Renewed hope: An extended option looks good for the Shell plant

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It’s not the answer that a job-hungry region wanted to hear, but it’s still one that leaves room for hope.

The announcement Thursday that Horsehead Corp. and Shell Chemical LP have extended their land option agreement to give the division of Royal Dutch Shell more time to decide whether to build a massive petrochemical plant in Beaver County is positive news as far as it goes.

This third agreement on 340 acres in Potter and Center townships has an undisclosed expiration date and allows Horsehead, the property owner which has a smelter on the site, to begin demolition while Shell covers the cost. In the meantime, Shell will continue to examine its plans, the location and its competing projects before making a final decision on building a multibillion-dollar “cracker” that will process some of the nearby supply of Marcellus Shale natural gas liquids into feedstock for petrochemical products such as plastics.

The proposed plant, which Gov. Tom Corbett aggressively courted with tax incentives against the stiff competition from other states, could host several hundred permanent jobs and generate thousands of others during construction and the subsequent development of plastic manufacturing sites in the region.

Other recent news suggests that the cracker ultimately will be built here. Shell continues to discuss property acquisitions with other owners. The corporation has negotiated commitments from gas companies to provide ethane to the cracker. Shell’s parent company canceled plans for a project in Louisiana that would have competed with the Western Pennsylvania plant.

These are all good signs for the Beaver County project. What remains is the final, official word from Shell that the plant is a go. With so much opportunity possible, the region will just have to keep its fingers crossed a little longer.

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