Energy Voice | Shell reaches milestone on plastics plant in Northeast, potentially a Gulf competitor

Shell has completed a substantial step in the construction of its plastics production complex in Pennsylvania, a project expected to catalyze similar developments in the Northeast if the region continues to build the pipelines and storage needed to support a petrochemicals hub rivaling that along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The oil major’s petrochemicals unit has installed the project’s largest piece of equipment: a 285-foot cooling and condensation tower for gas and other hydrocarbons. It spent more than three weeks in transit up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and required the one of the world’s largest cranes to lift it into place.

The company is building an ethane cracker, which processes the natural gas liquid ethane into ethylene, which will be the feedstock for on-site production of polyethylene, the world’s most common plastic. Three units will churn out 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene a year to be sold as tiny plastic pellets for use in packaging, automobiles, furniture and consumer goods.

The project is the largest of its kind in the Northeast, which has lagged the U.S. Gulf Coast in petrochemical developments despite ample supplies of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations spanning Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. The region is home to numerous companies that produce bottles, packaging and other goods, but the plastic pellets needed to make them often come from elsewhere.

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