PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — If all goes according to plan, an old zinc smelting plant site on the Ohio River in Monaca will be transformed into a multi-billion dollar petrochemical plant called a cracker.

Not only would it generate thousands of construction and permanent jobs, but it would spawn a whole new plastics industry in the region with dozens of companies locating close by.

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“We could see a renewal of significant manufacturing base in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Gov. Tom Corbett says, “so this is good news.”

Pennsylvania won a three-state competition with Ohio and West Virginia to bring the plant here. Shell calls this its preferred site and will conduct environmental and technical reviews before deciding to go forward.

But the site and the region have strong advantages.

“First off, western Pennsylvania sits atop the richest known reserves of natural gas in the world,” Corbett said.

The cracker will use natural gas from the Marcellus shale in southwestern Pennsylvania, where Shell has recently acquired tens of thousands of leased acres.

The plant literally cracks the molecule to make the building blocks of plastics used in everything from water bottles to fertilizer.

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The economic potential is enormous but not everyone is thrilled.

“It’s going to be a very big pollution source,” Myron Arnowitt of Clean Water Action said.

Environmentalists like Arnowitt warn against the dangers of bringing heavy industry back to the Ohio Valley.

“People need to be careful,” he said. “What are the emissions from this plant going to be? What kind of controls is this company willing to put in?

But Corbett answered those questions saying the state is not giving the green light to pollution.

“We have some of the highest, if not the highest regulations when it comes to air quality here in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said. “We’re a non-attainment area. They know they’re going to have to build to that level.”

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