August 18, 2022

KDKA Investigates: Is Shell’s Cracker Plant a Financial Boom or An Environmental Disaster?

3 min read
KDKA Investigates: Will Shell's cracker plant be an economic boom or environmental bust?

PA – POTTER TOWNSHIP Shell’s cracker factory in Beaver County is poised to open after ten years of planning and construction.

The region is expected to experience an even greater economic boom, according to some, while others are concerned that it would just be a disaster for the environment.KDKA Investigates: Will Shell's cracker plant be an economic boom or environmental bust?

It’s worth a journey to Potter Township if you haven’t already seen the cracker plant to get a sense of its size. The enormous, multibillion-dollar facility, which spans 780 acres of repurposed land and stretches nearly a mile along the banks of the Ohio River, looks menacingly like a metal fortress of towers, tanks, and pipelines.

KDKA Investigates: Will Shell's cracker plant be an economic boom or environmental bust?

Its construction required 6,000 people, and when it is operational later this summer, 600 workers will be required to maintain it. However, the economic impact can be far bigger.

Since Andrew Carnegie established the steel mills, it is the largest private development in the area, and many people are hopeful that it may give rise to a new industry that will replace the hole left by shuttered steel facilities.

Chuck Betters, the developer, claims that it has taken a while.

Betters wished “to see those tens of thousands of lost union jobs with benefits, like the mills used to have, come back.”

However, for others, the cracker facility represents a step backward into the past, bringing yet another polluting enterprise into a river valley that is slowly regaining its ecological balance with fish and animals not seen there in more than a century.

“The financial harm caused by employees developing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions cannot be overstated. When you turn on the switch at a large plant, like we are seeing with this Shell plant, all of those hazards increase “said Breathe Project’s Matthew Mehalik.

The shale gas business, which has been drilling and fracking the Marcellus Shale in Beaver County and other adjacent counties for the past 15 years, is married to another industry that has sparked the same Discussion.

KDKA Investigates: Will Shell's cracker plant be an economic boom or environmental bust?

To transport the ethane from the shale gas to the location where it will be converted, or cracked, into ethylene and subsequently polyethylene — the constituent parts of plastics — Shell built a 97-mile pipeline.

Shell estimates that over the course of a year, it will generate a remarkable 3.5 billion pounds of little plastic pellets, which can then be sent to businesses that make anything from plastic bottles and bags to diapers, toys, and household goods.

Although Beaver County officials hope that many of those businesses choose to relocate here, they assert that the cracker facility has already given the local economy a boost.

“The transformation has been utterly dramatic. Beaver County is livelier. Throughout the world, Beaver County is well known. Finding workers to fill positions is a difficulty. In Beaver County, there are many jobs and employment possibilities. Filling them is the issue, said Charles “Skip “Homan with Beaver Economic Growth and Community.

However, environmentalists say that these advantages will disappear quickly now that the construction workers are leaving.KDKA Investigates: Will Shell's cracker plant be an economic boom or environmental bust?

In the midst of a global outcry against an abundance of plastic waste, they claim the region is foolishly tying its fate to plastics.

Mehalik added, “Ninety percent is not recycled.” “It eventually finds its way into the air, the seas, and our water supply. In Antarctica, tiny plastic particles have been found in the snow. More plastic is not the solution. The current plastics are unnecessary. Therefore, the decision to double down is not a wise financial move.”

Read More: Court Nixes Trump-Era Rules Loosening Endangered Species Protections (enviro360.com)

                    Energy & Environment — What Can the Epa Still Do on Power Plants? (enviro360.com)

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