A Plastics Plant Promised Pennsylvania Prosperity, but to Some Residents It’s Become a ‘Shockingly Bad’ Neighbor

Shell’s new ethane cracker was supposed to be an economic “game changer” for Beaver County. But some of its neighbors are now fleeing its light, noise and air pollution–and the facility is facing two lawsuits.

Share this article

The Shell plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania takes ethane and heats it to extremely high temperatures, “cracking” the molecular bonds holding it together to form ethylene and polyethylene pellets called nurdles. Credit: Mark Dixon/CC BY 2.0 Deed
The Shell plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania takes ethane and heats it to extremely high temperatures, “cracking” the molecular bonds holding it together to form ethylene and polyethylene pellets called nurdles. Credit: Mark Dixon/CC BY 2.0 Deed

Share this article

In 2014, when Jackie Shock-Stewart and her husband Matt Stewart first moved to Beaver County, Pennsylvania, they were only vaguely aware of plans to build a petrochemical facility in this largely suburban county on the western edge of the state.

Two years later, Shell officially announced the construction of a new ethane cracker plant that would produce millions of tons of plastic on 386 acres along the Ohio River at a site in Monaca, about two miles from their home 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The ethane would be sourced from natural gas from wells in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

Like many of their neighbors, the couple were not initially worried. “They did a really good and effective job of making it seem like a positive for the community,” Stewart said. “It was very much marketed as a modern, clean industry.” 

Pollution from the plant has been far more disruptive than most people expected. In May 2023, Shell was fined $10 million for air quality violations. Though it had only been operational for about six months, the plant had exceeded its 12-month emission limits for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hazardous air pollutants. 

We’re hiring!

Please take a look at the new openings in our newsroom.

See jobs

The same month, the Environmental Integrity Project and Clean Air Council filed a citizen suit against Shell over the Monaca plant to “redress and prevent repeated and ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act and the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act.”

In February 2024, a Beaver resident named John Flynn filed another lawsuit against Shell, seeking class-action status and alleging that Shell had “wrongfully and tortiously released substantial and unreasonable noxious odors, fugitive dust and light emissions” that “invaded” nearby properties and caused damages. The lawsuit defines its class of plaintiffs as anyone who lives within two miles of the facility.

“I think expectations from the beginning were extremely low,” said Anaïs Peterson, who is based in Pittsburgh and works as a petrochemicals campaigner for Earthworks, a nonprofit focused on fenceline communities and the impacts of oil, gas and minerals development. “It was very clear what kind of facility this was going to be. We all knew it was going to be bad, but it’s shockingly bad.”

Before Shell even began operations, Shock-Stewart noticed sweet smells in the air outside her home in 2021, and she began to wonder about the impact the facility could have on her family. (The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection cited Shell for “malodorous air contaminants” in September 2021.)

The plant takes ethane, a liquid hydrocarbon separated from fracked natural gas, and heats it to extremely high temperatures, “cracking” the molecular bonds holding it together to form ethylene and polyethylene pellets called nurdles. A plastics feedstock, the nurdles are then melted down to make everything from plastic bottles to car parts. 

Shock-Stewart reviewed map projections of the plant’s effects on air quality and saw that her children’s elementary school was “smack dab in the middle of an area of concern.” 

The Shell plant was expected to emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, PM2.5 fine particles, sulfur dioxide, VOCs and hazardous air pollutants. Both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are associated with respiratory health effects like shortness of breath, asthma and wheezing, and nitrogen oxide has been shown to have a “more serious” impact on children than on adults. 

Short-term exposure to a VOC like benzene, a known human carcinogen, can cause drowsiness, vomiting, convulsions and headaches; chronic exposure can lead to blood disorders and cancer. There are at least three elementary schools within a five-mile radius of the plant.

“We all knew it was going to be bad, but it’s shockingly bad.”

As she learned more, Shock-Stewart realized that she no longer felt comfortable living so close to the plant, and the couple decided to move to Ohio in 2022. “It was hard to imagine pulling up the roots that we had so carefully put down. We felt like we were really part of our community and had a lot of connections and a lot of friends,” Shock-Stewart said. “It was a very difficult decision. We didn’t want to leave our home and our community.”

