What's An Ethane Cracker?
In June 2016, Shell Chemical Appalachia announced it plans to build a massive, multi-billion dollar petrochemical plant (known as an ethane cracker) in Potter Township, Beaver County, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.
It’s now under construction and is expected to create some 6,000 construction jobs, the company says. Commercial operation is due to begin in the next few years, and the plant will employ about 600 people permanently. The operation is due to make 1.6 million tonnes a year of ethylene, which is used in products ranging from food packaging to automotive parts.
It is expected to be a major emitter of carbon dioxide.
“Cracker” is industry lingo for a plant that takes oil and gas and breaks it into smaller molecules, to create ethylene, which is used in plastics manufacturing.
The location was chosen because of its proximity to gas supplies, creating shorter and more reliable supply chains than those for comparable facilities on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and because it will be within 700 miles of North American polyethylene customers, the company said.
The announcement ended years of speculation about whether or not the project would go forward.
In 2011, Shell Chemical said it wanted to build an ethane cracker in the northeastern U.S. So Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia officials all did their best to woo the company. On March 15, 2012, Shell announced Pennsylvania had won the “cracker sweepstakes.”
Pennsylvania attracted Shell by granting the company a fifteen-year tax amnesty window. Former Governor Tom Corbett successfully pushed for an additional tax break that will grant Shell a $2.10 credit for every gallon of ethane it purchases from Pennsylvania-based natural gas drillers.
Over a 25-year window, the credit has been valued at $1.65 billion, making it the largest tax break in state history.
“It just kind of changed the game for all industries, including this one,” said a spokesman for a company that wants to build an ethane cracker. “And so they have had to put off their announcement of a decision.”
On Tuesday, Shell said it was keeping the site open while working to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus. On Wednesday, it said suspending construction was in the “best long-term interest of our workforce, nearby townships” and the state.
Wolf’s support for petrochemicals raises climate worries as Pennsylvania tries to cut carbon emissions
In his second term, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has set ambitious climate goals for the state. But he’s also walked a tightrope on climate, as he has embraced the fossil fuel jobs of the natural gas industry, and big carbon-emitting projects like the Shell Ethane Cracker in Beaver County.
Ever hear of a nurdle? The western Pa. ethane cracker could bring this new form of pollution to the Ohio River
The plant being built near Pittsburgh will produce potentially trillions of little plastic pellets every year. Some will escape into the environment.