Updated: A Cautionary Tale of Petrochemicals from Pennsylvania

Photo: Mark Dixon

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Beaver County, Pennsylvania is a real-time case study in the local economic impacts of petrochemical development. That’s because the county is home to Shell’s massive, $6 billion ethane cracker, which officially launched operations in November 2022. 

Since the project’s inception, industry executives and government officials have argued it would spur local economic growth and renewed business investment. Yet prosperity still has not arrived. Since 2012, when the project was first announced, the most recent economic data available show Beaver County has lagged both the state and the nation in nearly every measure of economic activity.



Since 2012, Beaver County: 

  • Lost GDP as the state and the country experienced strong, consistent growth
  • Lost population while Pennsylvania maintained residents and the US grew steadily
  • Trailed the state and the nation in job growth, even when factoring in all the temporary construction workers at the Shell site
  • Saw poverty fall at a slower rate than state and national averages
  • Saw its child poverty rate surpass the state’s and the country’s
  • Grew income at the same rate as the state and the country
  • Lost businesses despite state and national growth


The long-term outlook for Beaver County may be even worse than these indicators suggest, as the county’s recent performance may represent something of a high-water mark. When Shell completed construction in November 2022, employment at the facility declined by thousands of jobs, a loss not yet fully reflected in the data.   

The economic performance data reported in this research brief are shown in comparison to the state of Pennsylvania and the United States. In order to make these comparisons intelligible, the economic trends are pegged to zero in 2012 with subsequent years shown as percentage change from that starting point. In all cases, this brief provides the most complete and recent data available, usually through 2021 or 2022. All data used in the report are publicly available online from US government agencies, such as the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.