Justice: China ‘deathly serious’ about $83.7B deal

WHEELING — Although relatively short on specifics during a Monday press conference, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice showed plenty of enthusiasm for what he termed a “deathly serious” $83.7 billion China Energy investment plan for shale natural gas and petrochemical projects in the state.

“China wouldn’t be sending 28 people if they weren’t deathly serious about the whole thing,” Justice said. “They are traveling around the state and looking at sites and doing all kinds of different work.

“It’s more money than anybody can even imagine.”

Almost one month has passed since West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher went to Beijing to sign a memorandum of understanding with Chinese officials while in the presence of both President Donald Trump and China’s president, Xi Jinping. Details, however, remain somewhat scarce, although natural gas-fired power plants in Brooke and Harrison counties reportedly are among the initial investment plans.

Other opportunities could include ethane crackers and storage areas.

On Monday, Justice said he and other leaders met with some of the 28 Chinese team members in Morgantown for a general discussion. He also said West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee and Thrasher took the delegation to a WVU basketball game.

When asked for more information about the deal, Justice said he could not reveal details because of a “confidentiality agreement.” He also declined to provide an estimate of when more information would be forthcoming.

If China officials reach the $83.7 billion investment figure, it will be more than double the $35 billion total which West Virginia University Energy Institute Director Brian Anderson estimates drillers, frackers, processors and pipeliners have spent in the Mountain State since the Marcellus and Utica shale boom began several years ago. It will also be more than the the state’s annual gross domestic product — the total value of all goods and services produced in the state, which WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research Director John Deskins said is about $75 billion.

Anderson recently discussed the results of a study to determine the best locations for underground storage caverns to create an Appalachian storage hub for natural gas liquids. This alone could lead to 100,000 permanent jobs in the Marcellus Shale region, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Several of the areas the study lists as “top-rated” for storing ethane, propane, butane or other natural gas liquids are in the Upper Ohio Valley. Presently, Mountaineer NGL Storage is working on such a project along the Ohio River in Clarington. Although this is in Ohio, the facility will connect to West Virginia by pipeline.

Justice said he believes West Virginia can be the hub of which Anderson speaks. If this occurs, the governor said the ultimate Chinese investment could be “substantially even higher” than the $83.7 billion outlined in the memorandum of understanding.