November 27, 2022

MONACA, Pa. — Environmental groups rallied to monitor air and water quality in Beaver County in the weeks leading up to the opening of Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical cracker plant Nov. 15.

Several groups held a joint videoconference that drew more than 200 people who listened to how various organizations had begun testing air and water samples to establish a baseline ahead of the official opening of the plant along the Ohio River near Monaca.

While most people knew little about Marcellus Shale when the natural gas drilling boom began in western Pennsylvania in the late 2000s, environmental health project executive director Alison Steele said said groups like his work to educate the public on what to expect from the cracker factory.

At the time, she said various environmental groups had positioned numerous air and water monitoring stations in Beaver County, while Shell is required to monitor and share results from four sites of the plant and 20 around the property. The Peters Township-based group had also produced baseline test results from a “monitoring network” to see if there are any changes in the environment when the plant is operating. Steele said the group is pushing for accountability and trying to get comprehensive health policies from state regulators so residents aren’t the only ones “lead the fight”.

Steele also walked 225 attendees on a recent video conference through a brief history of the plant in which the Pennsylvania state government offered a $1.6 billion tax incentive to Shell to build the plant. here in exchange for 600 ongoing jobs. Construction of the plant began in November 2017 on the 340-acre property in Potter Township, which was once a zinc smelter.

“The question everyone asks is: ‘Why here? Why now?'” she says.


As renewable energy sources become more affordable, the natural gas industry has moved to find other production uses for its product. The cracking plant will separate ethane from natural gas to produce ethylene which enables the creation of plastic products commonly used by consumers.

Heather Hulton VanTassel, executive director of Three Rivers Waterkeeper, said even before the plant started up this month, her group had started to see evidence of some production, as they had found plastic “Nurds” in the river. Nurdles are produced at the factory and then shipped across the country for makers to create various plastic products. These small pellets can be ingested by wildlife or contain dangerous chemicals that can be released into the environment, she warned.

For the past few months, she said environmental groups have been working on boat patrols to find nurdles and have baseline water quality readings to let them know if there are any problems when the plant is fully operational. She said the environmental organization will continue to monitor water quality in the Ohio River and around its watershed to ensure no harmful chemicals are released that could endanger humans or the environment. wildlife.

She added that environmental organizations that monitor air and water quality do not want this area of ​​Beaver County to become a “sacrifice area” for industry.

“We are here to monitor the water” she says. “And we will work hard not to end up in this place. …”We press the DEP (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) to account.

An email sent to Royal Dutch Shell headquarters in the weeks before the plant started up about environmental concerns at the seminar did not receive an immediate response.


The plant located northwest of Pittsburgh International Airport, visible from Interstate 376, resembles a gasoline refinery, with miles of pipes and large storage tanks. The central manufacturing and logistics area covers approximately 385 acres, with an overall site footprint of approximately 800 acres. It includes its own power generation and water treatment plants.

The plant is the first major polyethylene manufacturing complex in the northeastern United States, according to Shell.

Most ethylene production is on the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. Shell says the location gives it a competitive advantage, with more than 70% of the US market for polyethylene within 700 miles of Pittsburgh.

Annual consumption of ethane in the United States has doubled over the past decade as the demand for ethylene has increased. Ethane consumption recently exceeded 2 million barrels per day, according to the Energy Information Administration, a branch of the US Department of Energy.

Shell’s plant in western Pennsylvania is estimated to add 96,000 barrels per day of ethane carrying capacity, the agency said.

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