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Pennsylvania leaders debate ethane cracker pros and cons in their area


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

Royal Dutch Shell’s cracker plant is shown under construction in Potter Township, Beaver County, in October.
(Intelligencer photo by Celeste Van Kirk)

MONACA, Pa. — The 42-mile drive from Washington to Potter Township represents the proverbial scenic route as it winds through rural and wooded areas north into Beaver County.

Eventually, the relative tranquility gives way to the panorama of a massive construction project: the Shell Chemical Appalachia Petrochemical Complex, taking shape on a 340-tract along the Ohio River and representing a $6 billion investment by one of the giants of the oil and gas industry, Royal Dutch Shell.

The purpose of the plant is to break up molecules of ethane — a byproduct of the tri-state region’s natural gas stream being tapped by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — into smaller molecules as a step in the creation of plastics. By industry parlance, the process involves molecules being “cracked,” hence the common reference to cracker plants.

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