ORVI Insider #23: Appalachian Petrochemical Dreams Are Running Out of Steam

 

 

The  latest news, research, and analysis from the Ohio River Valley Institute.

September 14, 2021

The dream of an Appalachian petrochemical hub, complete with a network of plastic-producing ethane cracker plants, cavernous natural gas storage facilities, and a surge of new pipelines, is crumbling. According to Senior Researcher Sean O’Leary, PTTGC America’s recent announcement of an “indefinite hold” on the development of the company’s Belmont County ethane cracker is “the latest indication that an imagined major petrochemical expansion in Appalachia is an economic non-starter.”Fracking development, a critical component of large-scale petrochemical expansion, also faces hurdles in the Ohio River Valley. The problem? It’s seriously unpopular with the public. Decisive majorities of Pennsylvania voters support the immediate or eventual end of natural gas drilling in the Commonwealth, Ryan Deto of the Pittsburgh City Paper writes.

Instead, Pennsylvanians would rather see public investments in clean energy and infrastructure projects—according to ORVI data, 70% of voters support tax credits to bring clean energy manufacturers to Pennsylvania.  And recent ORVI research bridges public support and practical policy measures, outlining how the U.S. Department of Energy could play a critical role in ushering in a clean energy economy in Appalachia.

Here’s the latest from the Ohio River Valley Institute:

Research Spotlight

How the Department of Energy Can Help Mitigate Economic and Environmental Damage from Petrochemical Development and Fracking

New research from the Ohio River Valley Institute demonstrates quantitatively that the environmental burdens currently being placed on the region by the natural gas industry and the additional burdens that would be created by a major expansion of the petrochemical industry are not only harmful to the health and safety of frontline residents, but have also failed to produce growth in jobs and prosperity and are incapable of doing so.

Fortunately, the nation’s transition to a clean energy economy can, if wisely directed, adequately funded, and properly supported by governmental offices like the Department of Energy, become an engine for both economic and environmental revival in the distressed Appalachian region.

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Community Groups Urge U.S. Department of Energy to Halt Gas, Ethane Development

More than one hundred environmental and community advocates described the devastating threats to public health and safety posed by petrochemical development in Appalachia and the Gulf South during a recent public hearing organized by the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.

While two presenters from the Appalachian region were invited by DOE to share policy perspectives at the top of the meeting (including ORVI Senior Researcher Sean O’Leary), a presenter from the Gulf South was not included in these opening presentations. Given the outsize role of the Gulf South in domestic ethane development and the severe and well-documented community impacts to residents, particularly black and indigenous residents, in that region, this omission was met with significant opposition from participants. 

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PTTGCA’s “Indefinite Delay” Reminds Ohio Valley Leaders of the Need for a Viable Economic Development Strategy

PTT Global Chemical America’s acknowledgement that the proposed cracker in Belmont County will not be built unless and until a new partner steps forward, which is highly unlikely, should motivate state and county leaders to examine proven alternative solutions like the Centralia model, which would allow the region to benefit from the nation’s transition to clean energy rather than be left behind once again, Senior Researcher Sean O’Leary writes. 

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ORVI In the News

Majority of Voters Want Fracking in Pennsylvania to End, Says Poll (Pittsburgh City Paper) 

More than half (55%) of Pennsylvania voters support the immediate or eventual end of natural gas drilling in the Commonwealth, according to a recent poll from Data for Progress and the Ohio River Valley Institute, Ryan Deto writes. Majorities of Pennsylvanians oppose oppose new tax breaks and large subsidies for petrochemical facilities (51%), like the Beaver County cracker plant, and fracking companies (59%). 

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A Single Courageous State: Climate, Jobs, and Justice, Episode 3 (Economic Policy Institute) 

Senior Researcher Sean O’Leary joins the Center for American Progress to discuss how the retirement of a coal plant successfully led to local economic development and how the Centralia model can apply to other economically distressed communities. 

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Federal Officials Working on Ethane Report Hear from Some in Appalachian Communities (StateImpact Pennsylvania) 

Regional advocates explained the serious community harm imposed by fracking and petrochemical development in the Ohio Valley and beyond during an online public meeting hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy. According to Senior Researcher Sean O’Leary, “these environmental burdens are not only damaging to the wellbeing of residents, but have also failed to produce growth in jobs and prosperity.” 

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J. Joseph Cullen: Best Options for Pennsylvania’s Coal Communities (TribLive) 

ORVI Research Fellow J. Joseph Cullen describes the buffeting market headwinds facing U.S. coal-fired power plants like the Cheswick Generating Station in Allegheny County, PA. Adopting the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) could create new revenue to allow the Commonwealth to help “ease the transition for coal plant workers and local communities” in Pennsylvania. 

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What We’re Reading

To Meet Paris Accord Goal, Most of the World’s Fossil Fuel Reserves Must Stay in the Ground (Inside Climate News)

Weirton Zoning Board Votes Down Permit for Natural Gas Operation (Weirton Daily Times)

Ohio To Search for Abandoned Wells Near Lake Veto (Columbus Dispatch)



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