Frackin’ & Crackin’ Plastic This Summer

The story ‘Preparing for Petrochemicals‘ by Rick Mullin appeared on Chemical & Engineering News (c&en) on May 9th. The author took a balanced approach to what this massive Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex (aka ‘cracker plant’) will mean to Beaver County and the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania tri-state region.

Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex

I’ve been closely following the development of this cracker plant for over a decade now, attending several presentations, including the initial one by Shell executives at a local high school, years before they had made their final construction decision.

The Horsehead Zinc Smelter previously occupied the site of Shell's Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex in Monaca, Pennsylvania

Development of the new facility has been a slow process, especially with Covid-19 ‘throwing a wrench in the works’ for the thousands of workers clustered together on the construction site. Due to this massive facility having to import extra air pollution credits, and then re-categorize some of them, there have been legitimate concerns about the adverse air quality effects over a large area.

Candlestick flare at the Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex in Beaver County, PA

One of the documents filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is dated January 26, 2015:

In the ‘Preparing for Petrochemicals’ story mentioned earlier, two quotes rang particularly true. The first, from Bob Schmetzer, Chairman of the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community (BCMAC), speaks of how air pollution gets trapped in western Pennsylvania valleys, and how it became deadly in our region’s Donora smog of 1948.

“The towns nearest the plant on the river, Vanport and Beaver, would be sitting ducks if plant emissions were trapped for days. I asked how they were going to get that smoke up over the hill when they have start-ups and shutdowns and emergencies. The engineers had no response.”

Bob Schmetzer, Chairman of BCMAC

The second quote from Matt Mehalik of the Breathe Project, alludes to the fact that decades of heavy industry and coal mining jobs have conditioned the local populace to more or less expect, and accept, the air and water pollution that comes along with jobs:

“When you talk to people on the street about Shell, you are talking to people who have endured the zinc plant, major coal-fired power plants, existing chemical plants, nuclear power plants, all at their doorstep for generations. There is a normalization of a deep acceptance of health consequences for employment.”

Matthew Mehalik, Executive Director of the Breathe Project
Power generation in the Pittsburgh tri-state area

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