“I have no idea why our government would issue loan guarantees to facilitate foreign investments for a product that is intended to prop up the faltering fracking industry, as well as to be shipped overseas,” – Leatra Harper, managing director for the FreshWater Accountability Project told Energy News Network.
Action – Support Omar and Jayapal’s Amendment 105 in Rule II on HR 2740 – (Energy Appropriations Bill)
Trump wants to use our money from a federal clean energy loan program to build a mega-fracking/petrochemical plant in the middle of Appalachia with his best friend, the president of China. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal have introduced Amendment 105 in rule II to remind him of the rules. Make sure your legislator is on board too and supports adding this amendment to H.R. 2740 – Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2020.
Minimum script: I’m calling from [zip code] and I want Rep. [___] to support the Omar-Jayapal Amendment 105 in Rule II on HR. 2740. Do not allow my tax dollars to support [the fossil fuel industry/this environmental catastrophe-waiting-to-happen.]
Rep. Julia Brownley: email, (CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
or Rep. Salud Carbajal: email. (CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
Who is my representative/senator?: hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com
What many of us didn’t know yesterday, is that the government operates a loan program called Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act. (Wonk alert – 42 U.S.C. § 16513.) This program was created to fund energy projects that “avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic [human-caused] emissions of greenhouse gases”, i.e. innovative, clean energy technology to help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The kinds of industries that don’t have tons of lobbyists or give out huge campaign donations…
Right now, the Department of Energy wants to give a $1.9 BILLION loan guarantee to build the “Appalachian Storage & Trading Hub” (ASTH), a facility with a huge underground storage facility and a web of pipelines connecting regional petrochemical plants and plastics factories in the Tri-State area of PA, OH and WV. (Read more here and here.)
“Coal dug Appalachians’ grave, oil-and-gas built the coffin, and petrochemical industry wants to put the nails in the lid.” – Dustin White
The companies behind the plastics boom have targeted small communities, from the Gulf Coast in TX and LA, to this new site in Appalachia, who often have little say in their role in the new infrastructure build-out, with decisions made largely behind the scenes by politicians and corporate behemoths, and with local agencies willingly stamping permits and granting exemptions with little or no public notice or input..
Miles of river (Ohio and Kanawha) that will be impacted by the proposed Appalachian Storage Hub and it’s Petrochemical Intermediate and Raw Material Infrastructure. This will potentially impact 50 counties in the Tri-State are of WV, PA, and OH. The total square miles of the impacted area is yet to be determined. 386 miles total down the Ohio River from Beaver, PA, to Catlettsburg, KY, with 68 miles down the Kanawha River from Point Pleasant, WV, to Charleston. *Map source: Mid Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center (MATRIC)*
This was definitely the case with ASTH, which was jump-started halfway around the world when President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, met in November of 2017 on a trade mission, during which Xi Jinping signed on to invest nearly $84 billion in the project over the next two decades—that’s more than West Virginia’s entire 2016 GDP. Our tax money, along with Shell Oil and China, would convert the region into the second largest concentration of plastics and chemical manufacturing in the U.S., right behind “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana and restart a second or third wave of fracking in the region. This will increase the Tri-State area’s already substantial exposure to industrial toxic emissions, while increasing waste plastic materials that largely end up polluting the earth’s oceans. (The video below is a little over 14 minutes…but it has some interesting information on why this development has not hit the major news outlets.)
Never heard of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley? Here’s a quick review. (There’s an ad in the middle, push through)
The gas industry, states White, frequently “targets those they believe can’t put up a resistance because they’re busy surviving or are seeking a quick fix for the economy.”
“The future of plastics is in the trash can,” Lloyd Stouffer, the editor of the trade journal Modern Packaging, declared in 1956.
Oil giants, like Exxon and Shell, who’s finishing off their $6 billion dollar “cracker” facility in Potter Township, PA , will definitely profit, especially if they can quash meaningful “circular” plastics regulations. (A”cracker” plant turns naphtha, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), ethane, propane or butane into ethylene, polyethylene and other components used to manufacture plastics and chemical products using steam or high heat.) According to the International Energy Agency, “petrochemicals are rapidly becoming the largest driver of global oil consumption,” picking up the slack as efforts to curb emissions and increase efficiency limit other sources of demand. Company executives point to the plastic components of solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles to misdirect attention from the largest consumer of plastic – single use packaging. The boom in plastics “will perpetuate a fossil fuel economy that underpins both the climate crisis and the plastics crisis,” concludes a 2017 CIEL report, “while impacting frontline communities and the wider public at every stage of its toxic lifecycle.”
Environmental groups, like those in the Break Free From Plastic movement, are increasingly calling for a prevention-focused strategy, in which companies stop making materials designed to be used only once and pay the full cost of collecting and recycling plastic products.
