Shell Begins Construction on Main Phase of Cracker

POTTER TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC announced Wednesday that it has started construction on the main phase of its $6 billion petrochemicals plant here.

“Today marks an important step forward for this major growth project,” Graham van’t Hoff, executive vice president for Shell’s global chemicals business, said in a statement. “The preparation phase went well and our focus is now on ensuring first-class construction. Shell’s commercial, engineering and manufacturing expertise will help make this project a great success.”

In June 2016, Shell approved a final investment decision to move forward with the construction of a $6 billion ethane “cracker” complex along the Ohio River near Monaca, Pa. The plant will take ethane gas from energy producers exploring the Marcellus and Utica shale plays in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and eastern Ohio, and then convert the gas into polyethylene, a base component used in plastics manufacturing.

Although demolition work at the site began a full year before Shell’s final investment decision, site preparation started in earnest in June 2016. Among the major projects during the first phase was the relocation of a state highway, the construction of new bridges, the repositioning of a rail line, and the preparation of underground foundation and infrastructure at the location.

The site is now ready for construction to begin on the major phase of the complex, Shell said. This includes the construction of four processing units – an ethane cracker and three polyethylene units. The ethane cracker is the largest of the projects, consisting of more than 200 major components and 95 miles of pipe.

Shell will also construct a 900-foot-long cooling tower, new rail and truck loading facilities, a water treatment plant, and office building and laboratory. The site will also include a 250-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant that will produce electricity and steam for the plant. About one-third of the electricity produced will supply the local electricity grid, Shell said.

Roughly 6,000 construction workers would be needed to construct the new plant.

Once operational, the Shell cracker is expected to employ about 600 full-time workers and produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene per year.

The Shell plant is the first U.S. ethane cracker to locate in the east. The majority of the petrochemical plants are today concentrated along the Gulf Coast.

Another company, Thailand-based PTT Global Chemical, is evaluating whether to move forward with a decision to build a similar-size cracker plant on the Ohio River in Belmont County in Ohio. A final decision on that project is expected by the end of this year.

Pictured: An aerial view of construction at the Shell cracker site off the Ohio River. Photo provided by Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC.

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