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Trump’s visit to Shell plant highlights natural gas challenges

Plastic bottles and other trash washed up on the shores of Scotland. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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President Trump today visited a new petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania to promote his vision of American oil and gas “energy dominance.” The local natural gas industry, however, is struggling with overproduction and low prices.

Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation has lured competing energy companies using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technology to pull up more and more natural gas. In addition, natural gas comes out of the ground with crude oil in west Texas. The surplus has driven prices down to three-year lows, frustrating investors in unprofitable gas companies.

Pennsylvanians hope the soon-to-be completed Shell plant the President visited today will bring a lifeline. When it’s finished, the plant will process ethane — a liquid that emerges from the ground alongside gas — into a raw ingredient for plastic. This ingredient will then ship to Europe to be made into retail products, including plastic bottles.

But there are concerns that America’s thriving plastics industry will produce more than the world wants. There is an increasing backlash against plastics overuse, given environmental concerns, said economist Christof Rühl, director at Crystol Energy.

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