The Shell Polymers Monaca plant opened Tuesday along the Ohio River in Potter Township, Beaver County, just 13 miles from Pittsburgh International Airport
Estimated to have cost as much as $6 billion, the plant is expected to have an enormous impact on southwestern Pennsylvania, including the airport.
“This plant is the largest investment in Pennsylvania since the mid-century and one of the largest of its kind in North America,” Hilary Mercer, senior vice president Shell Polymers, wrote on social media Tuesday.
“Shell Polymers’ customers will use our polyethylene to create products that we see and use every day—consumer packaging, pipe, conduit, and many more lifestyle solutions.”
The refinery, built on a 384-acre site once home to a zinc smelter will produce 3.5 billion pounds of polyethylene annually by the second half of 2023, according to Shell. The plant creates ethylene by chemically “cracking” ethane from gas wells by heating it in furnaces.
Ethylene is used in a variety of everyday products, including bottles for household cleaners and milk, grocery bags, agricultural mulch, tires and antifreeze.
Shell says the site, the first major polyethylene manufacturing complex in the northeastern U.S., offers customers shorter supply chains and enhanced flexibility for polyethylene pellet access.
Offshoot benefits from the plant likely will surface at PIT, Allegheny County Airport Authority officials said.
Additional passenger traffic could result, starting between Pittsburgh and Shell’s global headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. Authority officials have said traffic increases also could occur between Pittsburgh and domestic cities with energy company headquarters, such as Dallas, Denver and Houston, where Shell’s U.S. headquarters is located.
Vince Gastgeb, the authority’s Senior Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs, noted that traffic also could be bolstered by the anticipated influx of companies expected to locate to the airport corridor now that the plant is operational.
Shell has stated that in addition to its 600 employees, several thousand more in private industry and the public sector will be necessary to support the facility.
Gastgeb also noted that PIT’s proximity to the Southern Beltway, which opened in October 2021, also will provide significant development opportunities near the airport.
The 13-mile highway connects the airport to Interstate 79 near the Southpointe office park in Washington County. Like the Shell plant, the roadway is seen by economic development officials as a catalyst for bringing additional businesses and jobs to the region.
“The ascension won’t be immediate. It will be gradual,” Gastgeb said. “But the airport is right in the middle of this ecosystem. With the Shell plant and the Southern Beltway so close, the underpinning is strong.”