German industrial-gases maker Linde Group's planned $100 million investment in the Linde bottled-industrial-gas plant on Delaware River just below the Pennsylvania state line won't create new permanent jobs. It will further the local boom in gas-related construction.  

"We will remain at net 17 jobs when complete," Linda spokeswoman Vinita Abraham told me today, addressing questions sent yesterday after the announcement. "During the construction phase there will be 80 jobs created at its peak" before work winds down in 2019. 

Linda decided to add the new Air Separation Unit because demand from its chemical-company customers in the Northeast is rising, thanks to the flood of low-cost fuels and liquids from Marcellus Shale wells in upstate Pennsylvania and nearby states. The planned Mariner East 2 pipeline to Sunoco Logistics in nearby Marcus Hook, Pa., is expected to feed export and local-industry growth.

"The availability of cheap natural gas was one of the factors" supporting the expansion, Abraham confirmed. "Areas that have sustainable low-priced natural gas do tend to see an increase in the need for industrial gas products. There is a lot of chemical company activity in the Northeast because of that."

Indeed, construction work has pipefitters, carpenters, laborers and other unions busy at the nearby Sunoco Logistics site, Martin Williams, business agent for Bensalem-based Local 13 of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, told me. He's hopeful union contractors will also win the Linde work and other as-yet rumored construction jobs in the neighborhood.

"It's good news for the building trades," Williams added. "It wasn't that long ago we were all worried about the outlook" as oil refineries closed along the Delaware. "We're glad" to see Linde and other gas-based and -fueled companies building new facilities.

When work is done in 2019, Linde says Claymont will be its "largest liquid merchant plant in the U.S.," producing 1,200 tons of liquid oxygen, nitrogen and argon, plus 400 tons of industrial gases.

The lack of permanent new hires at the expanded, updated site underlines the large capital investment in automation that has contributed to the drop in manufacturing employment in former job centers like the industrial stretch of the Delaware from Philadelphia south to New Castle.

The Linde site lies between Sunoco Logistics' Marcus Hook gases and fuels processing center, which is rising on the site of the old Sun Oil refinery and port facilities, and the former Claymont Steel (Evraz) plant in Delaware, which is being demolished prior to planned redevelopment for industry and other commercial uses.

The choice was unrelated to consolidation of the bottled-gas industry following the recent takeover of Radnor-based Airgas by France's Air Liquide, or Linde's own abortive pursuit of PraxAir. "The aspect of a potential  merger had absolutely no effect on the Claymont expansion plans," Abraham said.

In a statement, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said the plant will "create jobs while also reducing (Linde's) energy footprint."  

ABOUT THAT SAVINGS: "Far more efficient" new processes from Linde's engineering unit will enable the plant to produce more using "about 15%" less electricity, Abraham told me. Linde lists the processes it is updating here.

Markell said the Claymont workers' jobs were in danger if Linde had not decided to expand: "The investment will create many construction jobs, but is also necessary to retain current workers at the plant who would not have continued to work there without this." Markell called it a tribute to Delaware's "welcoming business climate" and workforce.