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Hundreds of construction workers will be returning to work on Shell’s ethane cracker in Beaver County, after state officials told the company that parts of the construction project don’t need a waiver to stay open.

The company suspended construction last month, after workers raised concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. The company then applied for a waiver from the state to be able to resume some work. 

But the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development recently told the company it didn’t need a waiver to continue work on a natural gas power plant the company is building, which will provide electricity to the rest of the chemical plant.

“An exemption is not required for such activity insofar as it directly supports electrical power generation, transmission and distribution,” said Rachel Wrigley, a DCED spokeswoman, in an email. 

Wrigley said state agencies “will of course be closely monitoring Shell’s activities to ensure that they do not exceed the limited operations described in their exemption request.”

Michael Marr, a Shell spokesman, said that the company has had a limited workforce to “repair, preserve, and maintain” the site during the construction shutdown.  

“In the weeks ahead, we anticipate reintroducing more workers to the site, at a measured pace so we can integrate limited personnel onsite while maintaining social distancing guidelines,” Marr said in an email. Marr said he anticipated there would be about 500 workers onsite next week. 

The company said it’s eliminating shuttle buses from satellite parking lots for workers to encourage social distancing. Instead, workers will be allowed to drive directly onto the site.

In addition, workers will have temperature screenings before coming onto the site, and observe social distancing procedures in common areas, Marr said. 

Beaver County has 158 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 14 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.