Meanwhile, Shell was careful to submit their plans in small parts, making it hard for the local community to understand how large the final installation – a maze of drilling sites, compressor stations, storage hubs, and pipelines, would eventually be. (Picture of it here.)
China: The U.S. is now being treated like a third world nation, where foreign entities take resources in active coorperation with complicit government agencies and leave environmental devastation behind. China owns $81 million worth of American farmland, as it’s 50% cheaper to raise their pigs here and because loose business and environmental regulations, especially in red states, which have made the U.S. an increasingly attractive place for foreign companies to offshore costly and harmful business practices. This includes petrochemical plants too, where Chinese companies have pushed into poorer neighborhoods in Louisiana.
“Jobs!, Jobs! Jobs!”
“I don’t understand why fossil fuel extraction, why that’s the only kinds of jobs this area is offered,” she said. “We want jobs that won’t kill us.”
What will the people of Appalachia get for sacrificing their water, air, the health of their children, the disabled and the elderly to the notoriously polluting petrochemical and plastics industry?
Shell Oil commissioned a study predicting that their “cracker” facility would produce $15-19 billion in regional economic activity in southwestern Pennsylvania over four decades. Others dispute that, saying the study used an “extremely high multiplier” of 13 new community jobs to one factory job, an assumption that all employees were unemployed prior to the plant’s completion and that Shell didn’t factor in their $1 billion tax break from the state. Their analysis also didn’t figure in enviromental cleanup for spills and explosions, or increased medical costs for a population facing daily exposure to carcinogens used for drilling and processing petrochemicals. One estimate puts the health-care impacts over a 30-year period from the Shell plant and two other crackers proposed in the region at $616 million to $1.4 billion in Beaver County alone, and up to $8.1 billion nationally.
The benefits of the ASTH will also come at a cost to the tourism and recreation industry, which, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, generates 91,000 direct jobs in West Virginia, 215,000 in Ohio and 250,000 in Pennsylvania, along with $62 BILLION in outdoor-related consumer spending.
Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute told ThinkProgress, the oil and gas industry is one of the worst to invest in if you want to create jobs. “In oil and gas, 12 percent” of value added investment goes to employees. In renewable manufacturing industries, it’s 60 percent.”
“In an industry that’s capital-intensive, more of the revenue coming in goes towards paying for equipment,” Garrett-Peltier said, “which means it’s going more to profits for the owners of the equipment.” Comparatively little goes to workers. Spending largely goes to buy land with fossil fuels underneath, to buy or rent the specialized equipment that’s a big part of the business, and to build infrastructure that doesn’t require much human time or effort once it’s done.
Although many studies show positive short-term income effects from oil and gas development, a study by Headwaters Economics was significant because it showed that they don’t last long-term. Again, that points to limited job creation for high-income specialists as extraction activities start, before the negative effects take over.
Once the thousands of contractors leave the community after a new facility is finished, it will be clear that there won’t be as many permanent jobs for local people as they were led to expect. Highly automated plant operations will create only an estimated 350 to 1,200 permanent jobs, compared to 5 times as many in renewable energy industries. And some of those jobs will go to already trained out-of-towners. Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, told Ohio Public Radio, “You just don’t hire people who’ve had two weeks of training and put them on this rig. You hire people who are equipped and ready to do this kind of job and you get them from where they can be supplied to.” Stewart pointed to hotel and restaurant jobs as potential benefits for those living where drilling takes place, low-skilled, low paying jobs that could disappear if a plant pulls out or after construction workers leave.
Headwaters Economics also found that oil and gas drilling doesn’t even raise incomes when they come to town — in fact, they lower them. Looking at the period from 1980 to 2011, the study found that longer periods of specialization in oil and gas meant lower per-capita incomes, more crime, and lower educational achievement. Per capita income was found to be as much as $7,000 lower in counties with a long-term focus on drilling compared to those that only experienced a year of it.
Other studies (including this one from Taiwan) show that not only did local residents not seem to benefit economically from hosting a petrochemical company in their county, they also suffered negative effects on life expectancy.
“This area of the Ohio River Valley, and other areas that have had a lot of experience with resource extraction, they follow this boom-bust cycle. When you’re in a bust phase and you lose jobs, there’s a lot of momentum: ‘Well, we need to attract industry to bring these jobs back,’” said Jennifer Baka, an energy geographer at Penn State. “We can’t think outside of the box and think about what an alternative-energy future might be, because we’re so familiar and accustomed to the existing fossil-fuel economy.”
Where do the guys with the suits live?
“The contrast is unbelievable. You have in one neighborhood 40% child poverty and Exxon right across the street pulling in $40 billion,” said Anne Rolfes, founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental advocacy group.
