A September 10 gas pipeline explosion in Beaver County, Pennsylvania is a stark reminder of some of the dangers posed by the massive pipeline and petrochemicals expansion across Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
A new report by Food & Water Watch—Another Petrochemical Sacrifice Zone—lays out the scale of the petrochemical and fracking buildout planned for the Appalachian region. While the fracking boom has brought devastating environmental consequences, it also presents a different problem: Abundant supplies of gas are driving down prices, risking fracking’s profitability.
The petrochemical and plastics manufacturing industry has delivered one answer: A multi-billion network of pipelines and infrastructure with investments estimated between $26 and $35 billion that would transform the area into a chemical manufacturing cluster to take advantage of the nearby fracked hydrocarbons. The mutually profitable polluting partnership would give the petrochemical industry lower-cost inputs and give the fracking industry a new outlet to sop up excess gas supplies, halting the free fall in prices and encouraging more fracking.
The centerpiece is the Appalachian Storage Hub, an underground facility to be built in Monroe County, Ohio that would hold up to 2 million gallons of ethane and other natural gas liquids. But other big projects include a Shell petrochemical complex in Pennsylvania that could produce 3.5 billion pounds of polyethylene plastic annually, and a proposed Ohio ethane cracker that could produce 3.3 billion pounds of ethylene (a chemical ingredient used to make plastic) annually.
Industry officials tout the buildout as part of “a renaissance of chemical manufacturing in the United States.” These projects have been supported by an array of powerful corporations and trade groups, as well as political leaders like Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Ohio Governor John Kasich, both of whom have received sizable campaign contributions from the industries.
But this massive petrochemical bonanza could take a major health and environmental toll on communities that are already suffering from decades of industrial pollution. New plastics plants and other related facilities will release volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and other toxins—all in areas with existing air and water pollution problems.
“The Appalachian petrochemicals boom is a massive triple whammy of air, climate and plastic pollution, which serves corporate greed at the expense of public health and a livable planet,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Building a plastics and petrochemical competitor to the Gulf Coast right in the heart of Appalachia in order to prop up the dirty fracking business is simply a nightmare for both the region and the global environment. Regulators and elected officials should say no to the drillers and plastics manufacturers, and take the lead role in creating a clean energy revolution that prioritizes healthy communities, safe jobs, and a livable future.”
The recent pipeline explosion in Beaver County’s Center Township served as a chilling reminder of the dangers of this fracking buildout. The Revolution pipeline, which had been operational for under a week, is a 100-mile gathering line that serves two larger pipelines, the Rover and the Mariner East 2. The latter project, a 350-mile pipeline across Pennsylvania, has been plagued by construction problems, spills, and sinkholes. Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline company responsible for the Revolution line, blamed the explosion on a landslide caused by local rains. Local critics point out that similar erosion and landslide problems exist along the routes of the Mariner East and Shell’s Falcon pipeline, which is being built to connect to the Appalachian storage hub.