BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. (WKBN) – While tens of thousands drive past it every day, most people do not get a decent perspective of “the cracker plant” in Beaver County from the ground.
Recently, 27 First News was invited by Valley Congressman Bill Johnson to the giant Shell Chemical plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Roughly 5,000 construction workers are here now, but that could grow to 6,000 by the end of the year.
“And in terms of what you see, we’re at the point now where we’ve erected most of the large structures and what will be occurring here, looking ahead, is connecting the various pieces,” said Michael Marr from Shell Chemical.
The plant sits on more than 300 acres bounded by I-376 and the Ohio River, where barge traffic can be seen bringing equipment for the plant that was simply too large to get there any other way.
“Without that, in a theoretical world where we didn’t have an Ohio River, we couldn’t have built the facility,” Marr said.
Marr said the plan has access to highway, rail lines and the river.
The plant also sits near the center of the Marcellus Shale natural gas play, as well as a big chunk of Shell’s potential customer base.
“Within a 700-mile radius are 70% of the North American polyethylene manufacturers, so they’re the people who will buy our products from us,” said Marr.
Once the plant is operating, it will take ethane extracted from natural gas drilling and pumped from processing plants in Cadiz, Ohio and Washington County, Pennsylvania.
It will be converted to ethylene in a process known as “cracking” and formed into small pellets.
These are used in all manner of plastic products from piping to food packaging.
Marr said eventually the plant will hire about 600 operators, engineers and safety and environmental workers.
“They will be, as you say, both highly skilled and good-paying jobs for certain,” Marr said.
Marr said roughly half of the plant’s operators are from Ohio and the company has already taken steps to ensure would-be workers have the skills they need coming in.
“We worked with the local community college to establish a process-technology degree program and that is really the gateway into becoming an operator in the facility,” he said.
Beyond the plant, there will be spin-off jobs. Marr said the plant will ship off upward of 100 rail cars of polyethylene pellets each day and the congressman thinks that’s just the beginning.
“Plastics and textile manufacturers are going to be looking for ways to come into this region because they can park their operations right near their raw materials,” Johnson said.
In the meantime, construction here and on pipelines continues. There are still 100 cranes operating here, including one that’s the second largest of its kind in the world, taller than the Statue of Liberty.
“It’s nicknamed “the mother of all cranes.” It’s nearly 700 feet tall. It’s been here for several months. It’ll be here until October,” Marr said.
Work could take another year and a half to complete.