Shell Ethane-Cracker Plant Moves Forward with Local Approval

Potter moved a step closer Wednesday night to approving Shell Chemical Co.’s petrochemical complex along the Ohio River in Beaver County after an impassioned and disruptive hearing.

The township supervisors, braving a 10-hour hearing in mid-December on Shell’s conditional use application, adjourned that meeting with lingering questions about noise, traffic and light pollution from the plant. They also requested more information about the ethane pipeline that would carry the product to the plant.

On Wednesday, as Potter’s solicitor, Mike Jones, chronicled dozens of exhibits submitted by Shell in support of its application, about 20 people in attendance held up signs that read “Deficient: DENY.”

In their laps, they held another piece of paper anticipating the supervisors vote. It read “Disaster Decision.”

Two police officers hovered close to a young man whose testimony on the plant at a hearing before the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection last month turned into a tirade against all things plastic, fossil, and fuel.

The supervisors wondered how they would know whether the noise, traffic and lighting thresholds that were being set by the permit would actually be adhered to.

But many in the audience weren’t interested in tweaking details. They wanted a wholesale repudiation of the plant and the industry. One woman praised Shell for remediation work on the former Horsehead zinc smelter site and suggested the company simply put a solar farm on the land.

When supervisors chairwoman Rebecca Matsco proposed a motion for Potter’s solicitor to draft language approving the permit with conditions, the crowd erupted in chants of “No.”

When the motion was approved, they switched to “Shame.”

“We will ask for order,” Ms. Masco said.

“Maybe the public wants disorder,” shouted Margaret Baco, a registered nurse who came to testify against the plant.

“Standing Rock stands,” said Beth McAhren, who earlier urged the supervisors to “have courage” and be the “David to Goliath.”

Michael Marr, who later said he appreciated the time and diligence that Potter Township supervisors had put into reviewing Shell’s application, said the meeting’s tone and pitch didn’t deviate much from others around the country where Shell has proposed large projects.

The supervisors still need to approve the exact language of the permit approval at a later public hearing.

As in previous township meetings, Shell had more than a dozen company officials and lawyers on hand, this time to address questions about the ethane pipeline that will supply the cracker plant. The plant will take ethane, a natural gas liquid plentiful in the Appalachian region, and transform it into pellets to be used in the manufacture of plastics.

The Shell plant will have three pipelines feeding it — one for ethane, another for natural gas, and a third for nitrogen. Shell Pipeline Co. and Shell Chemical officials couldn’t speak to the natural gas and nitrogen lines, saying they were still in preliminary stages.

But the pipeline company provided some details on the Falcon Ethane pipeline, a 94-mile pipe that will collect ethane from three gas processing plants — in Houston, Washington County, and two points in Ohio — and is already under development.

It was named for the peregrine falcon, an indigenous bird, because “we wanted to make a connection to the area,” pipeline manager Sean Guillory explained.

The firm has already secured a dozen easements from Beaver County landowners and several in Allegheny County, according to county records. Virginia Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the company, said some 200 landowners in Pennsylvania have been contacted by Shell for pipeline survey work and easements. The 12-inch diameter pipeline will go through Beaver, Allegheny and Washington counties, three counties in Ohio and one in West Virginia.

Construction on the multibillion-dollar plant, which will employ 600 people when it is operational and 6,000 for construction, is expected to start two years from now, and Shell will be applying for federal and state permits this summer.

Anya Litvak: or 412-263-1455.