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Report: Benefits from Western PA Petrochemical Plant To Come?

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Thursday, December 9, 2021   

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Beaver County will soon be the home of the largest petrochemical plant in the Appalachia region, but a new report cautions with the project near completion, the promise of an economic boom for Western Pennsylvania so far has not materialized.

Shell's Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex, an ethane cracker plant, was announced in 2012 and is expected to open in 2022 or 2023. The Ohio River Valley Institute's recent report found over the last decade, Beaver County has seen no reduction in poverty, and once construction is complete, the 6,000 temporary jobs will reduce to 600 permanent work opportunities.

Eric de Place, research fellow at the Ohio River Valley Institute, said the realities in the county are dire.

"Since the project was announced, the county has lost population," de Place observed. "It actually lost businesses. It has fewer people employed now in that county than it did before the project was announced. So, if you're another community thinking about petrochemicals, I would say Beaver County is a big red warning flag."

Once fully operational, the plant is expected to produce 1.6 million tons of polyethylene each year. In an attempt to attract Shell to the region, state lawmakers approved a $1.6 billion tax break for the company, the largest ever in state history.

A recent study from Robert Morris University found the Shell plant could add nearly $4 billion to the Pennsylvania economy annually, with hundreds of millions of dollars going directly to Beaver County.

But de Place noted headwinds in the petrochemical industry make it worth questioning if the project will be viable in the future.

"As the cracker facility opens, and as it shifts to actually producing polyethylene, let's continue to look back at the track record on the ground and compare it to the promises and see whether economic growth happens or not," de Place urged. "We can use that to make decisions about the relative tradeoffs, there are some environmental impacts, of course, with a project that size."

The Ohio River Valley Institute report found income did increase in Beaver County, with median income unadjusted for inflation growing at the same rate as the U.S. as a whole, and slightly faster than the state overall.

Disclosure: Ohio River Valley Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, and Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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