Here’s what Shell’s ethane cracker means for Western PA

The oil and gas industry took off in Western Pennsylvania right around 2008. Digging deep into the Marcellus and even deeper into the Utica, operators are biting away at vast layers of shale. Turning the drill bit ever so slightly and kicking out into the lateral, producing natural gas has never been more economic. Now, combine this with hydraulic fracturing and you’ve got two tremendous technologies working hand in hand.

With the duo of the Marcellus and Utica, both dry and wet gases are being pushed down the pipes. When developing shale resources in wet gas, natural gas liquids (NGLs) are being captured.

When upstream kicks the can to midstream, substantial amounts of NGLs are being handled. Most of these NGLs are either being held in storage or shipped down to south to Texas or Louisiana for downstream refining. Shipping from north to south with a downturn of commodity prices – this may seem nonsensical.

This is where Shell’s Beaver County ethane cracker plant comes into play – leveraging resources that are already here to create a by-product, “cracking” ethane into ethylene. After waiting for the official announcement of this project for years, the approved start of the cracker has finally come to fruition.

Here’s what the Shell ethane cracker means for Western PA:

More good paying jobs

When the shale industry took off in this region, jobs were plentiful, whether it was blue-collar or white-collar work. Witnessing this in my backyard, I took a deep interest in this cyclical industry.

When the American shale revolution took a nose-dive in 2014, the industry went lean. It was a tough time for many. I have personally seen friends and family members lose their jobs. I have seen internships cut and graduating seniors shoved to the side.

Shell’s cracker will reenergize this industry and put people back to work. Shale will make a quicker comeback because of this project.

Moving gas, lifting supply

As mentioned above, oil and natural gas prices tanked in 2014 due to oversupply and an unanticipated decrease in demand. Pipelines are scarce and gas isn’t being moved quick enough. Markets are hungry for gas and midstream is playing catch-up with upstream.

Shell’s cracker will alleviate some of this stagnant pipeline growth. With the combination of cranking pipelines online and Shell’s cracker, Western PA is poised to dominate the shale industry.

Creating long-term growth, sustainability

It’s known that there are activists of fracing and the industry altogether. If Shell is investing close to $6 billion on this project, you know shale is here to stay. Out of all the places in the country, Shell chose Western PA. Let that sink in.

Western Pennsylvanians are going to have to embrace this industry for the long haul.

The Marcellus & Utica, a place to call home 

This ethane cracker instills optimism and what we’ve already known all along – this industry is here to stay for a long, long time. We’re located on top of unrivaled shale resources in one of the largest plays in the world. Subsequently, Shell is investing in the Marcellus and Utica to further develop this region and its rich assets.

Shell’s cracker will further eliminate our dependency on foreign oil and negotiating with countries that don’t like us very much.  This is also a gateway into making things in America and revitalizing America’s manufacturing

No longer are young Pittsburghers going to leave this area, jobs are here to stay and will be on the upswing with this cracker underway.

Sticking it to OPEC

OPEC reeled open the spickets and flooded the market with oil, creating a whirlwind that shook the industry. Part of OPEC’s plan worked and many operators and service companies have filed for bankruptcy. But, this plan will not be sustainable for much longer.

Much of the countries in the cartel are struggling to survive. There is current speculation that Saudi Arabia and others will choke back.

Regardless, Shell’s ethane cracker will depressurize the current situation and hopefully create an uptick in American shale.

By this point, OPEC needs to realize that unconventional American shale is not going anywhere. We’re staying put, and our boots will stick right here in Western PA.

Adam Larson is the President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers at Penn State University and is a junior Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering student from Pittsburgh, PA.

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