Shell Polymers Tour

September – October 2021

On a beautiful Wednesday morning, 14 manufacturers in the Shale POWER region joined with economic development professionals, the Shale POWER leadership team and Shell’s Chris Jackson for an information-packed perimeter tour of Shell’s new complex in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.  Chris Jackson is the Production Unit Manager of Logistics for Shell Polymers. The approximately $10 billion facility will be operational next year where Shell will be manufacturing polyethylene from regionally produced ethane.  

The tour’s purpose was to help regional manufacturers learn more about Shell’s operations so they can determine whether their products and services have a market in the value chain. 

Following a safety overview and background on the polyethylene, we learned about the strategic location next to a river for a plant of this scale to receive equipment during the construction phase and to access cooling water throughout its operation.  Some plant utilities are up and running prior to the site operation, including the water and wastewater treatment plants.  In designing the plant, Shell is collecting all water from across the site to run through its wastewater treatment plant.  Shell is generating its own electric power at the site from natural gas, selling the excess to the grid now.  Even at full operation, there will likely be excess power to sell since the plant was built with reliability in mind.

Participants viewed the expansive plant from across the Ohio River while traveling from Industry, PA to the first stop on Shell’s property, on the southern side of the newly rebuilt Route 18.  At this point, we saw the large COVID testing area that Shell stood up quickly to allow for construction to continue during the pandemic.  On-site safety training takes place in this area for such tasks as scaffolding and welding.  A highlight at this stop was the trucking dispatch center – a hub of the logistics plan for the plant.  About 80 trucks per day will be loaded at peak volume, representing about 30% of the total plant output.  Shell has designed an approach whereby the truck drivers are able to quickly hitch to the full trailer, eliminating costly wait times.  

Shell now owns about 3,600 rail cars that will be responsible for carrying the majority of its products.  Approximately 37 miles of rail track is dedicated to Shell’s use, with about 27 of that proximate to the site and an additional 10 miles at a McKees Rocks facility.  Tour participants appreciated the logistics complexity of shipping millions of pounds of resin across four different categories of polyethylene (prime, non-prime, off spec and scrap) by multiple modes of transportation.

The second stop of the tour overlooked the entire plant from a vantage point close to the Beaver Valley mall, presenting the opportunity to identify the major processing equipment that will convert ethane to ethylene, then to polyethylene.  This stop also presented a good opportunity for a group photo.

The tour’s third stop was at the Community College of Beaver County where we were joined by Dr. Roger Davis, President and John Goberish, Dean of Workforce and Continuing Education to learn more about the Shell Center for Process Automation and other programs available to manufacturers.   It will be key for personnel to be trained on process technology equipment before being in the field.

As the plant prepares for next year’s transition from construction to operations, the construction team and the EPC company, Bechtel, will leave, and the Asset team will lead operations, assisted by multiple contractors.  About 400-500 have already been hired for the Asset team, with at least 100 more to be hired.

The final leg of the tour took us to Aliquippa, with its long history of industry in the region.  We were met by Chuck Betters, responsible for redevelopment of former steel industry properties in the area.  During construction of Shell’s plant, this large area along the Ohio River was used to stage the materials required for construction prior to transport to the plant by truck and rail.  The CSX rail line provides a direct connection between the Aliquippa sites and Shell’s.  Looking ahead, manufacturers and other key supply chain partners of the Shell plant would find the properties available in Aliquippa attractive.  And they also present an opportunity to appreciate the Pittsburgh region’s industrial legacy and be part of its manufacturing future.

As a result of the tour, manufacturers learned about the benefits of a local source of polyethylene pellets to existing and new downstream users, as well as the ability to work closely with the Shell team to develop a custom product for manufacturers’ needs.  Participants also received an appreciation for the many operational and maintenance requirements to maintain the facility.

The Shale POWER team continues to identify ways for the regional companies to diversify and expand their business opportunities . Through the development of workshops, online resources and a Supplier Directory, Shale POWER is helping to connect manufacturers to the energy supply chain. 

By: Katie Klaber

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