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Proposed Shell project draws more than 1,000 to informational meetings

By: Frank Esposito

April 17, 2014

More than 1,000 people attended a pair of public meetings hosted by Shell Chemical LP on April 16 to discuss the possibility of building a major petrochemicals plant in the Pittsburgh area, but a final decision on the project could still be a year or two away, a company official said at the first meeting.

“We’re just really glad to see that there’s so much excitement and enthusiasm,” new business development general manager Dan Carlson said in a story from the Associated Press. “I think people recognize the impact the project could have.”

The meetings were held in Aliquippa, Pa., not far from Monaca, Pa., where Shell first proposed the project in early 2012. Houston-based Shell has an option on a parcel of land there that could house a major unit making plastic feedstock ethylene. Downstream units making polyethylene resin could be added there as well, company officials said at the time.

Shell officials didn’t give formal presentations at the meetings, but about 30 Shell employees answered questions one-on-one with attendees, according to an April 16 story on the web site of State Impact, a collaboration between two Pennsylvania radio stations and National Public Radio.

“Some of (the decision process) requires input from other parties,” Carlson said in the State Impact article. “For example…we’d like to have an air permit before we would fund an investment like this.”

Shell officials previously have said the project could create several hundred full-time jobs, along with as many as 10,000 temporary construction jobs and numerous related jobs throughout the area. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett in 2012 signed legislation that could give Shell tax credits worth $1.7 billion or more for 25 years beginning in 2017 if the plant is built.

Prior to the meetings, Shell officials sent a message to the community saying that the project “is committed to being a good neighbor, keeping people safe and protecting the environment.”

“We want to work with you — our neighbor — throughout project evaluation and planning to enhance benefits while identifying and addressing potential issues,” officials said.

In an April 15 email, Shell spokesperson Kimberly Windon said that the firm “is simply hosting community sessions to provide information about the proposed project and using this as an opportunity to hear from our prospective neighbors.”

The plant is a possibility because of newfound supplies of shale-based natural gas in the region. The Marcellus Shale deposit includes parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia and is one of the largest in North America. Natural gas can be used to make ethane, which is converted into ethylene and then polymerized into PE.

Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht SA — majority owner of Brazilian petrochemicals leader Braskem SA — has announced plans to build a petrochemicals complex in Parkersburg, W. Va., which is also in the Marcellus Shale. Other firms have proposed similar investments, but market watchers have questioned these proposals, since they would be located far from the majority of the region’s petrochemical infrastructure on the U.S. Gulf Coast.