President Donald Trump used an Aug. 13 visit to Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC's nearly completed ethane cracker in Beaver County, Pa., as a whistle-stop on his 2020 campaign, telling an audience of mainly union workers that the $6 billion project would "never have happened without me, or us" and announcing that more energy construction projects were coming to the Ohio River Valley.
Trump said that two $10 billion energy projects would be coming soon to Ohio, although he gave no details.
A proposed cracker in Belmont, Ohio, for Thai petrochemical giant PTT Global Chemical Public Co. Ltd., is awaiting a final investment decision. Bechtel Corp., already building the Pennsylvania cracker, has already been awarded the contract to build the Ohio cracker — almost a carbon copy of the Monaca plant where Trump appeared — should PTT decide to go forward. Ohio officials could not immediately name a second upcoming $10 billion project.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, began soliciting Royal Dutch Shell PLC for the Beaver County cracker more than a decade ago, and Barack Obama was president when the supermajor announced plans for the project. Current Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has been a vocal supporter of the Beaver County plant throughout its permitting and construction. The plant is scheduled to start "cracking" — or converting ethane into ethylene, a building block for plastics — in 2020.
A new market for ethane, part of the natural gas production stream, would benefit Marcellus and Utica shale gas producers. Selling the natural gas liquid they would normally leave in the gas stream as a separate product would generate extra revenue for the producers.
Electing Democrats in 2020 would kill the jobs of those on the project and any future work in energy, Trump said, as Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the decades ahead while adding environmental regulations to combat climate change.
"The loyalty of Pennsylvania's workers was repaid with betrayal," Trump said. "The political class in Washington gutted your factories" and let China "rip off" the country for years.
"They targeted American energy for total destruction," Trump said, pitching hard for votes in a state thought to be key to his reelection chances. "They expected you to stay on the sidelines and surrender the future of our nation."
While Trump was speaking, about 200 environmentalists demonstrated on the steps of the Beaver County courthouse across the river from the Monaca plant. Building the plant is the "wrong decision for working Pennsylvanians," PennEnvironment's Western Director Ashleigh Deemer said before Trump spoke. Deemer said the region is still cleaning up the damage from the coal and steel industries and has even more opportunity for economic development with renewable energy projects than fossil fuels.
The Shell cracker "is a step backwards. Nobody wants to live or work in a place where the air is dirty, the water unclean," Deemer said, adding that if the Shell plant emits as much pollution as it is permitted to, it will become the largest single source of air pollution in the Allegheny River valley.
Although Trump carried Beaver County by 18 percentage points in the 2016 election, the county has been a political weather vane, flipping to the Democrats in the 2018 midterms and helping send freshman Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat, to Washington by a nearly 13 point margin in his district. A key to his Electoral College victory, Trump carried Pennsylvania by just over 44,000 votes out of roughly 6 million cast in the state in 2016.