Environmental advocacy groups, however, have fought it and predicted that it will generate more plastic pollution, compounds that form smog and planet-warming greenhouse gases. Shell said it is using the best available technologies to try to minimize air pollution.
A leading gas exploration trade association, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, hailed the opening of the refinery, calling it an “historic day for Pennsylvania.”
The natural gas boom in the vast Marcellus Shale gas reservoir beneath Appalachia attracted Shell to the area. In 2012, the state signed off on a tax break of up to $1.65 billion over 25 years to lure it, and later issued air and water permits to Shell, which began construction in 2017.
The plant looks very similar to a gasoline refinery, with miles of pipes and large storage tanks. The core manufacturing and logistics area covers about 385 acres (186 hectares), with an overall site footprint of about 800 acres. It includes its own power generation and water treatment plants.
The plant is the first major polyethylene manufacturing complex in the northeastern United States, according to Shell.
Most ethylene production is on the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana. Shell says the location gives it a competitive advantage, with more than 70% of the U.S. polyethylene market within 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) of Pittsburgh.
Annual U.S. ethane consumption has doubled in the past decade as demand for ethylene has grown. Ethane consumption recently rose above 2 million barrels per day, according to the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Shell's plant in western Pennsylvania is estimated to add 96,000 barrels per day of ethane feedstock capacity, the agency said.