Stewart said their decision to move was not “100 percent” because of the plant. “But I will say that if the Shell plant hadn’t been there I don’t think we would have ever considered leaving,” he said.

Two other families they knew in the area had also moved away because of the plant, Stewart said. “They had young kids, and the mothers of the family, just like Jackie, were particularly concerned and worried about their kids.”

With the plant now operational, some in Beaver County are asking if others will follow in the couple’s footsteps, leaving the area—or choosing not to move to the county at all—because of the plant. Like Shock-Stewart, residents and activists are concerned about the consequences of the plant’s air, water, light and noise pollution. They are worried about the number of air and water quality violations that Shell has accumulated in the months since start-up and what they see as a lack of transparency from the company about those violations. And they wonder what the plant will mean for Beaver County’s long-term fortunes.

For Shock-Stewart, leaving the Shell plant behind brought how much anxiety it was causing her into clearer focus. “I didn’t realize until we moved how much of that stress I was carrying all the time,” she said. “I was pretty constantly worried. And being away from it was just a real eye-opener.” The relief, she said, was “almost palpable.”

Like a Freight Train 24 Hours a Day

Nearly a decade ago, politicians and local officials hailed the Shell plant as a “once in a generation investment” that would create 6,000 temporary construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs and spur economic growth in a region that had yet to fully recover from the decline of the American steel industry. Then Democratic governor Tom Wolf said he was “elated” by the news and called the Shell project “a game changer.” To convince the company to commit to Pennsylvania, the state granted Shell $1.65 billion in subsidies in 2012.

But Shell’s presence in southwestern Pennsylvania has been marred by years of violation notices, malfunctions and lawsuits. Since 2017, DEP has issued 27 notices of violation to the plant, mainly for air quality. Most of the violations were issued after the plant began operations in the fall of 2022; the most recent is from earlier this month.

Set along the banks of the Ohio, the plant is close to several neighborhoods and towns, including Beaver, the charming county seat, where Hallmark has filmed exterior shots to use as a stand-in for “the quaint setting for some fictional northern town” in its Christmas movies. 

The Shell ethane cracker plant in Beaver County was fined $10 million for air quality violations in May 2023. Credit: Mark Dixon/CC BY 2.0 Deed
The Shell ethane cracker plant in Beaver County was fined $10 million for air quality violations in May 2023. Credit: Mark Dixon/CC BY 2.0 Deed

The now-complete petrochemical facility cuts a striking contrast to this quiet backdrop. “It’s like the eye of Sauron. It’s like hell opened up a portal above Beaver,” said Mark Dixon, an activist and filmmaker who lives in Pittsburgh and is leading a community air monitoring effort around the plant. He has also photographed the site. His photos show the sprawling plant emitting huge plumes of smoke, lit orange against the night sky.

“Western Pennsylvania is no stranger to industrial activity,” Peterson said. Down the river from the Shell plant are two other chemical plants, BASF and Styropek, and Shell replaced the Horsehead company’s zinc production facility when they bought the Monaca property in 2014. But the scale of Shell’s plant is “totally different,” Peterson said, and the effects it’s having on people and the environment are different, too.

“Anybody in the vicinity is having a hard time sleeping,” said Karen Gdula, who lives three and a half miles from the plant and said she often hears clanging and horns from the rail cars at Shell after dusk. “I can still see the glow at night.”

As part of the agreement reached at the time state officials fined Shell $10 million almost a year ago, the plant’s operators “formally acknowledged that the company exceeded tot​al emission limitations for air contaminants and agreed to make repairs to reduce future exceedances.” 

The law firm handling the lawsuit filed by Flynn in February seeking class action status said it had heard from 75 others seeking to join the action. Some of those potential plaintiffs’ grievances are quoted in the complaint. Residents complained about the “strong chemical smell,” “annoying flashing lights all night long,” “very noisy” and “large fire flare-ups” that kept them from opening their windows and going outside in nice weather. “I can never sit on my porch, we can’t garden,” one resident explained. “We are constantly dusting every day now. Our house was never as dusty as it is now, before the plant opened.”

“I cannot sit on my patio without the smell or noise from this plant,” Flynn said in the complaint. “Sounds like a freight train 24 hours a day. Some nights there is a bright glow in the sky.”

