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Belmont County Cracker Plant Air Permit Expires: Another Critical Blow to Project’s Viability

[Photo by Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance.]

The viability of the Dilles Bottom cracker plant project suffered another blow this Tuesday as the facility’s air permit-to-install officially expired two-and-a-half years after it was initially granted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA). The permit expiration represents the latest hurdle in a years-long series of mishaps, reevaluations, and missed deadlines, raising further doubts that parent company PTT Global Chemical America (PTTGCA) will ever break ground on the project.

OEPA has granted a conditional air permit extension contingent upon the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) approval of a legislative revision to the Ohio State Implementation Plan. USEPA is still deliberating the legislative change.

A feasibility study of the project, first announced in February 2021, is still ongoing as PTTGCA continues its search for financial assistance. Two of PTTGC’s former partners, Japan’s Marubeni Corporation and Korea’s Daelim Chemical, abandoned the petrochemical project due to economic concerns, casting doubt on the company’s ability to secure financial support. Stiff market headwinds have further hampered the ethane cracker’s projected financial outlook: according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), an ongoing global plastics and oil supply glut has slashed market prices by nearly 50% since the project’s initial proposal, driving forecasted profit margins well below investment targets.

If constructed, the complex would ‘crack’ feedstock from fracked gas into ethylene, a component of single-use plastic manufacturing. The process would release hundreds of tons of hazardous airborne pollutants into local communities, potentially causing or exacerbating an array of short- and long-term health problems among nearby residents.

“Why the Ohio EPA would make a special exception to the State Implementation Plan to accommodate PTTG’s continued inability to find another partner and make a final investment decision does not make sense for the region. It has been over four years of promises; it’s time to find another, better use of the land that will not be such a major polluter tied to the boom/bust industry of fracking,” said Leatra Harper, Managing Director of FreshWater Accountability Project.

"If constructed, the PTTG cracker would be calamitous upstream, sourcing ethane from increasingly inefficient fracking wells that produce more and more hazardous waste for the same amount - or less - of natural gas," said Ted Auch, Ph.D., Great Lakes Program Coordinator at FracTracker Alliance. "Transporting that waste would mean orders of magnitude more brine hauler trucks and renewed proposals for dangerous wastewater barging along the Ohio River."

Despite the financial uncertainty surrounding the project, state and regional development organizations continue to sink public resources into courting PTT Global Chemical’s business. To date, JobsOhio, the private economic development arm of the state of Ohio, has invested $70 million in public funds on developing the Dilles Bottom site. Local residents are left with no economic benefit from the investment already made in the location, which could be better developed with cleaner, more sustainable and financially viable industries for a diversified economy not tied to fossil fuels.

Concerned Ohio River Residents, Freshwater Accountability Project, Earthworks, FracTracker Alliance, and partner organizations advise local elected officials and decision makers to pull the plug on the decaying ethane cracker project and redirect local funding and initiatives toward more promising alternative industries.

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