Shell's recent decision to bring an ethane cracker plant to western Pennsylvania confirms speculation that the energy giant will commit to the project which would boost the region's economy and energy industries.

The plant will take ethane from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations and convert it to polyethylene, has been welcomed by officials in the Pittsburgh area and statewide. Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC's announcement also provides a ray of hope to who have noticed natural gas production decline across the state, due mostly to global low prices. Attorneys will benefit, alongside tens of thousands of construction workers and supporting personnel who he said would be put to work building the facility and hundreds or even thousands who would find employment once it is completed.

The land has been secured for the project, which will sit on the site of a former Horsehead Corp. zinc smelter in Beaver County. Shell said the complex will produce polyethylene that can be used for products ranging from food packaging to automobile components.

Some of that work has already begun. For example, even before Shell said it would go ahead with the project, the company committed in May to moving a mile of a state road, a process that requires permits from the state's Department of Transportation. The company also engaged in remediation work on the site, securing permits from the Department of Environmental Protection. Construction will likely present a wider spread of opportunities, thanks to the many contractors and subcontractors who will have a hand in building the facility.

Pennsylvania's environmentalists have been active in opposing many facets of the natural gas boom since its inception, and their potential challenges to the project — or at least components of it — could bring litigation over permits.

"Whoever is lucky enough to represent Shell will have a good go of it," said Harry Weiss, the leader of Ballard Spahr LLP's environment and natural resources group. Attorneys are hopeful that Philadelphia, with its Eastern Seaboard location and connections to nearby gas fields, might also be home to future projects.

"Shell or one of its competitors should look at Philadelphia," Weiss said. "It would be logical to use a place that has existing infrastructure rather than build something completely new."