," and said the appropriate regulatory approvals are still needed, as well as financing.

"There's a lot of hurdles we still have to jump through," Tomblin said. "But I feel very confident we have developed the relationship with Odebrecht that is a good one, and I think they can respond to it. We have the resources and the business atmosphere that they're looking for.

"I can't speak to what's going on with Shell, but I can say I feel very positive about the project we're talking about here today."

Tomblin started the announcement by saying it was one of his proudest moments, and said "Project Ascent," was something he said his office had been working on for two years. He described the project as a "game changer" for West Virginia. The name is "Ascent" is short for Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise.

Odebrecht will lead the investment and financing for Ascent, as well as the operation of water and electric utilities.

"Project Ascent fits within Odebrecht's commitment to be a partner in development in the regions where we operate," Odebrecht CEO Fernando Reis said in a news release. "Moreover, Ascent fits into the strategy of our Utilities division, which seeks to invest and manage industrial assets."

Philadelphia-based Braskem would be responsible for the petrochemical-related activities and the commercialization of the polyethylene after the investment is completed.

"As the United States' leader in polypropylene production and with a significant footprint already in the region, we are excited about today's announcement," Fernando Musa, CEO of Braskem America, said in a news release. "Should Ascent materialize we look forward to serving our clients in the polyethylene market."