Shell’s Cracker Plant Actually “Years Away”?

Are we still on track to find out in the next few weeks where Shell plans to build a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant? According to a Shell spokeswoman, yes. But in parsing the words of Shell’s CEO at a conference last week, even though the site may be announced, a “final decision” about investing in the site may still be “quite a few years away.” Here’s how it played out last week:

Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said the company firmly believes building a cracker in the region is a good move, noting, "It makes good economic sense for gas producers and customers in the Marcellus to have a cracker in the region."

Though op de Weegh said Shell believes in the cracker, published reports from late last week show that company Chief Executive Officer Peter Voser said Shell is still "quite a few years away from … a final investment decision" on the cracker. Voser made the comments while speaking during an energy conference in Houston, Texas.

When asked about Voser’s statements, op de Weegh said Voser was "referring to a final investment decision, which will occur after we’ve made a site selection."

"We will first select a site and then begin the work necessary to progress the development of this project. Then, Shell will make a final investment decision to take the project further," she said, noting the company still planned to announce a site "in the weeks to come."*

Which is kind of a let-down. We’ll get all pumped up when the announcement comes, and hey, it’s a very good thing to have it announced. But if Shell doesn’t make a final decision about whether (or not) to move forward for “quite a few years” what does that mean? It means an investment to build the plant, and having the plant operational, and the thousands of jobs that come with it and the hundreds of businesses that will be built around it won’t happen any time soon. We’ll keep an eye on this to see how it plays out.

*The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register (Mar 10, 2012) – Area Waits for Ethane Cracker Decision