The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Plastic Beaver

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One came upon the fact that there’s a town called “Industry” about a half hour’s drive from where one dwells, and it’s found in Western Pennsylvania’s Beaver County. Most of Beaver County, which also offers a fairly invisible but lively border with the State of Ohio, is considered to be a part of what I’ve read several references to as “Greater Metropolitan Pittsburgh,” which is a geographic and cultural “something” that I’m still trying to encapsulate in my thoughts.

Since I like to take a look at things myself and in person, a quick drive to the area was undertaken, after scanning Google maps satellite views of the area and looking for any public waterfront areas or parks. Didn’t see much of that, and instead I found myself standing in the parking lot of a closed restaurant along the Ohio River staring at a plastics factory.

The Ohio River snakes through this part of Pennsylvania, flowing from its “Mile Zero” point at the conjuncture of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers in Downtown Pittsburgh, which is about thirty to forty miles away. I spotted a location to get some shots of the ‘Shell Polymers Monaca’ facility using Google maps, as is my habit. The plant is colloquially referred to as the “Shell ethylene cracker plant,” or at least that’s how the local news TV reporters refer to it whenever there’s a report about flaring or odors or discharges. Hey, if it’s good enough for CBS… As it happens, such an event had occurred the night before my visit and workers were still spraying water on a couple of pieces of equipment which were observed as glowing orange hot in videos captured by area residents. There’s lots of controversy surrounding this joint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After all those years on Newtown Creek, you can probably imagine what I was thinking while shooting these.

Pennsylvania’s terrain offers prodigious amounts of shale oil and actual “Natural Gas.” This plant’s design allows it to convert and refine gas into other commercial chemicals, notably ethylene. Ethylene is apparently the polymer feed stock used for plastic bottles and other disposable containers. The Shell plant’s construction costs put food on a whole lot of tables for a long time, and it continues to be a regional economic engine that is just getting started. According to reports, which should be read with a grain of salt due to corporate and regulatory propaganda, an economic nimbus is starting to emerge in the surrounding communities due to monetary osmosis. Jobs, jobs, jobs.

The chemical this Shell plant is designed to manufacture, using a feedstock of Natural Gas that’s pumped in via pipeline, is a kind of plastic that’s used primarily for soda bottles. This factory is expected to manufacture some 1.6 million metric tons of the stuff a year – when it’s fully online. Regulatory authorities in Pennsylvania have licensed Shell to release 2.2 million tons of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere annually as a byproduct of their operations on the Ohio River in Beaver. The plant has been having growing pains, with frequent flares and reports of other disturbances. Shell says they’re still working on the system.

Saying that, and mentioning the Newtown Creek perspective once again, this is… y’know what? I’m new here in Pennsylvania, and my opinion on this newest of petrochemical mills is meaningless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the life lessons I’ve learned on Newtown Creek is summed up by one of my frequently offered adages – It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. The post apocalyptic conditions left behind when the steel industry picked up stakes back in the 70’s and 80’s in this region means that a lot of things make sense to the people here which conflict with other views of the world. Fracking, plastics factories, etc. Jobs.

Saying that, please use reusable bottles and cans as much as possible. It’s already too late, but you might as well try to not be an asshole about it. Also, pick up after the dog.

Back tomorrow.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 20, 2023 at 11:00 am

3 Responses

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  1. Any “digester eggs” or similar at you new abode?

    georgetheatheist . . . seat down

    March 20, 2023 at 5:23 pm

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