Plant start-up is under environmental supervision | News, Sports, Jobs

MONACA, Pa. — Environmental groups have mobilized to monitor air and water quality in Beaver County in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 15 opening of Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical cracker plant.

Several groups held a joint video conference that included more than 200 people who listened as various organizations had begun testing air and water samples to set a baseline before the facility on the Ohio River near Monaco officially opened opened.

While most people knew little about the Marcellus Shale when western Pennsylvania’s natural gas drilling boom began in the late 2000s, Alison Steele, executive director of the Environmental Health Project, said groups like hers were working to educate the public about what was happening expected from the cracker factory.

At the time, she said various environmental groups had set up numerous air and water monitoring stations around Beaver County, while Shell was required to monitor and report results from four sites at the plant and 20 on the property. The Peters Township-based group had also produced basic test results from a “monitoring network” to see if there were any changes in the environment when the plant was operating. Steele said the group is pushing for accountability and trying to get comprehensive health guidance from state regulators so residents aren’t the ones “leading the fight.”

Steele also led 225 participants in a recent video conference call through a brief history of the plant, in which the Pennsylvania state government offered Shell a $1.6 billion tax incentive to build the plant here in exchange for 600 ongoing jobs . Construction of the facility began in November 2017 on the 340-acre property in Potter Township, which was formerly a zinc smelter.

“The question on everyone’s lips is: ‘Why here? Why now?’” she said.


As renewable energy sources become more affordable, the natural gas industry has moved to find other manufacturing uses for its product. The cracker plant will separate ethane from natural gas to produce ethylene, which enables the manufacture of plastic products commonly used by consumers.

Heather Hulton VanTassel, chief executive of Three Rivers Waterkeeper, said even before the plant started operating this month, her group began seeing evidence of some production as they found plastic “nurdles” in the river. Nurdles are manufactured at the facility and then shipped to manufacturers across the country to create various plastic products. These small pellets can be ingested by wildlife or contain dangerous chemicals that can be released into the environment, she warned.

She said environmental groups have been working on boat patrols for the past few months to find nurdles and get basic water quality readings, allowing them to know if there are any problems when the plant is fully operational. She said the environmental organization will continue to monitor water quality in the Ohio River and around its watershed to ensure no harmful chemicals are released that could endanger people or wildlife.

She added that environmental organizations that monitor air and water quality don’t want this area of ​​Beaver County to become a “victim zone” for industry.

“We’re here to monitor the water,” she said. “And we will work hard not to become this place. … “We are putting pressure on DEP (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) to hold them accountable.”

An email sent to Royal Dutch Shell’s headquarters about the seminar’s environmental concerns in the weeks leading up to the plant’s commissioning was not immediately answered.

It’s immense

Located northwest of Pittsburgh International Airport, visible from Interstate 376, the facility resembles a gasoline refinery, with miles of pipes and large storage tanks. The central production and logistics area covers approximately 385 acres with a total site area of ​​approximately 800 acres. It includes its own power generation and water treatment plant.

According to Shell, the facility is the first major polyethylene production complex in the Northeastern United States.

Most ethylene is produced on the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana. Shell says the location gives it a competitive advantage, since more than 70 percent of the US polyethylene market is within 700 miles of Pittsburgh.

Annual US ethane consumption has doubled over the past decade as demand for ethylene has increased. Ethane use recently rose to over 2 million barrels per day, according to the Energy Information Administration, a branch of the US Department of Energy.

Shell’s western Pennsylvania facility will add an estimated 96,000 barrels per day of ethane feedstock capacity, the agency said.

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