At the annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh this past week, Shell Chemical Appalachia discussed their ethane cracker plant project and the equipment and structures that will be taking shape in the next year at the Monaca, PA site. The site, a former zinc smelting plant, has been cleared, and electric, sewer and foundational infrastructure has been put in place.
Todd Whittemore, Polyethylene Global Technology Manager for Shell stated the facility would be self-contained, having its own natural gas-fired power plant, water treatment plant, and an emergency response team. Besides the ethane cracker, there will also be structures to make polyethylene pellets, a cooling tower, control building, offices and transloading facilities. The plant will be the first built by the company in the US in the last half century, the last being built in Louisiana.
The advantage of being located close to the feedstock supply and within a 700-mile radius of the majority of the North American polyethylene marketplace is what led the company to invest in the area.
The plant will employ up to 600 full-time workers, including chemical, mechanical and civil engineers, health, safety and environmental staff, pipefitters, electricians, boilermakers and technicians to operate the facility. David Ruppersberger, President of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance stated indirect jobs will be created in the area, such as companies to supply the plant with nitrogen and to repair and replace equipment components. With the production of pellets from the plant, more plastics manufacturing will move into the area.
The facility has received all its major permits for air quality, water discharge and wetlands. In August, Shell signed a settlement with the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project to operate a fenceline monitoring program in addition to the facility’s other plans for air monitoring to detect fugitive emissions and implement repairs as needed. If emissions above certain levels are detected, site workers would conduct a field investigation and develop a response if the facility is responsible. The company will also monitor and maintain the flares more frequently than its air permit requires. Earlier this year, The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approved an amendment to the facility's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, as stormwater treatment was required due to legacy contamination from the zinc smelting operations. Shell has worked to clean up the property, and the amended NPDES permit would allow treated wastewater to be discharged into the Ohio River and streams once the cracker is operational.
The facility, once completed, will convert ethane into 1.6 million tons of polyethylene per year. Low density and linear low density polyethylene (LDPE and LLDPE), commonly used for food packaging, film, diapers, and housewares, will be produced as well as high density polyethylene (HDPE) that is found in crates, drums, bottles and food containers. Other ethane cracker byproducts used to make fuels and other chemicals will be produced as well.
Information on the Shell project can be found on the Shell website.