Shell discusses future of cracker plant in Beaver County [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]By Laura Olson, Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMcClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Aug. 23--Shell Oil Co. officials are working to make inroads with the community that may host their lucrative ethane cracker plant, but kicked off Wednesday's forum in Monaca by noting that hurdles still remain before the Beaver County site may get their final stamp of approval.
Company executives held the second of two community meetings before a crowd of about 100 people at Central Valley High School, where they explained their proposed plant and its operations.
Standing before a table of petrochemical products -- ranging from a laundry detergent bottle and some of the chemicals inside, to cling wrap and polyester clothing -- one official described the wide array of demand for the ethylene and derivatives to be produced from the cracker plant. Reaching the final step of operation, however, will rely on meeting both the company's physical needs and its atmospheric ones.
"We are here to stay if we build this thing, and we're looking for a partnership with the community," said Todd Whittemore, a Shell official involved in the site selection.
Before the presentation got under way, Center resident Kurt Kerry said he's supportive of the project and the economic benefits it would bring.
All he wanted to know, Mr. Kerry said, is "how soon?"
The answer to his question was somewhat elusive, though one major indicator will come later this year.
Shell and state officials announced in March, after months of competition with Ohio and West Virginia, that Pennsylvania was the company's preferred site for locating an ethane processing facility.
That announcement was after Shell signed a land-option agreement for former Horsehead zinc smelter site in Potter. While the announcement was heralded as a coup over neighboring gas-rich states, the officials involved cautioned that the project was far from finalized.
Gov. Tom Corbett reiterated that message earlier this summer, as the Legislature debated and approved significant tax incentives for the plant for the next 25 years. He pitched those tax breaks as an essential part of securing Shell's commitment to the local site.
During Wednesday's forum, Mr. Whittemore said the company remains in the selection phase but acknowledged that their land-option arrangement with Horsehead expires at the end of the year. That decision would be a major, though not definitive, signal that the company has moved on to the next stage of designing the plant.
"Our energy is focused on one site," he said. "In an analogy of a house, we've decided where we want to build it. Now we're just really making certain."
Asked what factors could cause the company to shift its view on locating in Beaver County, he responded first that an insufficient supply of ethane would be a problem. Shell has leased acreage for drilling across the state, and also would be looking to supplement its gas feedstock with natural gas liquids from other operators.
The plant would be the first of its kind in the northeastern United States. Shell also operates four similar facilities in Texas and Louisiana.
Beaver County officials already took one trip to Louisiana to review the company's facilities there. Commissioner Joe Spanik said the company showed its safety focus during that trip, when they went over evacuation procedures at each stop. He added that Shell maintains its own team of emergency responders at each site.
He and other local officials spoke enthusiastically about the impact that the plant, and its approximately 400 full-time jobs once it is built and operating, could have on resurrecting a region that has yet to fully recover from the loss of the steel industry.
"We see this as more of a revitalization of the Beaver Valley area than new growth," Mr. Spanik said.
Brighton supervisor Jim Equels Sr. said he remembers the poverty that followed steel's departure. He added that while some residents have expressed concerns about the environmental or noise impacts, most of the response has been positive.
"It would be a disaster if it doesn't come here with the hope they have given us," the 74-year-old said.
Bureau chief Laura Olson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-4254.
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