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Economy & Business

Chemical Industry Could Reuse Brownfields to Develop Shale Gas, says Trade Group

Abandoned industrial sites or "brownfields" across Pennsylvania could be key to the continued development of the state's natural gas industry, according to a trade group of businesses tied to the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation.

At a conference on brownfield redevelopment in Monroeville on Tuesday, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) said brownfield sites are not so much ideal for drilling as they are for large-scale industrial operations related to natural gas, including the processing of gas byproducts into plastics and other products.

MSC President Kathryn Klaber said chemical companies are interested in brownfields because many abandoned industrial facilities were built along main transportation routes close by to urban areas, like rivers and railroad lines. Specifically, Pennsylvania's brownfield sites are located in the heart of shale gas drilling territory, making it convenient for chemical companies to bring in gas byproducts in need of processing and easily ship out a finished product.

"[Brownfields] have access to transportation, bringing product in, using natural gas to fuel that process, using other shale resources like ethane and propane to be processed on those brownfield sites," said Klaber, "and then, obviously using that access to transportation to rail networks, river access to take those products to their markets both domestically and internationally."

Klaber cited Shell Oil Company's plans to renovate and reuse the Horsehead zinc smelter facility in Monaca, which was slated to cease operations in 2013. While that facility isn't technically a brownfield because it's currently in use, Klaber said Shell considered a number of true brownfields for its proposed "ethane cracker." She said she thinks other chemical companies may do the same as Pennsylvania's natural gas processing industry grows.

Many have welcomed the potential Shell plant in Monaca as a job creator, including Governor Tom Corbett and the state legislature, but some environmentalists have warned that the ethane processing facility would emit large volumes of harmful air pollution.