The Cracker and the Duck

There’s an analogy used to describe certain kinds of people who appear to be laid back but are intense on the inside. They are said to be like a duck – calm on the surface and paddling like crazy underneath.

That’s a good way to describe the Shell cracker project. Royal Dutch Shell announced earnings yesterday. They were up 31% for the quarter to $5.8 billion (even though their income dropped because of declining oil prices). The increase came from their liquefied natural gas business. There was no mention of the cracker project.

Late last week I was told by an engineer familiar with the Monaca project that Shell had decided to proceed with nine support buildings for the plant. At about the same time I heard from two other sources that big infrastructure/site packages had been awarded – as in contracts. It’s been no secret that both Jacobs Engineering and Bechtel have been bidding packages for months, even as the project is still being studied. That’s been the paddling beneath the surface.

The calm duck has been Shell’s public position. In response to my inquiry about the nine buildings and contracts, Shell’s answer was that they had not yet approved any specific plan and that the project was as yet not approved to proceed. That’s what the late Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee called the “non-denial denial.”

All year long, political observers predicted that the announcement of a green light would come when it would benefit Gov. Corbett the most. Given the polling thus far, that would seem to have been before the final campaign weekend. I don’t pretend to understand political campaigning but I do believe that we are about to get that announcement. The best political bounce would be today or Saturday, when coverage in Sunday papers would be assured. Maybe the plans will remain in the “duck” stage for a while longer but I expect some excitement in the next few days.

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