President Trump expressed his support of fracking and tariffs and his admiration of Western Pennsylvania’s steel legacy during a visit Tuesday to the ethane-cracking facility being built in Beaver County.
In an hour-long speech to more than 2,000 workers at the Royal Dutch Shell plant in Potter Township — miles away from about 200 protesters outside the Beaver County Courthouse who inflated a giant Trump balloon with the words “Shell no” across its midsection — Mr. Trump took credit for “unleashing” American energy and making the plant possible.
“It was the Trump Administration that made it possible, no one else,” he said. “Without us, you would never have been able to do this.”
Although the $6 billion plant was approved before Mr. Trump took office, he said that had Democrat Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election, the facility wouldn’t have been permitted to “transform abundant natural gas … fracked from Pennsylvania wells.”
The shale gas rush, aided by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, began in earnest in Pennsylvania about 2007 and has grown significantly since then. There are now more than 10,000 gas wells in the state.
It was this growth, and the decades of inventory that gas companies say they have left in the ground, that attracted Shell. The company started working on the plant as early as 2012 — buying the land, doing $80 million worth of environmental remediation, and securing key environmental permits before making the final decision to proceed in June, 2016.
The plant will take in the natural gas liquid ethane and churn out 3.5 billion pounds of plastic pellets each year.
The ethane will be “cracked,” or heated until it separates into its components, in seven furnaces fed by a 250-megawatt natural gas power plant onsite.
After being cracked, the resulting ethylene will flow into one of three processing units where it will be formed into pellets of either a linear low density polyethylene material, used in products like flexible food containers or canoes, or high-density polyethylene, which can be made into plastic buckets, PVC pipes, and milk jugs.
The President repeatedly praised the project and made clear his support for natural gas — telling the workers “you’re sitting on gold.” He claimed that before his presidency, no one wanted to take advantage of it, although the industry was booming before 2016.
Mr. Trump touted his administration’s approval of pipelines — and promised that many more will be approved soon. A number of pipeline companies have complained in the past about long permit review periods from state and federal agencies.
Mr. Trump specifically called out New York State, whose department of environmental conservation has rejected several key water quality permits for pipelines that would have taken Appalachian gas to the Northeast, effectively killing those projects.
As a response, the Trump Administration announced last week that it plans to rewrite the rules that govern water quality permit reviews, restricting the type of information that state agencies can consider and the amount of time they have to give their decisions.
In praising Western Pennsylvania for its legacy of steel, Mr. Trump claimed that because of his administration’s economic strategy, steel is now thriving. He painted a descriptive picture of factory floors “crackling with life” and steel mills “fired up and blazing bright.”
It wasn’t that way before he took office, he said.
“I don’t want to be overly crude, but your business [steel] was dead,” the President said. “And I put a little thing called a 25 percent tariff on all of the dumped steel all over the country, and now your business is thriving.”
At the courthouse protest, the Sierra Club, the Center for Coalfield Justice, Extinction Rebellion Kentucky, Concerned Ohio River Residents, and other activist groups turned out with signs against fracking, the cracker plant, global warming, and air and water pollution.
Linda Stanley, a member of the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community, said, “Why do we have to go back? Why can’t we have clean air and jobs?”
A group of about 25 gathered across the street, including several teenagers in Make America Great Again hats.
Don Houghton of Brighton Township said he was there to support the President.
“We do have to work on the environment, but we have to work on unity first,” Mr. Houghton said. “Find common ground like we did on Sept. 12,” after the 2001 terrorist attacks.