Shell gets six more months to decide on cracker plant option

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MONACA – Horsehead Corp. says it has given Shell Oil Co. six more months to decide whether it wants to buy land for a proposed petrochemical plant in Potter Township, Beaver County.


Shell said in March that the site, about 35 miles north of Pittsburgh, was its first choice to build a $3.2 billion plant, but that extensive evaluations had to be done.


The purchase option with Horsehead, based in Robinson Township, Allegheny County, was set to expire Dec. 31. It will now run to June 30, 2013.


The so-called cracker plant would convert natural gas liquids from Marcellus Shale into more profitable chemicals such as ethylene, which is used to make plastics, tires and antifreeze and other products.


The site is currently home to a zinc smelter, which Horsehead plans to shut down next year.


Construction of the cracker plant, outside Monaca, could result in the creation of 17,000 jobs, according to an estimate by the American Chemical Council. Those positions would be at the plant or with businesses related to the operation.


Questions remain as to what many of those jobs will be, what skills will be necessary and whether there will be enough qualified candidates to fill them.


Linda Bell, vice president of the Washington-Greene County Job Training Agency, said in October that the state Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Information and Analysis was working with Shell to determine those answers. Bell said that process may take five years to complete.


Her agency works primarily with the unemployed or underemployed, retraining many people, It also serves Beaver County, and will work with those dislocated by the zinc plant’s closing. Some Horsehead employees will retire or accept jobs at the company’s new plant in North Carolina.


A Shell spokesperson could not be reached for further comment Wednesday.


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