The big news in the greater Pittsburgh area this week is the announcement that Shell has selected a location in Beaver County to build a cracker plant. Pennsylvania won out over other sites in West Virginia and Ohio. Environmental and engineering studies need completed before Shell makes its final decision to move forward with the project. The budget to build such a plant could exceed one billion dollars. More importantly, as many as 10,000 construction jobs could be created to support this project. In the long term, permanent jobs relating to engineering, manufacturing, high-tech and chemistry will be created for an economically depressed area.
The question many are asking is, “What is a cracker plant”? Cracking is the process whereby complex organic molecules such as heavy hydrocarbons are broken down into simpler molecules. This cracking plant will break down the heavy hydrocarbons into light hydrocarbons, or in other words, convert the ethane found in natural gas into ethylene. Ethylene is an organic compound used as plant hormones (fertilizers) and is, widely used in the plastics industry. The strategic fit to our geographic area is the abundance of natural gas being supplied by the Marcellus Shale reserves.
This announcement is a prime example of how Marcellus Shale is benefiting our area. The benefits go beyond the energy sector. Industries such as engineering, trucking and hospitality have already been benefactors of Marcellus Shale, and now the cracker plant will increase jobs in other industries. It is important that the area continue to embrace these opportunities and entice other companies to grow and invest here. Marcellus Shale is giving our area a chance to be economically strong for many years to come in a variety of industries. Taking advantage of this opportunity and others like it is imperative to growth and economic stability in our region.
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