What I Saw in Monaca

One of the disappointments of 2015 for the construction and development business was Shell’s further deferral of a decision to proceed with the investment in an ethane cracker in Monaca. The final decision was long rumored to have been made in December, pending final approval from board or shareholders or someone. It now looks as though no announcement will come before April (and several involved with the job don’t expect anything prior to June); however, if all jobs on hold were as active as this, construction would be a very lucrative business.

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This is what I saw from Route 18 on a gloomy January 13 trip past the site. A photo can’t begin to represent just how much that half-mile stretch of riverfront and hill side has changed over the past year. For those unfamiliar with Frankfort Road, the area to the right of the road pictured above rose steeply until the Mascaro/Trumbull Energy Services team began moving 7 million yards of dirt. You can get some idea of the change by focusing on the small area of existing hillside that remains to the right of the car in the photo. What isn’t shown is the massive site to the north (left) of Route 18 where the plant will be built. The other important piece of information not captured is the beginning of the site work at the I-376 interchange just a few hundred yards ahead. Or the 200-plus cars parked in the workers’ lot.

As I’ve been tipped off about the project, the relocation of Route 18 has been the key milepost for which I was told to watch. That I-376 interchange work is a sign that the highway work is imminent. Corporate realities may be keeping Shell from announcing or deciding to green light the project but the activity suggests very strongly that it will. In Potter Township, officials say that Shell and its EPC’s are still coming in with new work and they speculate that April is when they will hear for sure. I’m getting numb to the speculation by this time but I can say that a trip to Monaca will renew your optimism about the prospects of the project.

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