Construction of the Shell Cracker Plant along the Ohio River in January 2019. (Credit: Drums600/ Wikipedia)
Shell Polymers Monaca is located in Pennsylvania, US. (Credit: Shell/PRNewswire)
SPM will produce around 3.5 billion pounds (1.6 million tonnes) of polyethylene per year. (Credit: Shell/PRNewswire)

Shell Polymers Monaca (SPM) is a 384-acre polyethylene manufacturing complex in Pennsylvania, the US.

Previously known as Pennsylvania Chemical Project, the complex is the first major polyethylene manufacturing facility in the north-eastern US.

The facility is owned by Shell Chemical Appalachia, a subsidiary of Shell.

The Final Investment Decision (FID) on the project was taken in June 2016. Construction commenced in April 2017.

After more than four years of construction, SPM commenced operations in November 2022. At peak construction period, the project involved approximately 9,500 workers.

SPM will produce around 3.5 billion pounds (1.6 million tonnes) of polyethylene per year. It is expected to reach its full production capacity by the second half of 2023.

The complex will cater to customers involved in manufacturing commodity and specialty films, pipe, blow-moulded containers, and injection-moulded parts.

It will employ 600 people in full time positions as well as generate several thousand employments in private industry and public services.

Shell Polymers Monaca location details

Shell Polymers Monaca is located in Potter Township in Beaver County, approximately 50km (30 miles) north-west of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

The site is adjacent to the Ohio River and situated within a 700-mile radius of 70% polyethylene market of the US.

Background and Permissions

Shell Chemical Appalachia proposed plans to construct the petrochemicals complex in Potter Township in 2016.

Later the facility was renamed Shell Polymers Monaca.

The complex required several complex environmental reviews, approvals, and permits from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Pennsylvania for new construction, remediation of contaminants from previous industrial activities, and operations.

The DEP review involved reviews and modelling by engineers, meteorologists and other environmental professionals.

Shell submitted a plan approval modification application for 04-00740B in December 2019 and for 04-00740C in February 2020. DEP approved the two plan approval modifications in February 2021.

Shell is also required to submit malfunction reports.

In May 2023, DEP entered into a consent order and agreement (COA) with Shell in which the latter acknowledged that it exceeded total emission limitations for air contaminants. The company also agreed to make necessary repairs and pay nearly $10m to DEP and the local community.

Shell Polymers Monaca details

Shell Polymers Monaca consists of three polyethylene reactors- two gas phase reactors and one slurry reactor, an ethane cracker, a combined cycle co-generation power plant, and a water treatment facility.

It also has large product storage with rail and truck loading facilities.

The project uses low-cost ethane from shale gas producers operating in the Marcellus and Utica basins.

The Ethylene Cracker Unit (ECU) includes 95 miles of pipe and more than 200 vessels. The cracker takes ethane and converts it into ethylene by heating, pressure, and cooling.

The complex houses a quench tower, the largest structure on the site and an important part of the cracker unit. The 2,000 metric tonne-tower is approximately 300ft tall and has a diameter of 29ft.

The purge bins, approximately 380ft high, are the tallest structure on the site and houses polyethylene units. The bins serve as holding tanks where polyethylene pellets undergo pre-finishing treatment.

Ethylene from the cracker unit goes to the polyethylene units which combines ethylene with a co-monomer (a related hydrocarbon) and a catalyst to produce polyethylene. The three polyethylene units have a combined annual production of around 1.6 million metric tonnes.

The power plant takes natural gas and steam to generate power for operations. It generates a total of 250MW per day, of which approximately one-third is exported to the grid.

Shell Polymers Monaca also has a cooling water tower which is more than 900ft long with 32 fans.

The administrative buildings at the site include office building, labs, and warehouses.

There is also a flare, a commons safety and environmental device found in a manufacturing facility. It functions like a giant pressure relief valve that channels and disperses pressure to a location for safe combustion and dispersal.

The combustion process of Flare reduces emissions by more than 98%.

Contractors involved

Bechtel Corporation was selected as the main contractor for the construction, commissioning, and commercial operation of Shell Polymers Monaca.

Shell, construction services company Great Arrow Builders, unions, local contractors, and suppliers worked together during the construction phase.

Overall, the project involved installation of 241,000 cubic yards of structural concrete, 42,000 tonnes of structural steel, over 1 million feet of pipe, 1.620 equipment pieces, and 253 modules produced in four module yards.

Shell and Bechtel contracted Turner Construction Company for the construction of key buildings on the project’s site.

Sutphen delivered Industrial 112-inch Aerial Platform trucks for Shell’s project via Custom Fire as the dealer.