Since the May 2023 agreement, Shell was fined another $2.6 million for air quality violations, PA Environment Digest reported. The most recent penalty was paid in January. 

Just last week, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry filed charges against Shell for violating the state’s Clean Streams Law during the construction of the Shell Falcon pipeline, a 45-mile pipeline that feeds natural gas to the ethane cracker. 

Often lost amid residents’ immediate quality of life concerns about the plant are its impacts on climate change, which are considerable. “It’s emitting methane, and as climate change concerns accelerate, the question is, ‘how is the plant being held accountable for its methane emissions?’” asked Terrie Baumgardner, the Beaver County Outreach Coordinator for Clean Air Council. “It doesn’t seem that that’s happening in the same way as it is with other emissions, and it should be.” 

In addition to worries about methane, the Shell plant is expected to emit 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of 523,604 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year. 

In an emailed response to Inside Climate News, Lauren Camarda, the DEP’s regional communications manager, said that most of Shell’s rolling 12-month emissions have decreased since the 2023 settlement agreement, including hazardous air pollutants, VOCs and carbon monoxide, which “are now below Shell’s 12-month rolling emission limit in its air quality plan approval.” 

Camarda said that since the settlement, Shell has installed new equipment and made other improvements to reduce their emissions. “DEP will continue to actively monitor emissions at Shell and hold the company accountable when necessary,” she said. 

In a statement provided to Inside Climate News, Shell spokesperson Curtis Thomas said the company “remains committed to the health and well-being of its employees and the surrounding community.”

“We are also committed to complying with all county, state and federal regulations. And when there is an issue, we work to fix it,” he wrote. “We learn from those issues and work to improve so that we can be the good environmental steward, neighbor, and business partner this region wants and deserves. We will continue to report out and comply with all regulations while also applying lessons learned and best practices to ensure our operations have the least amount of negative impact on people, and/or the environment.”

Many are still skeptical Shell’s record will improve, despite the $12 million in penalties that the company has had to pay so far. “That’s like fining someone the cost of a cup of coffee,” said Matt Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project, an air quality organization in Southwestern Pennsylvania. “It’s unfortunately too easy for a large company to pay those fines.” Shell reported $28 billion in profits in 2023.

The regulatory process in Pennsylvania and in many other states sets up what Mehalik and others call a “pay to pollute” model, where the cost of non-compliance is rarely high enough to persuade big companies to significantly reduce their emissions. And the fines generated by these violations can sometimes end up being seen by the public as “donations” or “grants” from the company when they are used to pay for local projects like road repairs. 

“It creates this perverse circle now where these trusts are being set up” to benefit Potter Township, where the plant is located, he said of the 2023 settlement, which allocated 25 percent of the funds to the township. “In some ways, then, Potter Township is a beneficiary every time that Shell breaks the law.”

The Entire Sky Was Lit Up

Beyond the flaws in the current enforcement system, residents and advocates say that Shell and DEP are not communicating with the public quickly enough about issues at the plant, and there is no real-time source of information about the facility for them to check when they suspect something might be wrong. 

Shell maintains a Facebook page where they post occasionally about virtual community meetings, light and alarm testing, but it is not comprehensive or updated regularly. The last post is from January. Shell also has a fenceline monitoring page on its website, where it publishes the results of air sampling conducted at the plant. However, there is a lag between when the data is collected and when it is released online. 

Camarda said DEP understands the fenceline monitoring data is “not posted in real time because monitoring data goes through verification before it is posted, but DEP will continue to advocate for regular, timely, accurate updates.”

“DEP’s community information webpage provides more information on the Shell facility than for any other facility in the Commonwealth,” she said. “DEP oversees and works to update this page in a timely manner to include inspections conducted by DEP and reports submitted by Shell.”

The Shell plant was expected to emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, PM2.5 fine particles, sulfur dioxide, VOCs and hazardous air pollutants. Credit: Mark Dixon/CC BY 2.0 Deed
The Shell plant was expected to emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, PM2.5 fine particles, sulfur dioxide, VOCs and hazardous air pollutants. Credit: Mark Dixon/CC BY 2.0 Deed

Still, advocates and residents said DEP’s Shell web page is not updated fast enough to be truly useful. “What we found with that page is it will take weeks to months for information from the DEP to actually be uploaded onto that site,” Peterson said. “It’s hard to know what is actually changing, because it takes so long both on the DEP site and the Shell fenceline monitoring site to get data.”

