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Zinc maker idles Beaver County site where Royal Dutch Shell proposes 'cracker' plant

Sunday, May 4, 2014, 9:10 p.m.

Another milepost has been passed on the road toward Royal Dutch Shell's decision on building a petrochemical plant in Beaver County.

Crafton-based Horsehead Holding Corp., which gave Shell an option to buy a 300-acre property in Potter and Center along the Ohio River for the potential multibillion-dollar project, shut down zinc production at the site last week.

Horsehead decided more than two years ago to move zinc production to a new plant in Mooresboro, N.C. Closing and abandoning the Potter plant opened the way for Shell to consider the site.

Horsehead said on Friday that it halted zinc production on Wednesday.

In total, 510 salaried and hourly jobs will have been eliminated. That includes employees terminated at the end of 2013 when a zinc oxide refinery was closed. Only about 40 workers remain on the site to assist with the final closing of the plant, the company said.

By the end of May, those jobs will be reduced to a small crew needed for demolition, Horsehead said. That's the final step in its transition to zinc production in North Carolina.

It could take as long as two more years before Shell decides whether to build the “cracker” plant, which would convert ethane from natural gas into chemicals for plastics, antifreeze and other products.

At public meetings last month to answer residents' questions, Shell representatives said the company 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 company leaders' approval.

Shell's chemical division has spent millions on land purchases and preliminary design work, such as studying the relocation and widening a portion of Route 18 to accommodate plant traffic. It is paying for demolition on the Horsehead site.

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.

Construction that might employ as many as 10,000 people at its peak could take four years. The plant could employ about 400 workers.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or



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