ORVI Insider #30: The Rise of ‘Frackaging’

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

January 11, 2021

 

 

 

Happy New Year from the Ohio River Valley Institute! In 2022, we’re looking forward to gaining more ground against the false economic promise of the Appalachian gas and petrochemical industries and realizing alternative strategies for economic development that can foster real, lasting prosperity in the Ohio Valley.

Another resolution: monitoring rampant plastic production trends. Rebecca Altman’s sweeping historical survey of the plastic industry in The Atlantic ties a century of production, consumption, and disposal to the contemporary pollution crisis. Today’s record plastic output traces back to the US fracking boom, ORVI Research Fellow Kathy Hipple explains, which opened up new reserves of natural gas in Appalachia and elsewhere. This feedstock “glut” spurred a frenzy of investment in plastics plants, which now churn out more plastic packaging than demand can absorb. Altman terms the breakneck gas-to-plastics pipeline “frackaging.” 

 

 

 

At the same time, oil and gas companies are claiming that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment trends are a form of fuel-based ‘discrimination.’ Waves of investors have abandoned fossil fuels in favor of more environmentally-friendly business practices. In response, industry lobbyists and the American Legislative Exchange Council are collaborating on draft legislation that would ban financial penalties based on a company’s fossil fuel holdings. Concerning, maybe, but in a state like West Virginia, that’s more a feature of the system than a bug, Senior Researcher Ted Boettner explains. “The coal industry and other powerful industries typically write legislation” in the Mountain State, and “they have a great batting average on bills they want passed.”

Still, a group of Pennsylvania community organizers are proving that powerful fossil fuel interests can be overcome. Concerned Residents of West Deer (CROWD), an advocacy group based in northern Allegheny County, have pushed the township’s Board of Supervisors to unanimously reject an application for a local natural gas well pad deemed likely to “substantially affect the health, safety, and welfare of the community,” according to the Pittsburgh City Paper. The group’s efforts reflect a growing opposition to fracking and natural gas development among Pennsylvanians. More than half (55%) of Pennsylvania voters want to see an immediate or eventual end to fracking in the Keystone State, according to an ORVI and Data for Progress poll released in July.

Here’s the latest from—and about—the Ohio River Valley Institute: 

 

 

 

 

 ORVI Events

 

 

 

Could advanced nuclear energy development soon fuel West Virginia?

Next Tuesday, January 18th at 6 PM EST, join energy experts Dr. Jessica Lovering and Dr. James Kotcon and West Virginia representatives Kayla Young (D – 35), Brandon Steele (R – 29), and Evan Hansen (D – 51) for a conversation on the benefits, risks, and political context of advanced nuclear development and small modular reactors (SMRs) in the Mountain State. This event is presented online by the Ohio River Valley Institute, West Virginia Rivers, and West Virginia University Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development.

Click here to register.

 

 

 

 

 

ORVI In the News

 

 

 

How Bad Are Plastics, Really? (The Atlantic) 

Rebecca Altman embarks on a sweeping survey of the history of plastic production, from the inception of petrochemical vinyls in the 1920s to the postwar explosion of disposable consumer goods. Today, our economy and environment are inundated with the stuff—more plastic has been created, consumed, and disposed in the past two decades than in the entire second half of the 20th century. The US fracking boom has fueled the most recent expansion of plastics. According to Research Fellow Kathy Hipple, an oversupply of natural gas feedstock drove investment in plastics plants, which has forced, in turn, an excess of plastic packaging onto the market beyond what demand can absorb. It’s a breakneck output Altman has monikered ‘frackaging.’

 

 

 

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The Conservative Plot Against Green Investment (The New Republic) 

The fossil fuel industry is struggling to stay afloat. As oil and gas stocks continue to underperform the S&P 500,  companies are claiming that new investment trends vaguely prioritizing sustainability “discriminate” against companies with fossil fuel holdings. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is mounting a multi-state legislation campaign to outlaw higher premiums, surcharges, or interest levied on oil and gas corporations. According to Senior Researcher Ted Boettner, this blatantly pro-industry legislative push, which has found its way to West Virginia, is par for the course—”the coal industry and other powerful industries in the state typically write legislation. Having a lobbyist write a bill is a feature of the system, not a bug,” he said.  

 

 

 

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RGGI Remains an Issue (Indiana Gazette) 

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a regional compact with the aim of capping and reducing carbon emissions from the power sector, could take effect this year in Pennsylvania. According to Research Fellow Joe Cullen, the program could have pronounced economic effects for struggling coal communities in the Keystone State. Cullen’s research outlines eight case studies across RGGI states in which revenue from the program played a “critical role” in attracting new businesses to replace jobs lost by the transition from coal.  

 

 

 

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West Deer Rejects Gas Well Amid Growing Opposition to Fracking in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh City Paper) 

West Deer Township in northern Allegheny County has voted to reject Olympus Energy, LLC’s proposed natural gas well pad. Opposition to fracking development and activity in Pennsylvania is growing—ORVI’s July poll found that more than half (55%) of Pennsylvania voters support an immediate or eventual end to fracking. 

 

 

 

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What We’re Reading

 

 

 

2021 Trends that Could Drive the Energy Transition Further Next Year (DeSmogBlog)

 

 

 

Upper Ohio River in Beaver County: Impact of Petrochemical Facility Discharge on the Community and What’s Behind This Long Battle (FracTracker Alliance)

 

 

 

Germany Is Quitting Coal. Why the US Might Not Follow. (E&E News)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

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