The experiences of Andie Grey, who lives about three miles from the plant, illustrate what can happen when residents do not have access to real-time updates. In September 2022, Grey went outside on her elevated patio and looked toward the Shell facility. What she saw was terrifying. 

“The entire sky was lit up, and I thought it was a fire,” she said. “I immediately grabbed my husband and I was like, we need to go and investigate, and he comes up, and he’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to leave.’” Grey was unsure what to do next and worried about her elderly neighbors, who might need help evacuating. 

Unable to find news on Shell’s Facebook page, she and her husband drove to the plant looking for answers. When they got there, they realized that this was not an out-of-control fire but an instance of flaring, the deliberate burning of excess gases. “We didn’t get a notice,” she said. “There was nothing.”

Seven months later, on April 11, 2023, air monitors set up by a local nonprofit called Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community detected elevated levels of benzene near the plant, exceeding the “minimum risk level” for the chemical. 

The organization runs Eyes on Shell, a grassroots watchdog group, and hosts webinars about petrochemical manufacturing and a hotline for residents to call when they “see, smell, or hear something that doesn’t seem right.” BCMAC said residents living nearby had reported strong smells like “burning plastic” as well as symptoms like headaches, sore throat and cough.

Mark Dixon, the filmmaker and activist, using funding from BCMAC and other organizations, has set up 25 air monitors around the plant so far, and hopes eventually to analyze the differences in air quality before Shell began operations and after they start full operations, which has not happened yet

The air quality is usually slightly worse in Pittsburgh than in Beaver, Dixon said, but not in April 2023. “On this occasion, the air was significantly worse and accumulating right in the heart of Beaver,” he said. “It’s anomalous. Right away, I’m like, wait, why would Beaver be notably worse?”

The next day, April 12, Shell posted a short message on its Facebook page about the smells. “There has been an odor detected originating from our wastewater treatment plant. Depending on wind direction, the odor was detected in certain areas offsite as well,” the company wrote. “We are working to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. We have notified the appropriate regulatory agencies and apologize for any inconvenience this issue may cause.” The post did not mention that the cause of the smells could be benzene. 

“That day we happened to be out on the water,” said Evan Clark, waterkeeper at the Three Rivers Waterkeeper, who has been carrying out testing and monitoring of the watershed around the plant in partnership with the Mountain Watershed Association. “I saw at least a half dozen people out fishing on the water boating around the plant with no idea that there was a leak that was dangerous enough that they had sent a lot of their employees home,” he said of the benzene release. “Didn’t feel right.” 

On April 25, a toxicologist consulting for Shell spoke at a virtual meeting held by the company and said the benzene and VOCs detected by Shell’s monitors were not above exposure limits for workers. Shell’s general manager apologized for the incident and said the company could do a better job communicating with the public, according to reporting by PA Environment Digest.

In May, Shell filed a malfunction report about the malodors from its wastewater treatment plant, which it said began on April 11 and ended on April 20. The emissions associated with the malfunction included VOCs, hazardous air pollutants, benzene, toluene and naphthalene. The report claimed that the malfunction “did not pose danger to the public health and safety or the environment” and said the release had not caused water quality issues in the river.

“There’s no dose of benzene that isn’t carcinogenic,” said Leonardo Trasande, a physician and expert in children’s environmental health at New York University. “For children in particular, they have more years to manifest cancer in a way that adds to their vulnerability.” 

At a rally in June held by the Shell Accountability Campaign, a coalition of local and national groups launched in 2022, a young mother confronted the Beaver County commissioners about the benzene release, said Baumgardner, of the Clean Air Council in Beaver County. 

 “She said, ‘my young daughter was going to school, and I called your office to find out if this was safe. And you told me it was,’” Baumgardner said of the scene, which prompted other parents in the room to wonder if they should have kept their kids inside in April. “Really, it wasn’t safe because there’s no amount of benzene that’s safe. And yet she wasn’t given the right information.”

