ORVI Insider #29: Looking Back on 2021

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

December 21, 2021

Season’s greetings from the Ohio River Valley Institute! We wish you, your friends, and your family a safe, joyful, and rejuvenating holiday season.

As 2021 winds to an end, we’re looking back with gratitude and excitement at our first full year of operation. We’ve made some notable strides toward our aim of equipping the region’s residents and decision-makers with the policy research and tools they need to bolster community organizing—and to advance long-term solutions to some of Appalachia’s most significant challenges. Check out our recent blog post to learn more about what the Ohio River Valley Institute has accomplished this year.

And don’t miss new research on the looming threat of the Ohio River Valley’s thousands of low-producing oil and gas wells. Because the operators of these “stripper” wells aren’t required to set aside sufficient remediation costs upfront, states and the public could be on the hook for billions in cleanup costs if the companies that own them go out of business, Senior Researcher Ted Boettner explains.

Another new analysis from Executive Director Joanne Kilgour and Research Fellow Eric de Place surveys the host of hydrogen and carbon capture utilization and storage plans and projects taking shape in the Ohio River Valley, concluding that there is good reason to worry both are a costly false promise. Here’s why.

Keep reading for the latest research on energy and economics in the Ohio River Valley. And this holiday season, please consider placing a donation to the Ohio River Valley Institute. Your gift helps us further our mission to realize a cleaner, more sustainable Appalachia where prosperity is shared by all. Thank you for your generosity—click here to donate.

New Research

2021 in Review 

As we reflect on our past year of research, we want to express our thanks to those who have made the work possible and to share with all of you the impact we have been able to make with your support. Over the last twelve months, the Ohio River Valley Institute has:

  • Published more than 60 substantive blog posts—a mix of economic analyses, regional jobs and GDP assessments, syntheses of opinion research, legal and electoral analysis, and public testimony;

  • Released 15 research briefs and reports, including a bombshell report on the failure of the fracking industry to deliver on its promise of local economic prosperity; 

  • Presented our research at congressional hearings and seen our work cited by influential legislators, like Senator Joe Manchin; and

  • Been featured in more than 650 news stories, reaching a total online and print audience of nearly 189 million. 

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Stayin’ Alive: The Last Days of Stripper Wells in the Ohio River Valley

The Ohio River Valley states of Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania host more than 177,000 wells that are technically producing oil or gas, but only in small amounts. Many of these so-called “stripper” wells are near the end of their economic lifespan but have been kept alive, sometimes for many years, at very low production levels to avoid clean-up costs. The problem? Because well operators aren’t required to provide sufficient remediation costs up front, states and the public could be on the hook for billions of dollars worth of well cleanup.

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Plans for Hydrogen and Carbon Capture Development in Appalachia

The Biden administration’s infrastructure bill authorizes billions of dollars in new federal spending to support the development of hydrogen and carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) across the country. It’s likely that Appalachia will play an outsized role in the development of these technologies—but research shows that, unless hydrogen and CCUS are constrained to a narrow range of applications, they will come at the expense of cheaper and more reliable climate solutions, while extending the lifespan of polluting industries like coal and fracking for natural gas.

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ORVI In the News

Coal Powered the Industrial Revolution. It Left Behind an ‘Absolutely Massive’ Environmental Catastrophe (Inside Climate News) 

Generations of coal mining have decapitated mountains, razed forests, and poisoned lakes and streams in the Ohio River Valley and across America. In the last 44 years, some 978,000 acres and $7.9 billion worth of damage from mines left behind before 1977 have been cleaned up nationally, according to ORVI research. But another 850,000 acres of abandoned mine lands remain, and cleaning them up will cost another $18.3 billion to $24.4 billion—more than twice the official estimate from the federal government. Those costs are likely to grow to as much as $33.6 billion by 2050.

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Mine Reclamation Funding: A ‘Game Changer’ for Eastern Ohio (Pennsylvania Public News Service) 

The new federal infrastructure law allocates $11.3 billion for abandoned mine land cleanup. The influx of funding could be a ‘game-changer’ in Eastern Ohio, creating hundreds of jobs and remediating environmental hazards, Ohio River Valley Institute research finds.

The Buckeye State is home to more than 3,400 abandoned mines, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Federally funded reclamation programs could create 730 jobs, nearly $2 billion in economic output, and $660 million in labor income.

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Report: Benefits from Western Pennsylvania Petrochemical Plant To Come? (Pennsylvania Public News Service) 

The development of the Shell ethane cracker in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, has failed to deliver on promises of economic prosperity, according to a recent ORVI research brief.

“Since the project was announced, the county has lost population,” de Place observed. “It actually lost businesses. It has fewer people employed now in that county than it did before the project was announced. So, if you’re another community thinking about petrochemicals, I would say Beaver County is a big red warning flag.”

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What We’re Reading

bell hooks’ poem, “Appalachian Elegy”

Regulators’ Endless Devotion to Fracking Industry Will Cost Ohioans in Money, Health (Columbus Dispatch)

New Report Throws Doubt on Overly Optimistic Fracking Forecasts from US Government (DeSmogBlog)

Mapping US Energy Communities (Resources for the Future)

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