- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Shell Oil Co. plans to hold public meetings Wednesday to discuss the possibility of building a huge petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania.

In early 2012, Shell chose a site about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh for the possible multibillion-dollar plant, and the company has purchased property in the area and sought bids from suppliers. That same year, it also got what lawmakers call Pennsylvania’s largest ever taxpayer-financed incentive package.

But Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Windon said there’s still no guarantee that the project will be built.

“No final decisions to build the project have been made,” Windon said, adding that the meetings are “simply an opportunity for people to meet with Shell representatives, and for us to seek their input as we continue with our project evaluation.”

The possible ethane cracking plant would convert ethane from bountiful shale natural gas and oil into more profitable chemicals which are then used to produce plastics, tires and other products. Cracker plants use extreme heat, high pressure and then extreme cold to break the ethane molecules into smaller chemical components. Such plants look similar to a gasoline refinery, with miles of pipe and large storage tanks. The final complex could cover several hundred acres.

In 2012, state lawmakers passed - and Gov. Tom Corbett signed - legislation that could give Shell tax credits worth $1.7 billion or more for 25 years, beginning in 2017, if the plant is built.

In December, Shell extended its option to buy a 300-acre parcel from Horsehead Corp., and the new agreement includes plans to start demolishing an existing zinc plant in early 2014 at Shell’s expense.

Shell, which has its U.S. headquarters in Houston, has estimated that a new cracker plant could employ several hundred people, lead to the growth of related businesses and create up to 10,000 construction jobs.

The two public meetings are scheduled for the Shadow Lakes club in Hopewell, near the proposed plant site. One will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and another from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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