Shell Chemical has agreed to buy a 1,000-acre site in Pennsylvania's Beaver County, where it plans to build an ethane cracker complex.

The site, located off the Ohio River in Potter Township, was previously home to a zinc smelter facility owned by Horsehead Holding Corp. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed, but reports suggested that Shell paid $13.5 million for the land.

Shell has drawn up plans to construct a large ethane cracker plant, which would process locally produced ethane from shale gas production into petrochemical products, including polyethylene.

Shell has not yet made a final decision on whether it will go ahead with the multi-billion dollar project, although the company has started development work at the site, demolishing the zinc plant and working on relocating power lines that run through the property, the Pittsburgh Business Times reported.

"The land purchase is a necessary step for Shell to advance the permitting process and allows us to proceed with some preliminary site development work," Shell spokesman Michael Marr explained.

A final investment decision will only be made once the required permits have been secured, he said.

The site is well situated, with access to liquid-rich natural gas resources and water, road and rail transportation infrastructure and power grids, as well as sufficient land to accommodate facilities and space for potential future expansion, chemicals-technology.com reported.