But natural gas prices have collapsed and profit must be found elsewhere, namely the natural gas byproduct ethane, which is unleashed during fracking and can be made into polyethylene, a common form of plastic.
This is a place where, right now, plastic makes sense to many people. To the world’s third-largest company struggling with low oil prices.
As concern grows about plastic debris in the oceans and recycling continues to falter in the United States, the production of new plastic is booming.
The plant that Royal Dutch Shell is building about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh will create tiny pellets that can be turned into items like phone cases, auto parts and food packaging, all of which will be around long after they have served their purpose.
A big demand for plastic comes from auto manufacturers and for consumer packaging like the ones displayed in a mock grocery store in the lobby of Shell’s Pennsylvania offices: plastic cups, diapers and paper towel rolls wrapped in plastic.