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Pennsylvania Township Delays Permit For Shell Cracker

Potter Township, PA, supervisors have requested more information and delayed approval of a conditional-use permit for Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC's multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker in Beaver County.

Shell submitted a thick application for the permit months ago, and the township scheduled a public hearing to consider approving it that stretched over two days this week. The Clean Air Council (CAC) is challenging the application and wants to make sure it is properly vetted and that all stakeholders understand the kind of affects the enormous facility could have on the region.

"The council's goal is to ensure that the information Shell submits is verifiable and that the township seriously considers the impacts to the community -- and not just Potter Township -- but the community at large," said Patrick Auth, an attorney for Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, who's representing the CAC in the matter.

Auth said the supervisors delayed their decision and have requested legal arguments from both Shell and the CAC on why the application should be approved, denied or reconsidered. They've also asked Shell for more information about the Falcon Ethane Pipeline System that would supply the cracker's feedstock, Auth added.

Shell announced in June that it would build the facility. The company has already spent millions of dollars on site preparation and administrative work. The land was once home to a large zinc smelting facility and Shell said in its air quality permit application with the state that it chose the site because of an "appropriate" business and zoning climate, as well as its proximity to rail, water, roadways and wet gas.

The facility would be built on 400 acres next to the Ohio River in Potter and Center Townships, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It would have the capacity to consume about 100,000 b/d of ethane and would be one of the largest facilities of its kind in the country.

Shell and CAC have until Jan. 6 to file their arguments with the township. Auth couldn't say what CAC's next step would be if a conditional use permit is granted. "I don't know right now. I can't answer that. That would depend on if it was approved and the basis for that approval," he said. The CAC has also challenged a state permit for the facility.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was also scheduled to host a public meeting in Monaca, PA, near the site on Thursday evening. That would cover the agency's decision to amend Shell's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which Shell received from the zinc smelting company and needs to be modified for the cracker. The facility also needs to obtain more emissions credits and DEP must modify its Air Plan Approval to do so.

The agency will take public comment at the meeting and accept written comments until Dec. 26 on those issues. Shell received its air quality permit and other key state permits for the facility last year.

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