The Shell Accountability Campaign, a coalition of local and national groups, held a rally in June 2023 in Beaver, Penn. Credit: Mark Dixon/CC BY 2.0 Deed
The Shell Accountability Campaign, a coalition of local and national groups, held a rally in June 2023 in Beaver, Penn. Credit: Mark Dixon/CC BY 2.0 Deed

Residents cite the lack of communication from the government and the company when they talk about their fears about an emergency at Shell. Many are still unsettled by the 2023 chemical accident just over the state border in East Palestine, Ohio, which affected Beaver County.

“My biggest concern is that something like that is going to happen, and they’re not going to notify the community,” Grey said. “They’re not going to tell us that we need to leave when we should, and people will be harmed.”

For Gdula, the Shell plant joins another potential threat even closer to her home. In 2018, Energy Transfer’s Revolution pipeline exploded in Gdula’s neighborhood in Beaver County. Gdula and her husband had to evacuate their house back then—and she is prepared to do so again. 

“We’ve already decided that we will evacuate our home, and we will not wait for emergency services to give us the word to leave,” she said. She paid close attention to the aftermath of the East Palestine disaster and felt the emergency response was lacking in transparency, especially in Beaver County.

“In my opinion, if there were an incident at the Shell plant, Shell would probably do everything they could to calm the fears of the public,” she said. “I don’t want to take that chance.”

The Petrochemical Facility in Your Backyard

In 2015, Shell wrote to DEP as part of its air quality plan approval application, the document that would allow the “construction and temporary operation” of the plant in Pennsylvania. Enclosed with this letter was a 2014 study from Robert Morris University, commissioned by Shell, on the potential economic impacts of the facility on the region and Beaver County. 

This study, the president of Shell Chemical Appalachia wrote, “demonstrates that the project would provide tangible and substantial economic benefits” to the region and to the state. “While there are environmental and social costs associated with this project, as there are with any major project,” he wrote, “on balance, the combination of the project’s benefits with Shell’s commitment to manage and mitigate those impacts results in net benefits that significantly outweigh the environmental impact and social costs resulting from the project’s location, construction and operation.”

The attached study concluded that the construction and operation of the plant would increase employment, tax revenue, wages and economic output in Beaver County and in Pennsylvania. The authors estimated that the plant’s total value to Beaver County’s economy would be between $568 million and $690 million during the construction phase and between $1.9 billion and $4.4 billion over the plant’s 40-year operating lifespan. A follow-up study from 2021 revised those estimates upward, finding that the total value to Beaver County over four decades would be between $10 billion and $17 billion.

“Pennsylvania plant brings jobs, skills and opportunity,” an article published by Shell in 2022, pointed to the RMU studies as evidence for the “signs of progress” in the region it attributes to Shell. Beaver County commissioner Tony Amadio is quoted in the article talking about the positive economic “ripple effect” from the facility in the county. “We have new hotels, lots of new restaurants, and a brand-new school that is going to help us train our people early in areas that are in demand for the industry,” he said.

Ten years after Shell first made promises to the state and the public about its economic impact on the region, researchers are now analyzing those promises—and tracking whether they came to fruition. 

“The petrochemical industry was supposed to produce all kinds of growth, and it’s simply not reflected in the data.” 

In January, the Ohio River Valley Institute published a report criticizing the two RMU studies’ methodology, their omission of the public costs of the subsidies granted to Shell and their assumption of a 40-year operating lifespan without changes in regulations, consumer behavior or global markets. The studies, which were held up by some politicians at the time to justify Shell’s tax credits, “present residents of the region with an inadequate evaluation of the true economic prospects of Shell’s plant.” 

When asked about this study, Shell spokesperson Curtis Thomas told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star that Shell would be “a good neighbor for decades to come” and said Shell and its employees had contributed “millions” to businesses and nonprofits in the community. “This county is our home,” he said. “We are proud of the jobs, economic benefits and social investment dollars and projects we have brought to the region.”

Because Shell’s facility is unique in Beaver County, the region offers a blank canvas to better understand the effects of this kind of plant in a place where one did not exist before. In Louisiana and Texas, for example, it’s more difficult to parse the impact of a new petrochemical plant because there are so many others operating in those states already. 

“It’s almost like a natural experiment,” said Eric de Place, an energy policy and fossil fuels consultant who co-authored another study about the Shell plant for the Ohio River Valley Institute called “A Cautionary Tale of Petrochemicals from Pennsylvania.”

