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Sustainable Pittsburgh Calls on Royal Dutch Shell to Collaborate on Sustainability Assessment of Ethane Cracker

Issue Statement
March 28, 2017

(Pittsburgh, PA) – Sustainable Pittsburgh is inviting Royal Dutch Shell to collaborate on an independent sustainability assessment of the company’s $6 billion petrochemical plant to be built in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, located in the Pittsburgh region.  According to a new study released by Pennsylvania Governor Wolf’s office and the Team Pennsylvania Foundation, up to four more ethane crackers could be built in the greater region.  As such, Sustainable Pittsburgh sees a pivotal opportunity and need for Royal Dutch Shell to raise the global standards for the design, construction, and operation of its ethane cracker given the enormous consequences for the region stemming from this industrial complex and those to follow.

When Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest corporations in the world and a global leader in sustainability, with extraordinary subsidy ($1.65 billion in tax forgiveness for the Beaver County plant), sets up shop in the region (Potter Township pop. 548), the high stakes call for game-changing outcomes.  Yet vision for the project generally has been limited to estimates of numbers of jobs and manufacturing potential.  Missing is a comprehensive assessment that goes beyond compliance to assess, measure, and commit to combined regional social, economic, and environmental gains; that is, long-term sustainable development.  Consequently, Sustainable Pittsburgh has invited Royal Dutch Shell’s collaboration in conducting an independent sustainability assessment (led by an empaneled group of multidisciplinary experts) of its ethane cracker complex.

Founded in 1998, Sustainable Pittsburgh is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to affect decision-making in the Pittsburgh Region to integrate economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental quality as the enduring accountability, bringing sustainable solutions for communities and businesses.  Sustainable Pittsburgh believes this region’s residents deserve the best of Royal Dutch Shell’s global corporate leadership for world-class sustainable development.

The Royal Dutch Shell website illustrates the corporation’s sustainability leadership.  For example, the External Review Committee to the Shell Sustainability Report is an example of extraordinary corporate commitment to transparency and accountability by inviting independent review from experts around the world.  Sustainable Pittsburgh has suggested the Committee’s role has parallels to the approach for which Royal Dutch Shell is invited to collaborate in the conduct of a sustainability assessment of its ethane cracker in Potter Township.

Given the magnitude of the ethane cracker investment and anticipated footprint, the potential consequences are great on many levels.  Consider for example just one area of impact: air quality.  Air pollutant emissions from the cracker complex are a concern in part due to projections that the cracker will be the largest source of VOCs in the region.  The region’s air currently does not meet federal standards for several pollutants and routinely ranks poorly in national air health surveys.

Sustainable Pittsburgh urges that a thorough assessment of the return on public investment (accounting for the range of externalities per social, economic, and environmental impacts) of the ethane cracker should include commitment to use of cutting-edge innovations for beyond-compliance performance to mitigate negative impacts associated with not just air quality, but that of water, housing, public health, social systems, ecosystems, transportation, property values, and other local and regional issues.  Furthermore, Sustainable Pittsburgh asserts this region deserves no less than Royal Dutch Shell’s commitment to sustainable systems such as: creation of a world-class industrial facility that generates or purchases its own renewable electricity and contributes the same to the surrounding community; the setting of new standards for safety, closed-loop use of resources, zero waste and emissions; commitment to local procurement/supply chain; circular approaches to plastics reuse, and a plan for directing products from the ethane cracker to contribute to end uses that advance sustainability.

For an industrial complex of this scale, Sustainable Pittsburgh notes that the region, with its high fragmentation of governing bodies, is limited in its capacities for planning, monitoring, and oversight.    This is even more reason that the coordinated expertise proposed is needed to openly and transparently assess local and regional opportunity and impacts (the positive and areas for improvement), while reaching for the innovative edge of sustainable systems and ensuring Royal Dutch Shell’s utmost investment in sustainable development here, for the world stage.

True to the precepts of corporate social responsibility, Royal Dutch Shell stands to bolster its social compact with the region, from which the industrial giant needs its license to operate, by answering this imperative.  Sustainable Pittsburgh calls on Royal Dutch Shell to apply the full measure of its global sustainability leadership to collaborate in the conduct of a comprehensive sustainability assessment to ensure the region’s first ethane cracker is a model, setting the bar high for those to follow here and around the globe for the benefit of our people, the region, and this industry.