“When we allow industry to get way out in front of public health and environmental oversight, we end up counting bodies,” said Dr. Brian Schwartz of the Geisinger Center for Health Research in Montour County.
In Louisiana, after their air and water were polluted and record dioxin levels was found in their blood, Mossville residents had no choice but to accept a city-wide buyout from the South African fuels company that wanted to expand its petrochemical plant.
Shell Oil ended up paying to relocate families living near a petrochemical plant in Norco, Louisiana, after it was revealed that toxic leaks had not been properly reported to the state’s environmental watchdog.
Meanwhile, property values closest to industry, in the poorest neighborhoods, are often devalued because of safety, health and quality of life concerns. With the typical wealth of whites 13 times greater than African-Americans, many blacks — whose wealth is typically tied up in their homes — see it diminished further by where their homes are located. “It’s not just health we’re talking about, we’re talking about transformative wealth being stolen by property values being devalued because of environmental racism,” Bullard said.
But environmental racism definitely translates into health issues.“According to the researchers, minorities were exposed on average to 38% higher levels of nitrogen dioxide than their counterparts in white neighborhoods. From big cities to smaller rural communities across the country, that disparity in exposure equates to about 7,000 deaths from heart disease in a year.” Elevated sound levels from living close to fracking and petrochemical operations can cause headaches, uneasiness, stress, impatience, hypersensitivity, extreme anxiety, anger and violence. Toxins from petrochemical plants, oil extraction activities and refineries can be be absorbed by the skin or ingested, where they can accumulate in tissues and organs, and cause brain, nerve and liver damage, birth defects, cancer, asthma and hormonal disorders. Skin irritation, ulcers, allergic dermatitis, shortness of breath, eye irritation, dizziness, cough, nose congestion, sore throat, phlegm and weakness are commonly reported side effects from exposure to industrial air pollutants. A recent study by Princeton University researchers found that infants born within one kilometer of a fracking well were 25 percent more likely to have low birth weights than infants born more than three kilometers away and children living near refineries can be exposed to lead. Children living next to petrochemical industry also more likely to suffer respiratory illnesses, such as asthma.
Appalachia already has a long, hard, history with pollution.
There are thousands of abandoned fracking wells across Appalachia leaking natural gas, oil, and acid mine drainage into the groundwater, surface water, and air. Most of the ASTH will be built along the Ohio River, which the EPA has identified as the most polluted body of water in the country for the last seven years. The Ohio River also provides drinking water for millions of people in the region.
Air pollution will be even worse than in the Gulf Coast’s Cancer Alley. Even now, smog gets trapped in the low valleys of the mountainous region and there’s no Gulf breezes to move the air out. Leaked gases from underground storage could remain stagnant and ignite with one spark. The Pennsylvania city of Donora was the site of the worst air pollution disaster in U.S. history, where 20 people died and 400 were sickened when toxic smoke from the local zink factory was trapped in a smog blanket.
Southwestern Pennsylvania still has some of the poorest air quality in the nation, according to Matthew Mehalik, the executive director of the Breathe Project, which works on air-pollution issues. “If you consider that backdrop—[that we] already have a serious air-quality problem—the potential to add more burden to our airshed will only make things worse.” PTT Global Chemical, a Thai company, is planning a cracker facility in the Ohio Valley whose draft air permit submitted to the Ohio EPA estimates that it will release almost 400 tons of volatile organic compounds each year. The plant would also produce the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions of putting about 365,000 cars on the road.
Protesting against giant fossil-fuel based industries is becoming more difficult. A number of states, along with a strange focus on eliminating liability for drivers who hit protesters, are passing or attempting to pass laws that protect “critical infrastructure” or “economic activities”, which includes pipelines, and refineries. At the federal level, not only is Trump orchestrating deals to create fossil-fuel facilities with foreign entities, he tried to eliminate funding for the Office of Environmental Justice at the EPA, causing its leader to resign. (The EPA still provides their Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tool here.) Here’s the recorded locations of hazardous waste in Ventura and Oxnard.
So now what? We stick together, across the nation, and talk to our legislators.
Trump and the fracking industry want this facility NOW!: An overproduction of natural gas has created a gas glut that greatly outpaces domestic demand. This Storage Hub and petrochemical facilities that rely on natural gas would allow frackers to keep drilling us into a disastrous fossil-fueled future. Make your call. It will take less than 5 minutes.
- China Is Financing a Petrochemical Hub in Appalachia (Counterpunch)
- $83 Billion West Virginia Petrochemical Deal with China on Skids Due to Trade War, Corruption Probe (desmog)
- The Toxic Consequences of America’s Plastics Boom (the nation)
- “Caution ahead in petrochemicals” (read/eavesdrop on the petrochemical industry’s take on economic uncertainty and the plastic waste crisis) (c&en)