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It’s Happening: Shell Ethane Cracker Plant Commences Operations

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The Shell Polymers Monaca (SPM) petrochemical refinery in western Pennsylvania, became fully operational this week, marking it as the first major polyethylene manufacturing complex in the Northeast.

Shell Downstream Director Huibert Vigeveno heralded the project:

“Building this world-class facility is a fantastic achievement and one the team can be proud of; it’s a showcase of Shell’s project delivery expertise. With great market access, innovative offers and connected infrastructure, Shell Polymers Monaca is well positioned and ready to serve customers with high-quality, competitive products.”

First announced in 2012, the facility has been under construction since 2017. After a decade of careful planning and construction, the plant will now convert natural gas into ethylene for important consumer products, with a designed output of 1.6 million tonnes annually.

Notably, the plant uses natural gas feedstock from the nearby energy-rich Marcellus and Utica shales, highlighting the economic and consumer benefits of natural gas to power ancillary industries like the SPM.

In a press release, Shell highlighted these benefits:

“SPM contracted most of its natural gas feedstock at Final Investment Decision from the nearby Utica and Marcellus basins. The advantages of proximity are not limited to production; SPM also offers customers shorter supply chains, which translates to increased flexibility and access to polyethylene pellets that can be used in a wide variety of products such as common household goods, consumer and food packaging, as well as industrial and utility products.”

 Regional Growth

Appalachia is seeing a resurgence of industry investment due to its abundant supply of natural gas and skilled workforce. This project is just one of many examples showing how Appalachia is growing and prospering, a topic Energy in Depth has previously explored.

Shell’s cracker plant brought new growth and jobs to the region through construction – 6,000 construction workers built the new facility – and will have 600 permanent employees to operate and maintain the facility with an expected several thousand more jobs from the private industry and public services created to help support this facility.

According to analysis from Robert Morris University’s School of Business, the SPM will produce between $260 and $846 million in annual economic activity through wages, benefits, and related spending within Beaver County. The state will also collect $23 million annually in state income tax from the SPM, and over 40 years, it is projected to produce more than $81 billion in economic activity across the Keystone State.

Investments like this cracker plant, while years in the making, are an important example of how industries are utilizing natural gas and investing in this region’s workforce and communities.

Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Callahan called the opening of the refinery a “historic day for Pennsylvania and an important case study of how competitive, pro-energy job policies can create sustained economic growth for the Commonwealth and our nation.” Callahan further explained:

“Built by thousands of our talented and hardworking regional building trades partners, Shell’s world-class manufacturing facility is enhancing our quality of life by turning natural gas liquids into the building blocks for essential consumer goods and medical supplies.” (emphasis added)

Bottom Line: Pennsylvania has experienced an economic resurgence in large part due to its abundance of natural resources. The opening of this plant is a reminder that natural gas is an essential part of meeting growing consumer demands, employing workers with family-sustaining jobs, and opening up markets of opportunity for the Appalachian region.

So, let’s get it crackin’!

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