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Has the Shell cracker plant fallen short on its economic promise? Residents and researchers say it's a bust

Has the Shell cracker plant lived up to expectations?
Has the Shell cracker plant lived up to expectations? 04:46

MONACA, Pa. (KDKA) — The Shell cracker plant came to Beaver County with the promise of creating thousands of new jobs and spawning a new industry in the Ohio River Valley. 

But one-and-a-half years into operations, researchers and some disgruntled citizens said the plant's not only been an environmental bane but an economic bust. 

In building the plant, Shell had promised only minor environmental impacts. But since it became operational, the oil giant has shelled out $10 million in fines for exceeding its permitted air emission limits. And over in the town of Beaver, residents said not only does the cracker plant smell bad, but it has fallen short on the economic front.

"It's not good for the environment, and it definitely did not generate the jobs that areas that supported it did," Barbara Leheny said. "I think Beaver people did support it because they thought it was going to bring the jobs in, and it didn't."

"I know what they promised," Brandon Verrico said. "A lot of commercial buildings, a lot of jobs that were going to come here outside the cracker plant, and I haven't really seen the development of the land. I've only seen the development of the land for Shell itself."

In courting the plant, state and local governments gave Shell $1.6 billion in tax abatement and incentives in hopes that the massive plastic production facility would spawn spin-off businesses and create thousands of new jobs.

While it's true that close to 20,000 construction workers who built the plant gave a shot in the arm to Beaver County restaurants, hotels and suppliers, those workers are now gone. 

Today, it takes only 600 workers to run the cracker. And while supporters believe it would spawn a new petrochemical industry in the Ohio River Valley, that has not materialized.

"I don't know of a single manufacturing facility that has arrived in the region, specifically in order to be near the cracker," Sean O'Leary of the Ohio River Institute said. 

In a statement, Shell says it has "spent millions and millions of dollars with local businesses since construction began, and donated millions to local non-profits to make our communities better places to live."

And while saying it did not promise to lure other companies here, Shell points to a Robert Morris University study that predicted the plant would generate "11,197 outside jobs and with a total labor income of approximately $1 billion annually."

But in its report, "Pennsylvania's Bad Bet: Why Shell Didn't Save Appalachia With Plastics," the Ohio River Valley Institute said the plant has generated little, if any, outside employment. Though Beaver County saw a spike in jobs during the cracker's construction, the latest statistics show they've plummeted since.

"Beaver County is now at a low point in jobs for this entire century so far," O'Leary said. "They are in far worse shape than they were before the cracker construction started."

And even those who championed the cracker as an economic generator concede it's come up short.

"It hasn't lived up to the hype and at least early expectations that everyone had," said Charles Homan with the Beaver County Partnership for Community and Economic Growth. 

Homan, chairman of the Beaver County Partnership for Community and Economic Growth, believes the cracker plant could still produce jobs and development, but he says the fact that it hasn't is partly a failure in local leadership. He said the county hasn't been proactive in assembling properties and offering incentives to entice companies to locate in Ohio Valley.

"Our leadership either needs to change the culture of leadership in Beaver County or we need different leadership," Homan said. 

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