MONACA, Pa. — The expansive Royal Dutch Shell chemical processing plant under construction on a big bend of the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania is one of the largest and most expensive projects ever to be built along the tributary.
It’s not only the plant’s mammoth scale that has attracted attention. Just as significant is the project’s location: 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, on a river that for four decades has been a corridor of Rust Belt industrial ruin.
That era is over, Shell executives say. The sentiment is shared by the region’s tradespeople, business executives and political leaders, who are eager to strengthen the economies of towns along the river.
For the first time in two generations, steel girders and worn tubing are not being dismantled along the banks of the upper Ohio and shipped away. Instead, new parts are being assembled by Bechtel, Shell’s primary contractor, into a world-scale, state-of-the-art chemical processor to convert liquid natural gas into polyethylene, a common plastic.
The 386-acre plant replaces a long-shuttered zinc smelter. It is among the most expensive industrial production projects ever built along the 981-mile Ohio River and the first sizable new factory on the Ohio since North American Stainless opened its metal manufacturing operation in 1992, downriver in Ghent, Ky.
“We repurposed a previous industrial area, and we created a place with new jobs to take the place of jobs at that old plant,” said Hilary Mercer, Shell’s vice president for Pennsylvania Chemicals, who is supervising the construction. “This was a huge steel area, and steel has largely disappeared. We are bringing a new industry to take its place.”
Shell never discloses the cost of its projects, said Ms. Mercer, who has worked for Shell for 31 years and overseen projects to build liquid natural gas processing plants in 12 other countries. But an economic analysis prepared several years ago for Shell by Robert Morris University and submitted to the state projected that the cost would be billion.
Trey Hamblet, vice president for global research of Industrial Info Resources, a consulting firm in Texas that tracks plant construction around the world, said that price was inaccurate. Based on his firm’s research and interviews, the Shell plant will cost at least billion, he said.
Shell ended its polyethylene production in 2005 in the face of increasing costs and growing competition, but it began evaluating a return in 2012. At the time, the colossal dimensions of the natural gas reserves bound up in shale formations deep beneath the rural upper Ohio River counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were becoming clearer, and technology was making it easier to tap those reserves.
In 2005, the first wells were drilled in the region. Since then, some 17,000 more gas wells have been drilled and hydraulically fractured under high pressure to release a torrent of “dry” methane for electrical generation and heating and “wet” gas liquids like ethane, pentane and propane.
During the same period, billions of dollars were spent on gas separation plants, pipelines, pumping stations, gas-fired electrical generating stations and shipping terminals. The investments turned the upper Ohio River Valley into the largest natural gas field in the United States. The region produced nine trillion cubic feet of fuel last year, a third of the national production.
The gas supply in the three-state region is enough to last at least half a century at current rates of consumption, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistics unit of the Department of Energy. The national market demand for polyethylene is projected to increase to 60 million metric tons over the next two decades, up from 40 million metric tons last year.
The company’s decision in June 2016 to build the plant opened the third stage of gas development: the production of ethane and polyethylene.
“One of Shell’s growth aspirations is in chemicals,” Ms. Mercer said. “If you look at chemical companies in the world, one of the largest growing sectors in chemicals is polyethylene. If you want to grow in chemicals, then logically you want to grow in polyethylene.”
Almost every polyethylene factory in the United States is on the Gulf Coast. But more than 70 percent of the American plastics manufacturing sector is within 700 miles of Shell’s plant, according to the findings of a 2017 IHS Markit study.
Proximity to markets, lower transportation costs and lower prices for ethane are competitive advantages that strengthened Shell’s decision to proceed, Ms. Mercer said. Shell was also encouraged by a .65 billion, 25-year tax reduction package offered by state lawmakers.
The Ohio River plant will subject ethane to high heat and pressure to “crack” the chain of carbon molecules to produce ethylene. When completed and operational in the early 2020s, the Shell plant will turn 1.6 billion gallons of ethane into 3.3 billion pounds of little white polyethylene beads annually.
More than 6,000 tradespeople and laborers will be on the site during the peak summer construction period. Some 600 full-time workers will manage automated technology to operate the completed plant. A 97-mile pipeline from gas separation installations in Ohio and West Virginia will supply ethane; a 250-megawatt gas-fired electrical generating station will power the plant.
The Shell plant is already drawing attention from competitors. In December, Ohio issued air-emissions and water-discharge permits to PTT Global Chemical of Thailand and its partner, South Korea’s Daelim Industrial, for a proposed polyethylene plant in Shadyside, about 80 miles downriver. That plant would be about the same size as Shell’s. Ohio lawmakers are discussing tax incentives valued at more than billion. PTT Global’s decision is expected this year.
China Energy Investment Corporation, the country’s largest energy company, signed a memorandum of understanding with West Virginia in 2017 to invest .7 billion in gas-related power, chemical and storage projects in the upper Ohio River Valley. The agreement was the largest among a number of deals that were announced during a summit meeting in Beijing between President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China.
All the activity has generated resistance from environmental and public health groups, which have expressed concern about the effects of the chemical corridor on air and water quality. Emissions of volatile organic chemicals into the air and discharges into the river will increase in an area that already has some of the nation’s worst pollution.
“Industry calls it a game changer,” said Dustin White, project coordinator for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in Huntington, W.Va. “We see it as game over.”
Real estate developers, though, are enjoying a rebound in construction.
Charles J. Betters, chairman of C.J. Betters Enterprises, a real estate company in neighboring Aliquippa, said his company had built retail, office and residential projects across the East but none for years near his home. He said he was now building 200 residential units and undertaking a major hotel renovation in Beaver County.
“This is the best thing to happen in our region in 40-plus years,” he said.
The leaders of the Community College of Beaver County, two miles from the plant, also anticipate sharp growth in the market for skilled labor. The college is training students to complete a two-year associate degree in chemical-processing technology that will earn many of them ,000 a year in starting salaries at the plant.
Such job opportunities and wages are starting to break through the deep economic and psychic torpor that gripped the region, said Roger W. Davis, the college president.
“People were still mourning the steel mills that closed in 1985,” Dr. Davis said. “We are moving into a new energy and manufacturing model.”
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【他】【是】【楚】【清】【河】，【从】【小】【他】【不】【明】【白】【水】【华】【年】【为】【什】【么】【无】【论】【多】【晚】【都】【要】【守】【在】【电】【话】【机】【旁】【等】【楚】【铭】【宗】【的】【电】【话】。 【他】【从】【小】【受】【到】【父】【亲】【的】【教】【育】，【就】【是】【不】【允】【许】【比】【别】【人】【差】，【只】【要】【做】【错】【一】【点】【事】【情】，【楚】【铭】【宗】【都】【会】【很】【生】【气】。 【小】【时】【候】【他】【还】【叛】【逆】，【不】【明】【白】【这】【是】【为】【什】【么】？【也】【不】【明】【白】【水】【华】【年】【那】【么】【漂】【亮】【的】【一】【个】【大】【美】【人】，【为】【什】【么】【能】【看】【上】【长】【相】【这】【么】【拙】【劣】【的】【楚】【铭】【宗】。 【楚】【铭】