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Giant Ethane Cracker Coming to a Keystone Opportunity Zone Near Pittsburgh
"Shell Chemical Appalachia’s long-awaited decision on a multibillion-dollar ethane cracker arrived early this morning and it’s a go," reports Anya Litvak. "The company plans to build the petrochemical complex on site of the former Horsehead zinc smelter in Potter and Center townships, Beaver County."
For those who might not be conversant in the jargon of petrochemical facilities, an ethane cracker "takes ethane, a component of natural gas found in abundance in the Marcellus shale, and processes it—or ‘cracks’ it—into ethylene. It does this by heating the ethane up so hot that it breaks apart the molecular bonds holding it together," according to an explainer post by Reid Frazier from 2012.
Shell's facility relied on a political coalition including the building trades, the United Steelworkers, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, and "bipartisan support from the Pennsylvania House and Senate" to come this far, according to Litvak. Litvak quotes Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in explaining the significance of the project. In Fitzgerald's words, from an announcement regarding the project: "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…"
The project has been in the works since 2012. The article includes more details on the deal political deal (including tax breaks and exemptions due to the facility's location in a Keystone Opportunity Zone) that made the facility possible, as well as the role of the facility in the natural gas market. According to Litvak, "[th]e Beaver County cracker decision comes on the heels of two other recent announcements for Shell to expand production at a cracker on the Gulf Coast and another in China."