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What's An Ethane Cracker?

Background

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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.

“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.

Construction is expected to begin in 2017, creating some 6,000 construction jobs, the company says. Commercial operation is due to begin “early in the next decade” and 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.

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.

 

Latest Posts

Public Health Researcher Issues Dire Warning Over Proposed Ethane Cracker Plant

A public health researcher delivered a dire warning on Monday during a panel on the implications of the planned Royal Dutch Shell ethane cracker plant in Beaver County. “When we allow industry to get way out in front of public health and environmental oversight, we end up counting bodies,” said Dr. Brian Schwartz of the Geisinger Center for Health [...]

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A Pennsylvania environmental group is launching an ad campaign against two large industrial facilities near Pittsburgh. PennFuture is kicking off its “Your Toxic Neighbor” campaign, which will include bus shelter posters throughout Allegheny County, targeting U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works and Shell’s yet-to-be-built ethane cracker in Beaver County. In addition, it has created two websites [...]

Shell, environmental groups reach deal on air monitoring for ethane cracker

Shell Chemical Appalachia has reached a settlement agreement with two environmental groups that had challenged the air permit for its new petrochemical plant being built near Pittsburgh. The deal follows more than two years of negotiations and requires Shell to do more air quality monitoring, including installing fenceline monitoring, which can quickly detect emission spikes. [...]

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

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. [...]

Pennsylvania could support four more ethane crackers, report says

Pennsylvania has the capacity to attract up to four more ethane cracker plants because of its abundant reserves of natural gas liquids (NGLs) and its proximity to major markets for plastics feedstock, a report released by Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said on Tuesday. The report from the consultant IHS Markit projects that more petrochemical companies [...]

Appalachian region could support 4 more cracker plants, says report

The Appalachian region could support up to four more petrochemical processing plants, known as crackers, according to a forthcoming report from IHS Markit. Denise Brinley, a special assistant to the Secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, previewed the report Thursday during a presentation at the Hart Energy Marcellus Utica Midstream conference [...]

Beaver County township green-lights ethane cracker

Shell moved another step closer toward building its massive chemical plant near Pittsburgh. Supervisors in Potter Township approved the company’s conditional use permit to build an ethane cracker on the site of a former zinc smelter. Supervisors voted 3-0 in favor of the permit. Shell needs the permit to build a plant that will make [...]

Shell proposes bargain to meet pollution targets for ethane cracker

On Thursday, activists asked state regulators to impose strict air and water pollution controls on Shell’s planned ethane cracker in Beaver County. They spoke at a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hearing on the plant’s proposed air and water pollution permits. Shell’s plant would take natural gas from the surrounding region and create polyethylene, a [...]

Shell asks for local support for chemical plant

On Tuesday night, township supervisors in Potter Township, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, heard testimony on the impacts that Shell’s ethane cracker might have on their community. The supervisors held a hearing on the company’s request for a conditional use permit from the township, a necessary step in the company’s plan to build a multi-billion [...]

Wolf: Ethane cracker will bring jobs for years

Note: This story is from The Allegheny Front, a public radio program covering environmental issues in Western Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Wolf was in Beaver County Thursday to tout the economic benefits of Shell’s multi-billion dollar ethane cracker and discuss the challenges ahead in building it. Wolf spoke at what his office called a “roundtable” with local [...]

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