Daily Mail editorial: Could methanol plant be start of new growth?

August 18, 2016

With chemical manufacturing plants lined along the Kanawha River from Belle to Institute, the area used to be known as the Chemical Valley.

Few people use that term anymore. Many of the plants and most of the jobs the chemical industry supported have largely gone away, but strong remnants remain, including a few plants, good infrastructure and a trained workforce.

And those remnants, plus abundant supplies of natural gas in the region, are helping to bring some new chemical manufacturing jobs back to the valley.

US Methanol, a chemical manufacturing startup, announced plans to build a methanol production facility in Kanawha County next year, bringing with it an estimated 60 full-time jobs and 300 temporary construction positions, the Gazette-Mail’s Andrew Brown reported Tuesday.

Brad Gunn, the new company’s CEO, said he and his colleagues intend to deconstruct a methanol plant in Brazil and install it next to the Dow chemical plant in Institute by July 2017. The plant, which US Methanol said would use 70 million cubic feet of gas per day, will turn methane into pure methanol, a base solution used in paints, plastics, washer fluid and other chemicals.

With the large supply of natural gas from the northern half of the state and a Kanawha Valley workforce experienced in the chemical industry, Gunn said Institute is the right place to locate the company’s first plant.

“The institutional knowledge of running plants is just phenomenal here,” MetroNews reported Gunn as saying during an announcement with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. “Every time I turn around, there is somebody who has an incredible amount of talent and experience in running these, so that is a tremendous plus for us.”

The lead time between the announcement and actual construction and operation of this plant is expected to be much quicker than most, since US Methanol is transferring an existing plant to here. If completed as expected, it will not be as large as cracker plants the state has been trying to woo. But still, it is a large investment, it will bring a significant number of temporary and permanent jobs and perhaps it signals the beginning of the new chemical manufacturing boom officials have been hoping for since the region became awash in shale-based natural gas.

Here’s hoping the plant succeeds and helps the area attract many more manufacturing jobs.