Appalachian Basin

New Marcellus Shale Cracker Plant in Pennsylvania Will Create Thousands of Jobs

Plans have been underway for years for Shell to build an ethane cracker plant in the region due to the abundance of shale gas in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Back in March 2012 the company announced that the facility would be located in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, after months of each state vying for the opportunity, and just this week, those plans were finalized. From KDKA:

“This announcement signals Shell’s re-entry into the North American polyethylene market. The plant will be one of the largest of its kind in North America – the largest single “from the ground up” industrial investment in the Pittsburgh region in a generation – and the first major U.S. project of its type to be built outside the Gulf Coast region in 20 years,” Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky said.

According to Shell, construction of the estimated $2 billion facility is set to begin in the next 18 months, and will create roughly 6,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs when it goes online in the next decade.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald explained to the Associated Press:

“The project is monumental; the building of this plant will be equivalent to the construction of 25 stadiums. This announcement accelerates our growth to a next level and will provide even more opportunities for our young people. This multi-billion investment will bring economic growth to our region now and for generations to come, and we thank Shell for their decision to invest here.” (emphasis added)

In a statement Tuesday, Governor Wolf called the project “game-changing” and explained that it will “create thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania.” He went on to say,

“…we have prioritized the Shell plant to show the world that Pennsylvania is a leader in energy manufacturing and downstream production.

The success of this project is part of a much-needed, longer term plan to translate our abundant resources to make Pennsylvania a leader in downstream production. The commitment of the Shell cracker plant in Western Pennsylvania is an important step toward this goal.”

Jack Manning, president of the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce, told the Beaver County Times,

“It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime investment, a multibillion-dollar project like this and all the potential ancillary business that could come with it,” Manning said. “This really is a generational sea change for Beaver County.”

The project has already provided an economic boost for the area, even before this official announcement. At a panel presentation in April, Pat Nardelli, a partner at Castlebrook Development, explained some of the impact it has already had on the community:

“The one thing about Shell is whether they make the decision or not, they’ve spent a half billion to date if not more, and it’s going up every day,” Nardelli said. “The most important residual factor is we are going to have one heck of a building pad sitting down there totally prepared for whomever. … They are making this commitment, they’ve built the bridge, are going ahead with the parking garage, so something is going to be done. We are training people now, and we are going to be ready for Shell when they make that announcement.”

But bringing a cracker facility to the area will have bigger impacts than just those directly related to shale development or the local community. The cracker plant will take ethane from the Marcellus and “crack” or break it apart to create ethylene, and eventually various types of polyethylene that are then used to make the plastics we use every day. As Yablonsky explained to KDKA,

Today’s announcement is also a victory for U.S. manufacturing. Here in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area, we are ready to go to work combining 21st century innovation with proven strength in manufacturing and industrial operations.”

It’s just one more way that shale development is fueling a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing, as can be seen in the following video.

When one considers that similar projects are being considered in Ohio and West Virginia, the implications for the manufacturing industry in not only Appalachia, but across the country, are huge. In fact, in April the American Chemistry Council (ACC) explained,

U.S. chemical manufacturers rely on natural gas for heat and power, and it contains ethane, an NGL that serves as our main feedstock…Dramatic supply growth has had an equally dramatic impact on U.S. natural gas prices. It’s a stunning reversal of fortune from just a few years ago, when the chemical industry was losing market share – and jobs – to competitors abroad.” (emphasis added)

Projects such as this cracker facility will only continue to improve the potential for U.S. industries to return to U.S. soil. In response to the Shell announcement, ACC said,

“Today’s exciting news is another sign that a renaissance in American chemistry is underway,” said Cal Dooley, ACC President and CEO. “Thanks to our nation’s abundant supplies of shale gas, the U.S. has become the world’s destination for new chemical industry investment. Our competitive edge will mean new jobs and exports and a stronger manufacturing sector for years to come.” (emphasis added)

For those that have worked to make the proposed project a reality, Shell has already demonstrated its commitment to safety and the environment throughout the planning process. From KDKA:

“Throughout the planning process, Shell has demonstrated its commitment to safety, environment and community, and we know that its commitment will continue through the construction process and when the plant is in daily operation,” Yablonsky said.

All in all this is an exciting day for the Commonwealth, and especially Beaver County, as the Marcellus Shale continues to provide new opportunities for residents.

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