The proposed Shell Ethane Cracker Petrochemical Plant under construction in Beaver County (in Southwestern PA, just upwind of Pittsburgh. View map here) will make up to 1.5-1.6 million metric tons (reference, reference) (the Post-Gazette recently reported 3.5 billion pounds here) of polyethylene pellets annually from the ethane found in locally fracked natural gas. This facility will decrease the quality of life for residents of Southwestern Pennsylvania in several key ways:
- It will add significant amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC‘s) to our region’s already highly polluted air. The Pennsylvania DEP permitted the Shell Petrochemical Facility to emit 522 tons of VOC’s annually, making it the largest source of VOC emissions in western Pennsylvania, and the third largest in the state. Clairton Coke Works, our largest local VOC emitter, released 221 tons in 2018 [sources]. Some VOC’s like benzene are known carcinogens and will be released by the facility, and Allegheny County is already in the “top 2 percent” for U.S. cancer risk from air pollution (reference).
- It will increase the demand for fracked natural gas, putting public health at risk. Fracking is already putting a burden on local resident by polluting their air, water, and soil with a wide range of hazardous chemicals. Consider this recent Public Herald article discussing the impacts of fracking and the DEP’s questionable handling of complaints. Furthermore, Science magazine recently posted information about a large-scale study linking fracking to low-weight babies. According to the article, “According to the first large-scale study of babies born before and after natural gas extraction began in Pennsylvania, those living near fracking sites had significantly lower birth weights—and worse health—than other babies.” The article goes on to summarize other research, noting, “a growing number of studies suggests that living near oil and gas developments is associated with a wide range of negative outcomes, from higher rates of asthma and migraines to more hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and cancer.”
- It will trigger the construction of an Ethane pipeline system that crosses the Ohio River. A State Impact report quotes “pipeline safety expert Richard Kuprewicz” as saying,“The… ethanes, they’ll tend to hug the ground and they don’t have to necessarily be trapped in a building,” Kuprewicz says. “They can detonate on their own.” See the Falcon pipeline graphic below for route details. Find FrackTracker’s information about pipeline incidents here.
- It will exacerbate the global plastic pollution crisis in our oceans. As noted above, the Shell cracker will generate up to 1.6m tons of plastic per year, much of which finds its way to our oceans. According to an article in the Washington Post, “About a third of all plastics produced escape collection systems, only to wind up floating in the sea or the stomach of some unsuspecting bird. That amounts to about 8 million metric tons a year.” Furthermore, that same article indicates that, “If we keep producing (and failing to properly dispose of) plastics at predicted rates, plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish pound for pound in 2050.” Another scale comparison: The BBC reports that Coca-Cola uses about 3 million tons of plastic per year (reference), which is the equivalent of about 200,000 plastic bottles per minute (reference). So Shell’s petrochemical factory in Beaver may well be producing about 100,000 plastic bottles’ worth of plastic per minute, or 52,560,000,000 per year.
- It will produce large quantities of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Pittsburgh Business Times reports that the facility’s permit will allow it to emit 2.25 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year. That’s roughly equivalent to the CO2 emissions from 200,000 homes (reference), and more than 1/3 of the total CO2 emissions from the City of Pittsburgh (reference). Learn more about the connection between the Shell Petro Plant and climate change here.
- Shell’s petrochemical plant may reduce property values nearby. Retired economics professor, David Passmore, stated: “In general… studies have reported that real estate values are harmed by proximity to a major petrochemical plant. The further away from the plant, the lower the effect on home prices.” Source
- Shell has proven itself to be a bad neighbor, as highlighted by a variety of reports, including troubling accusations by Amnesty International (reference): “Amnesty International is calling on Nigeria, the UK and the Netherlands to launch investigations into Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell, over its role in a swathe of horrific crimes committed by the Nigerian military government in the oil-producing Ogoniland region in the 1990s.” The Amnesty International article continues with the following quote, ” “The evidence we have reviewed shows that Shell repeatedly encouraged the Nigerian military to deal with community protests, even when it knew the horrors this would lead to – unlawful killings, rape, torture, the burning of villages,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.” Furthermore, note the following clips from a scathing United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report about pollution in Ogoniland, Nigeria, published in 2011.
- “Extensive” soil pollution by petroleum hydrocarbons in Ogoniland (p.10)
- “In 49 cases, UNEP observed hydrocarbons in soil at depths of at least 5 m.”(p.9)
- “Hydrocarbon contamination was found in water taken from 28 wells at 10 communities adjacent to contaminated sites. At seven wells the samples are at least 1,000 times higher than the Nigerian drinking water standard of 3 μg/l.” (p.11)
- “…community members at Nisisioken Ogale are drinking water from wells that is contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline.” (p.11)
- “In January 2010, a new Remediation Management System was adopted by all Shell Exploration and Production Companies in Nigeria. The study found that while the new changes are an improvement, they still do not meet the local regulatory requirements or international best practices.” (p.12)
- “The study concludes that the control, maintenance and decommissioning of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland are inadequate. Industry best practices and SPDC’s own procedures have not been applied, creating public safety issues.”(p.12) (SPDC = Shell Petroleum Development Company)
- “Ten out of the 15 investigated sites which SPDC records show as having completed remediation, still have pollution exceeding the SPDC (and government) remediation closure values. The study found that the contamination at eight of these sites has migrated to the groundwater.” (p.12)
- It is the first of several proposed petrochemical facilities that industry proponents hope to build in and around Southwestern Pennsylvania to make use of the shale gas deposits in the region. Their goal appears to be turning this region into a plastics and petrochemical hub like Cancer Alley in Louisiana. A second cracker plant is currently under active consideration in Belmont County, OH by PTT Global Chemical (final decision expected early 2017)(reference). These facilities may attract even more cracker plants to the region, according to Lance Hummer as quoted in GoErie.com’s article. There is a similarly massive massive natural gas-to-ethane cracker facility a few years ahead of Shell’s schedule underway in Louisiana that can be used as a rough precursor approximation of what may come: Sasol’s Lake Charles Chemicals Project. Some activists from Louisiana’s Cancer Alley visited a packed hall in Beaver County on December 1, 2016 to share about what it is like to live near a petrochemical facility, recorded in this video.
- Pennsylvanians are paying Shell to do their business and pollute here in the region to the tune of about $1.6 billion over 25 years, via tax credit noted in the following source.
While Pittsburgh claims to be a “Most Livable City,” that status could be put at risk by a new petrochemical hub seeking to grow up all around it. If “the new Cancer Alley” is not your idea of a healthy place to call home, please speak up and join our cause! We believe that there are many other viable ways to bring jobs and economic vitality to Southwestern Pennsylvania that DON’T require us tolerate the continuing pollution of our air and water. This site is filled with resources and opportunities to get involved, so have a look around! We look forward to seeing you soon.