Meetings on proposed Shell 'cracker' plant in Beaver County lure 1,000
More than 1,000 people flocked to two informational meetings on Wednesday to hear about Royal Dutch Shell's proposed petrochemical plant in Beaver County, but they didn't get an answer to their biggest question.
“I'm like everyone else; I want to know if they're going to build the plant,” said Don Glass, 49, of Hopewell.
It could be one to two more years before he gets an answer, based on information company officials shared about the potential multibillion-dollar project.
Royal Dutch Shell had 29 employees on hand. They fielded questions about the proposed site in Potter and Center along the Ohio River, what a plant could produce and what impact it might have on the economy, the environment and public safety from those who attended two meetings at The Club at Shadow Lakes, a Hopewell golf club.
Shell set up information tables across the golf club's banquet hall, including one showing the anticipated location of the plant's buildings on an aerial map and another with a banner detailing the time line of the project's phases.
“Obviously, there's a high level of interest,” said Daniel K. Carlson, general manager for new business development at Shell Chemical. “It's a great opportunity for us to hear from the community what's on their minds.”
Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Windon said the company expected about 350 people to attend a midday session from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. About 700 people showed. Cars backed up for more than a mile approaching the club.
Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker has mixed emotions about the proposed project.
“Obviously, the cracker plant would be a good thing for the region, and I'm excited about the possibilities,” Walker said, alluding to the potential for business development upstream in Aliquippa. The former steel town is just a few miles upstream from the Horsehead Holding Corp. zinc smelter site that Shell is considering and has several miles of former industrial land along its riverfront.
“But as a mayor, I'm also afraid because of the poor state of our infrastructure. I wonder how my city will benefit. What's training, integration and diversity going to look like?” Walker said. “All this meeting did was create more questions.”
If the project advances, “it will be a challenging time for us to produce the qualified workers we need,” said Tom Geisler, 56, of New Brighton, a welding instructor at the Beaver County Career and Technology Center.
Beaver County Commissioner Dennis Nichols estimates that as many as 3,000 welders will be needed in the construction. This year, Geisler's program will graduate 18 students, up three from a year ago.
The project has generated intense interest since officials announced more than two years ago that Shell was eyeing the Horsehead site as a possible location for a “cracker” plant that would convert ethane from natural gas into chemicals for plastics, antifreeze and other products.
To lure Shell, one of the world's largest and most profitable companies, state leaders offered a tax-free zone in which to build and potentially more than $1 billion in other tax credits. It has an option to buy the 300-acre Horsehead site.
Carlson said Shell entered the third and final phase of the consideration process this year. That includes completing detailed engineering and design work, developing a final cost estimate, applying for permits that would allow work to begin, and seeking a green light from company leaders.
“One to two years is a typical time frame,” Carlson said.
Construction that might employ as many as 10,000 people at its peak could take four years. The plant could employ about 400 workers.
“The journey to having it up and running is a long trip,” Carlson said.
Many in attendance said they are encouraged, noting Shell's chemical division has spent millions on land purchases and preliminary design work, including studying the relocation and widening of a portion of Route 18 to accommodate plant traffic. It is paying for ongoing demolition on the Horsehead site.
“They keep spending money. Until someone (within the company) tells them to stop, I see that as a good sign,” said Beaver County Commissioner Joe Spanik.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.