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Families are leaving Beaver County as Shell’s ethane cracker sets to open

Families are leaving Beaver County as Shell’s ethane cracker sets to open

Cheryl and Luke Hardy moved to Beaver County in 2012. Luke came from Albany, New York, where he was finishing graduate school, and Cheryl, from Washington, D.C.

The location of Beaver County was equidistant from their jobs – Luke’s at a university in Ohio and Cheryl’s in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

They eventually bought a house in Beaver, an attractive town on the Ohio River with historic homes and a walkable business district. The couple enjoyed events and festivals in town and going to restaurants there. When their children were born, they walked them to a nearby playground and thought of someday walking them to the nearby elementary school.

They barely noticed in 2016 when Shell announced it was building a multi-billion dollar plastics plant, called an ethane cracker, across the river. As construction workers began building the massive plant, it became harder to ignore every time they drove their kids to daycare.

“Every day, twice a day, we had to drive past it, and you could see just incrementally the project developing,” Luke said. “It was just getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

One night, as he was tucking his children into bed, Luke Hardy saw something new out of the window – a recently finished tower at the plant.

The more they learned about the cracker, especially its ability to emit millions of pounds of air pollution a year, the less they liked the idea of living within eyeshot.

So last year, they left Beaver County and bought a house 15 miles away in Allegheny County, near the Pittsburgh International Airport.

“It was scary, you know, to have it right across the river from our house and our family,” Cheryl said. “If something that would have happened accidentally, and our kids…it just scared us.”

A reason to leave

Shell’s ethane cracker will begin operations this summer. It will turn natural gas from fracking into 1.6 million metric tons of plastic. Built with a $1.65 billion state tax credit, the largest in state history, the cracker has been hailed by many of the region’s political and economic power brokers as a way to reverse years of population loss and economic decline. But for some people, it’s just the opposite: a reason to leave.

It’s hard to know how many people the cracker will drive away, as it did the Hardys.

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