Abundant supplies of Marcellus Shale gas could lead to more chemical plants

  • Reid Frazier
Will Pennsylvania attract more massive ethane cracker plants like this one, now under construction near Pittsburgh?

Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

The construction site in Beaver County for Shell's new ethane cracker. Industry leaders say this could be the first of many built in the Marcellus Shale region.

Shell’s $6 billion ethane cracker in Beaver County could be the first of several large chemical plants in the region, petrochemical industry leaders and observers said at a conference in Pittsburgh Monday. That’s because there’s enough ethane being produced in the region to provide the chemical industry with the raw material without any additional drilling.

“It’s very difficult to hide the secret,” said Warren Wilczewski, a U.S. Energy Information Administration economist who attended the conference. In the Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia region, production has grown almost 10-fold since 2011, Wilczewski said.  “By our calculations, you could easily have another two or three world-scale crackers.”

Shell’s cracker will use ethane, a byproduct of natural gas drilling, to make the building blocks of plastics. Currently, the region’s ethane is sent to chemical plants in the Gulf Coast, Ontario, and Europe. But whatever ethane can’t get sold to plastics manufacturers is “rejected”, or mixed in with the gas that supplies homes and businesses for heating and cooking. For more, please visit The Allegheny Front.