Since consideration is being given to building a natural gas cracker plant in West Virginia, it might be well to ask, "just what is a cracker plant?"
Many people might associate fracking for fracturing with cracker. They are not the same. Fracking has to do with a process used in the well drilling and cracker has to do with what has been done to the natural gas being produced. A cracker is similar to what is done with produced crude oil. When crude oil has been produced it goes through a refining process where various products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene and heavy lubricants are produced.
Gov. Tomblin announced last week that a Brazilian company "will look to capitalize on the regional opportunities in the Marcellus and Utica natural gas shale regions." Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said "It represents the largest single industrial project in the state of West Virginia if we can make all of the pieces come together and we think we can. It will drive other plants that can use their ethane products."
New production methods used in the process of completing Marcellus shale wells have resulted in wells producing an unheard of volume of natural gas. This new method includes horizontal drilling of up to five miles in the Marcellus shale formation and with hydro fracturing done at various sites along the way. Without fracturing, these wells would not produce the huge volumes of natural gas they are capable of producing. A recent federal report says that the Marcellus shale gas boom is soaring more rapidly than anyone expected. U.S. output from fracking and horizontal wells has climbed to 12 billion cubic feet per day - six times greater than 2009 production.
Many environmentalists are opposed to fracking because they fear the possibility of fractures going vertical and contaminating the ground water. However, the formations above the Marcellus shale are in a horizontal there is little to no possibility of the fractures going vertical through as much as 7,000 feet to get to the surface. There has been no proof of this having happened.
Both Germany and France have banned fracking as has New York. Pennsylvania is considering a hefty tax on the production of natural gas. Colorado has recently made some parts of that state off limits to fracking. There is a small, vocal group in the West Virginia Legislature opposed to fracking. If nothing else, the potential for economical development and new employment by building a cracker plant in West Virginia will put a damper on this opposition.