Based on de Place’s recent research, that experiment has not panned out as the industry predicted. “The actual economic performance of the county severely undercuts the case that was made in favor of building that cracker plant when it was first proposed,” de Place said. “The petrochemical industry was supposed to produce all kinds of growth, and it’s simply not reflected in the data.” 

De Place found zero or negative changes for Beaver County after 2012 in GDP growth, jobs growth, reducing poverty and the number of businesses, and writes that the county “has fallen behind both the state and the nation in nearly every measure of economic activity.” 

The population of the county has declined since Shell arrived in the region. From 2010 to 2023, Beaver County’s population fell from 170,539 to 165,631. “There’s a ton of evidence to support the fact that people are actively leaving,” Grey said. 

When people in the area are thinking about their next steps in life and have the opportunity to live elsewhere, they are often considering moving, she said. “None of them want to stay. All of them are like, ‘I’m gonna get out of here.’” 

De Place said that research on other areas of the country that depend economically on the fossil fuel industry backed up this trend. “Having a giant petrochemical facility in your backyard is not really a good thing,” he said. “Do you want to move yourself downwind of a large petrochemical plant that’s blowing through its pollution limits? A lot of people would prefer not to do that or they might prefer to move away.”

Something Unrecognizable 

Across the river from the plant, some of Beaver’s nicest homes line the water’s edge on a street called River Road. In 2022, when I visited the plant while it was still under construction, most residents seemed ambivalent about Shell, even if the view from their lawns that had been water and trees now included steel and smoke. But that attitude has changed in the years since.

“I watched it happen in real time,” Grey said. “The shift from: this is going to be so lucrative. This is going to be so good for the economy. This is going to be so good for Beaver County. To: what is this billion-dollar corporation doing to our bucolic air?”

Before the plant came online, Baumgardner said, her friends and family in Beaver County were uninterested in hearing about her concerns about its impacts on their health, property values and quality of life. After the plant began operations, she got a message from a family member that surprised her. It said: “This plant is going to turn Beaver into something unrecognizable.”

This story is funded by readers like you.

Our nonprofit newsroom provides award-winning climate coverage free of charge and advertising. We rely on donations from readers like you to keep going. Please donate now to support our work.

Donate Now

One possible clue to Beaver County’s future lies in Deer Park, Texas, outside Houston and home to Shell’s 800-acre Deer Park Chemicals, the site of a chemical plant since the 1940s. For this community, the petrochemical industry has created a different kind of “ripple effect.” A 2024 report from Amnesty International on the Houston Ship Channel, where Deer Park is located along with several other petrochemical campuses, found that residents’ rights to health, a clean environment and access to information about the risks of chemical exposure and chemical disasters had been violated, sometimes over several generations. 

“Even if you live in a fenceline community and move away, these are toxins that literally can change your genetics. They affect your endocrine system, and they affect your reproductive ability,” said Shiv Srivastava, policy director at Fenceline Watch, an environmental justice organization in Houston. “You’re dealing with multi-generational toxic harm.” 

Yvette Arellano, the founder and executive director of Fenceline Watch, said Pennsylvanians in Beaver County still had a chance to alter their region’s fate. Because Shell is so new to the area, “there’s still an opportunity to stop [expansion],” they said, and to avoid normalizing the short and long-term effects of living near these facilities by talking openly about pollution, noise and health symptoms. In Arellano’s experience, “eroding the social license” of the company to pollute is more effective than relying on governmental regulations alone. Shell must submit a Title V operating permit application for the Monaca plant this year, and advocates are watching closely for opportunities to weigh in during the process.

Near the end of our conversation, Mehalik, of the Breathe Project, pointed to Clairton and Braddock, towns in the Pittsburgh region with aging U.S. Steel plants and chronic population loss as well as public health problems related to air pollution. For communities dominated by active heavy industry, he said, the long-term outlook is rarely positive. The Beaver County plant is early in its lifespan, which could be decades long. Shell’s 2014 study assumed the plant would operate for 40 years.

“The question is, is this going to go the same way as we’ve seen other places go?” he asked, of Beaver County. “Just about every place where a petrochemical facility operates, people tend to suffer.”

“If you’re going to try to predict the future,” he said, “the past is prologue.”

Share this article