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Pennsylvania Township Approves Permit For Shell Cracker

After a series of contentious public hearings, Potter Township, PA, supervisors late Wednesday unanimously approved a conditional-use permit that allows Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC to proceed with construction of its multi-billion dollar ethane cracker.

The company submitted a thick application for the project last year, and the township aired concerns about possible noise, pollution and traffic at the enormous facility. A public hearing on the permit last month stretched over two days before the supervisors delayed their decision and ultimately decided last week to approve a motion to draft it that led to Wednesday's approval.

Supervisors have asked Shell to conduct monthly noise and lighting studies as well as traffic reviews, according to local news media reports. The facility would be built on about 400 acres near the Ohio River in Potter and Center Townships. It would have the capacity to consume roughly 100,000 b/d of ethane and the ability to produce 1.5 million metric tons/year (mmty) of ethylene and 1.6 million mmty of polyethylene, both building blocks for plastics.

Site preparation has been under way for months now and construction of the facility is slated to begin early next year. A subsidiary of Shell is also planning to begin construction of a 94-mile ethane transport system late next year that would extend from Pennsylvania into West Virginia and Ohio to feed the plant.

The company is still waiting on other regulatory approvals from the state to amend its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and Air Quality Plan. During construction, Shell has said 6,000 people would be employed followed by another 600 permanent employees once the plant is operational in the early 2020s.

Construction is already under way on six new crackers in Texas and Louisiana, the Energy Information Administration said this week. The U.S. petrochemical industry has gained an advantage with low-cost shale gas and billions of dollars are being invested in new ethylene capacity and other derivatives expansions. Shell's facility is expected to start a second wave of construction on ethylene facilities planned to enter service next decade.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which on Thursday praised Potter Township's decision in a statement, said that as of this month 281 chemical industry projects valued at $170 billion have been announced. Half of those, ACC said, are completed or under construction.

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