Shell Chemical has been granted an air quality permit for a proposed petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania, a step the company called "a critical milestone" as it decides whether to build the multibillion-dollar project along the Ohio River.
The state Department of Environmental Protection announced Monday that it had approved the company's air quality plan and several water-related permits for the site in Potter Township, Beaver County.
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Shell bought the former zinc plant this year but said it may take years to decide whether to build the so-called "ethane cracker" about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The plant would convert ethane from Marcellus Shale natural gas liquids into chemicals used to make plastics, tires and even antifreeze.
Local officials hope the plant will bring hundreds of jobs and thousands of related jobs to the region.
The state in 2012 signed off on lucrative tax breaks as it competed for the project with other states. The deal approved by lawmakers in 2012 includes a tax credit of a nickel per gallon of ethane used by a qualifying refinery owner such as Shell. The credit, backed by former Gov. Tom Corbett, could start in 2017 and top $1.7 billion — or $66 million a year for 25 years.
"The receipt of the air permit is a critical milestone for the project," the company said in a statement Monday. "However, it does not mean we have made a final decision to build the project."
The permits follow a public hearing held last month that included concerns raised by the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council. The environmental group said that local officials, union leaders and residents should push for better air quality monitoring and safety guarantees if they support the plant and the permitting process continues.
"It will be a major source of pollution. There's no way around it," executive director Joseph Minnot said Monday. "If they make a decision that it's worth it for economic development reasons, they don't have to accept it as proposed. They can make some demands of the company, to make it safer."