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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Trump reschedules visit to Beaver County cracker plant

An aerial view of the Shell ethylene cracker plant being built in Potter in June. (Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette)

JONAH S. BERGER: AUG 8, 2019

President Donald Trump has rescheduled a visit to a cracker plant in Beaver County to Tuesday after  postponing the trip — originally scheduled for this week — in the wake of two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

Mr. Trump will tour Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical complex in Potter Township and is expected to tout his efforts to boost employment in the manufacturing and energy sectors.

A White House official confirmed the plans for Mr. Trump’s rescheduled visit.

The cracker plant and its derivative units, when completed, will transform ethane from Marcellus and Utica shale gas into plastic pellets. The conversion process involves heating up ethane to form ethylene, which forms the basis of plastics.

The multi-billion dollar project, which broke ground in 2018, has garnered support from state politicians on both sides of the aisle.

In 2012, then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, helped Shell procure a tax break for every barrel of ethane it buys from Pennsylvania’s oil and gas operators. Because the 340-acre site — which once held the largest zinc smelter in the country — is a Keystone Opportunity Zone, Shell will also receive 15 years of tax cuts and exemptions.

The subsidy package — which could reach $1.65 billion over 25 years — is one of the largest in state history.

Current Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has supported the plant’s construction as well, saying in 2016 that he believed the tax breaks would pay for themselves. He also expressed hope the plant could attract industry to the region.

The construction project is expected to employ 6,000 workers at “peak construction” later this year, according to a Shell spokesperson. The plant is slated to employ approximately 500 permanent workers once completed.

Opposition to the ongoing project has come from several environmental groups. Between 2015 and 2017, Shell spent roughly $80 million to clean up contamination at the site, and the company reached a deal with environmental groups in August 2017 to monitor pollution from the plant.

Terrie Baumgardner, a field organizer for the Clean Air Council, a party to the 2017 agreement, said Thursday she remains worried about the pollution that will come with the plant and associated fracking wells, especially given that Beaver County has received an F grade for ozone levels in a report from the American Lung Association.

“This is not going to improve the air quality in Beaver County,” she said. “We have green alternatives if people are willing to pursue them.”

Another cracker plant is planned just 60 miles west in Shadyside, Ohio, also using ethane from the Appalachian basin. Ms. Baumgardner said she worried the new plants will serve as an “anchor” for a larger “petrochemical buildout” in the region, which she argued could have an impact not only on local health but also efforts to fight climate change.

Jonah S. Berger: [email protected] or 412-263-1941.

Updated at 5:32 p.m. on Aug. 8, 2019

SOURCE

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