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Shell Oil Considers Building Ethylene Cracker In Pittsburgh Region

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It's one more major example of just how huge this Marcellus Shale boom is becoming.

Shell Oil may build something called an ethylene cracker - a major petro-chemical plant - in our region. The plant is expected to spawn a whole new industry - producing ethylene - a by-product of shale drilling to make plastics.

KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan has a look at the benefits and the concerns.

Somewhere in the Pittsburgh region Shell wants to build the cracker complex. It would cost billions to construct, create more than 10 thousand jobs and spawn a whole new industry; but it also raises concerns among environmentalists who say not so fast.

The cracker refinery operated by Shell in Singapore is a sprawling petro-chemical complex covering a square half mile.

Shell has whittled down potential local sites for such a refinery to four - in Ohio, West Virginia or right here in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The company will make a decision by the end of the year, promising jobs and economic development.

"It would be the first large-scale, petro-chemical industry in this region in quite some time," said Bill Langin, of Shell Appalachia.

Shell says the cracker refinery will generate more than 10 thousand construction jobs, several hundred permanent jobs and claims there will be five spin-off jobs for every one of those.

Pennsylvania is pushing hard to get those jobs.

Gov. Tom Corbett's Office says: "We are vigorously pursuing the ethylene cracker. The Governor has been personally involved."

However, environmentalists want the state to put on the brakes.

Myron Arnowitt, of Clean Water Action, says there are lots of unanswered questions.

"It's going to be a very big pollution source," says Arnowitt. "What are the emission for this plant going to be? What kinds of control is this company willing to put in? What about accidents? What about hazards?"

To transport raw materials and the finished products, the company will require waterways and railroad access as well as a minimum of 250 acres – that's something Shell could find in many brownfield sites - abandoned mill properties along the Mon.

"We are considering both brownfield and green field sites," said Langin.

Still, Arnowitt and others don't know if we want to return to our industrial past.

"The region is just discovery we have three rivers here and there's a lot that's valuable about them besides floating industry there," he said.

So, we'll learn just where the cracker will go within the next few months. Then, the debate about it will begin in earnest.

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