Shell Plastic Plant

Massive Shell plastic factory in western PA in the works, will employ over 5,000

We hear about plant closings all the time—probably far more than we’d like. However, in western Pennsylvania, Shell’s massive “cracker” ethylene plant is nearing the finish line; still under construction but expected to be online by 2020. You might’ve heard of it, too, as the project has grabbed national headlines as it nears the operational stage. President Trump mentioned it just this week. Also, a recent New York Times article discussed its “Lego-like” appearance as well as the worthwhile debate of plastic pollution vs. job creation. Here, we’ll dive into the statistics, particulars, and purpose of the plant.shellplant

On June 7, 2016, Royal Dutch Shell announced it was building a $6 billion chemical plant in Beaver County, located in western Pennsylvania about 25 miles from Pittsburgh. Four years in the making, this project was the result of the collective efforts between the Governor’s Action Team and two administrations working with Shell to reach the final decision. A potential “game-changer” according to, the plant will create thousands of jobs (likely upwards of 5,000) in Pennsylvania while expanding and creating market opportunities for downstream manufacturing and job creation.

In 2015, Shell began preparing the site for future construction, moving 7.2 million cubic yards of dirt, building new bridges and a new rail line, and completing a total relocation of PA Route 18. Construction on the plant itself began on November 8 2017, and is expected to continue through the early 2020s. As of 2019, over 5,000 employees are working on construction. The site will have four processing units, three of which will be polyethelene and one ethane cracker, a natural gas power plant to support both the plant and the local electric grid, a 900 ft (270 m)-long cooling tower, a rail system with over 3,000 freight cars, numerous loading facilities for both trains and trucks, a water treatment plant, an office building, a laboratory, and an innovation center once construction is complete.

On September 20, 2018, two of the world’s largest cranes arrived on site. The largest of the pair is almost 700 feet (210 m) tall and can lift 3,500 tons at a time, and is used around the globe on megaprojects. The smaller of the two is 430 feet (130 m) tall and can lift about 2,300 tons in its current configuration.


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