The need for an ethane cracker for the region continues to be visible, and unattainable.
Economic development specialists and political leaders have said the greatest, longest-lasting and most-stable employment resulting from the region becoming the nation's gas and petrochemical raw material supplier would result with the development of a cracker, which breaks the gas into products for further processing into useable chemicals and plastics and other materials beyond fuel.
But the area is becoming to the petrochemical industry what the Mesabi Iron Range was to the steel industry: A supplier with jobs from being the supplier, but not the far greater number of jobs resulting from the end user plants.
The latest evidence of the region being the supplier not the user of its natural resources has come with word that MarkWest, one of the biggest developers of the region's gas field infrastructure, is shipping shale gas from the region to the plants in the Gulf Coast for processing.
An ethane cracker that had been proposed by Shell that wound up being a project for a factory site in Western Pennsylvania has not advanced beyond the land option stage. The land in Monaca remains ready for development, but nothing much is happening. West Virginia had been trying hard to get the cracker in the region, but was unsuccessful so far. And while some processing has begun in Natrium, it's not what citizens had been led to believe a few years ago when the gas boom began.
At that time, the talk of the cracker, with its own jobs, plus jobs resulting from the kinds of factories that use the output of the cracker, was heavy. And it's not progressing beyond the talking stage.
We know there are jobs and good economic activity resulting from the boom, but we hope for the boom to be more than just as gas supplier to the world. Some long-term industrial benefit would give the area something tangible upon which to build an economy atop tumbled steel and coal, besieged by federal policies.