Shell Starts US Cracker Complex in Pennsylvania

22.11.2022 - After a long delay, Shell has started up its controversial super-sized US ethane cracker and downstream polyethylene complex at Monaca in western Pennsylvania, close to the Utica and Marcellus shale basins in the heart of the US fracking industry.

Production of 1.6 million t/y of PE will be ramped up gradually up to full run by the second half of 2023. Altogether, the complex is made up of three plants; two are driven by gas-phase reactors, while a third uses a slurry reactor.

Shell’s project, the first such to be located in the Ohio river valley region or in the eastern United States, has been on the drawing boards for about ten years. Local officials aggressively wooed the energy and chemicals multinational with generous tax breaks, while environmental protection groups unsuccessfully tried to prevent its construction.

The London-based multinational’s investment was in part facilitated by the Pennsylvania arm of Resource Environmental Solutions, a private company formed for the purpose of negotiating ecological offsets for investors to help them obtain environment permits and limit their liability and regulatory exposure.

Shell chose the brownfield site of a former zinc smelter for its close proximity to cheap shale-derived feedstock, known in the industry as “advantaged feedstock.”

Ten years ago, the company said It expected the project to cost around $600 million. It has not publicly updated the price tag but, not least due to the many delays, the overall expenditure is generally believed to have been higher.

Shell Polymers Monaca (SPM), the subsidiary that will run the site, is reportedly benefiting from at least $1.7 billion in state tax credits, which will generate savings of around $66 million.

According to Shell, the location in shale country offers shorter supply chains and fits hand in glove with the energy giant’s “Powering Progress” strategy that is aimed at growing its chemicals business by delivering more high value products while reducing exposure to commodity chemicals.

In response to criticism of the ecological footprint the mega plant could have, Shell and his backers point to an expected economic boom in the depressed Appalachian area. Polishing environmental spurs already donned, the company notes that it is committed to the circular economy for plastics, it is a member of the plastics industry’s Clean Sweep zero pellet loss initiative and is a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist