HOUSTON (ICIS)--Shell is pausing its recall of construction workers at its polyethylene (PE) project in Pennsylvania state in the US because of growing cases of coronavirus in the region, a company official said on Thursday.
The company did not say if the pause will delay the completion of the project. Earlier, it expected operations to start in the early 2020s.
Shell had been gradually recalling workers after it suspended work at the site on 18 March, in response to the coronavirus.
At the time, the company had a peak of about 8,000 workers at the site, said Shell Business Integration Lead Michael Marr. Marr made his comments during the Petrochemical Development USA 2020 conference, held by Petrochemical Update, a subsidiary of Reuters Events.
The suspension lasted just a couple of days, he said. Afterwards, Shell brought back 300 workers, who deep-cleaned the site and prepared it for the protocols and processes needed to keep it sanitised.
The workers also did critical maintenance and preservation work at the site, Marr said. A lot of this work was connected with having so many people suddenly leave the site.
In mid-April Shell added 200 workers, Marr said. Afterwards, Shell started adding workers at a pace of 300-350/week until reaching 3,500-3,700, a level it has maintained since the end of June.
Shell had stopped adding workers because of the growing number of cases of the coronavirus in the region, Marr said. Shell reviews this policy weekly and it could resume adding workers to the site.
It will only do so if it is comfortable that it has the procedures in place to manage the spread of the disease, he said.
According to the company's most recent count, the site has had 17 cases of the coronavirus, Marr said. Shell traced those cases to the community and not to the site.
Shell has taken several steps to limit any spread of the disease at the site.
Until recently, it limited workers at the site's lunch room to one to a table, he said. It recently added screens made of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), increasing the number to two.
Buses are running at half capacity. Shell requires masks and temperature screening at the site.
The complex includes a 1.5m tonne/year ethane cracker and three polyethylene (PE) units totalling 1.6m tonnes/year of capacity in Monaca in western Pennsylvania.
All of the site's large structures have been erected, and workers are now connecting the pieces with pipe and electrical scope, Marr said.
The complex will rely on a 250 megawatt cogeneration plant, Marr said. Shell will need the power to start up operations.
Once it achieves sustained operations, Shell will need just 60% of the capacity of the cogeneration plant, Marr said. The rest will be sold.
The plant's PE will be shipped by rail and truck, he said.
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