The construction of Shell Polymers’ petrochemical plant in Beaver County is 95 percent completed and is on track to become operational later this year, according to the general manager.
William Watson spoke to an audience at the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association conference in Pittsburgh, providing an update on the long-anticipated economic driver. While he did not give a firm start-up date, he noted that about 4,200 workers still on site are connecting miles of pipes and wires to various parts of the facility across 386 acres. When the plant is operational, it will produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene pellets per year using ethane from shale gas producers in the Marcellus and Utica basins. “We are well along with commissioning,” of the plant, Watson said, with the on-site co-generation power plant operating and the first electricity recently exported to the PJM interconnection grid. Shell anticipates that about one-third of the power capacity of the plant will be sent to the grid while the remainder will be used for the petrochemical operation. Watson said that commissioning will soon start on the plant’s flaring system, which is a safety device that can burn off excess natural gas products, but “may cause a bit of excitement in the community” because the flame will be visible. After construction began in 2017, as many as 8,200 construction workers were at the site daily. As work winds down the numbers are now 4,200, and, when operational, about 600 permanent workers will be at the facility, along with numerous subcontractors. The permanent employees have been hired, he added. Construction has continued despite a two-month shutdown when the COVID pandemic began. Employees were brought back gradually with strict safety and health protocols. The cost of the plant along the Ohio River has been estimated at about $6 billion. Watson said an economic impact study conducted last year by Robert Morris University found huge benefits for the region and the state totaling about $3.7 billion a year. While acknowledging that the plastics industry is “facing headwinds” due to sustainability and environmental issues, he said Shell is committed to solving the plastics waste problem through the “circular economy” that involves a closed-loop system to break down plastics into their chemical components for reuse.