Ethane Hype has Reached a New Level in West Virginia

by Duane Nichols on September 22, 2017

Where did the 100,000 jobs and the $36 billion investment figures come from? Despite what Wheeling’s papers tell you, it wasn’t a WVU study

From the Blog entitled The Wheeling Alternative, Internet Blog, September 2, 2017

On Wednesday, the top-of-the-front-page headline in both Wheeling papers highlighted what looked to be an important story for the Ohio Valley:

>>>”Ethane Storage Could Bring 100,000 Jobs

The sub-headline further explained:

>>> “WVU study looks at possible $36B investment

And here is the story’s lead paragraph about a just-released WVU study:

>>> “West Virginia University researchers believe a Marcellus and Utica shale ethane storage hub could help create $36 billion in investment and more than 100,000 permanent jobs – some of which could occur at industrial sites left behind by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, Weirton Steel and Ormet Corp.

100,000 jobs? That’s a lot of job creation. Investment of $36 billion? If the reporting is correct, the study certainly looks good for the tri-state region. Unfortunately for the Ohio Valley, the WVU study doesn’t mention any of the above. The reporter, Casey Junkins, who last year misrepresented a study on the retraining of coal miners to draw an opposite conclusion, once again makes claims for findings that are not in the study.

Here is a link to WVU’s Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium which then links to the WVU study as a PDF. The study is very technical and science-oriented. Fortunately, a PDF program that can open the study will usually have a search feature which will look for specific words or phrases. So if you open the study, try “jobs” or “investment.” You should get the same results that I did — both will be highlighted only once in the 181 page document and both are in the same sentence:

>>> “In the United States, petrochemical projects are expanding. Industry investment and jobs have increased; the value of NGLs has increased; and fractionation capacity has increased as new processing plants come on line.”

That’s it — there are no other references to job creation or investment in the study.

But if it’s not in the study, where did the headline’s $36 billion in investment and 100,000 jobs come from? With a little research I found both figures side-by-side in a different study published by the American Chemistry Council earlier this year. (See page 5 in “The Potential Economic Benefits of an Appalachian Petrochemical Industry.” The numbers are detailed in a chart.)

Who is the American Chemistry Council and are they as credible as WVU’s academic research team? The American Chemical Council is the chief lobbying group for the chemical industry. The Center for Public Integrity, which has won two Pulitzer Prizes for investigative journalism in the last four years, has done numerous investigations of this lobby group including “Brokers of Junk Science,” “Making a cancer cluster disappear,” and “Meet the ‘rented white coats’ who defend toxic chemicals.” If you’ve been following the flood story about the chemical plant in Houston that may explode, you are likely familiar with some of the results of the Council’s work. The International Business Times recently reported how the Council is connected to what happened in Houston:

>>> “The French company that says its Houston-area chemical plant is spewing “noxious” smoke — and may explode — successfully pressed federal regulators to delay new regulations designed to improve safety procedures at chemical plants, according to federal records reviewed by International Business Times. The rules, which were set to go into effect this year, were halted by the Trump administration after a furious lobbying campaign by plant owner Arkema and its affiliated trade association, the American Chemistry Council, which represents a chemical industry that has poured tens of millions of dollars into federal elections.

Yes, the American Chemistry Council is a very questionable source and given their reason for existence and history, it’s not that much of a stretch to doubt the Council’s conclusion that a storage hub would create 100,000 permanent jobs and $36 billion in investment. The Council’s goal is to sell us on a storage hub and I don’t think they’re all that concerned about whether their means are ethical. What is unfortunate in this case is that those numbers will now be connected with West Virginia’s research. Junkins’ sloppy reporting has given credibility to what are certainly some very questionable claims.

It should be noted that some newspapers did get the story right. The Washington (PA) Observer-Reporter’s coverage of the event also included those figures but it’s reporter made it clear that the numbers were part of the discussion afterwards and not from the WVU study. Readers of Ogden papers were not so fortunate.

Last year, Casey Junkins’ bogus conclusions on the cost of retraining miners predictably resurfaced a few days later in a local editorial. Similarly, Mike Myer (editor) in his column in this morning’s Intelligencer uses Junkins’ incorrect conclusion:

>>> “There was good news for Northern Panhandle and East Ohio residents last week, when West Virginia University researchers released a study regarding sites for an ethane storage hub.”

>>> “There’s been a lot of hype regarding ethane storage hubs during the past several weeks. Having one in your area is a gold mine for the economy, we’re told. As many as 100,000 new, permanent jobs could be created around a hub, WVU’s experts say.

I think this is just the first of what will be many references to a WVU study that didn’t even examine job creation.

>>> The Wheeling Alternative is an Internet Blog authored by a retired educator with interests in media, politics, and popular culture.


NOTE: Ethane is a secondary product of the natural gas production from Marcellus shale. When ethane is cracked into ethylene, it can be polymerized into polyethylene, one of the plastics that are polluting the planet and interfering with marine animals.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Wildfire September 23, 2017 at 10:35 am

So this is kind of beyond “sloppy reporting”–it’s dishonest, and part of a campaign to accommodate an industry–or a few industries–that want to turn our area into another Cancer Alley.

Fine to see the rebuttal here and in a Wheeling blog, but can we get something in the Wheeling papers that are running the distorted stories?

Mary Wildfire, Clay County, WV


The Guardian September 23, 2017 at 2:42 pm

When media sceptics misrepresent our climate research we must speak out

From The Guardian, Great Britain, September 21, 2017

On Monday, we published a paper in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience that re-evaluated how much carbon dioxide we can still afford, collectively, to emit into the atmosphere and still retain some hope of achieving the ambitious goals of the Paris climate agreement to “pursue efforts” to keep global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The carbon budget we found, to yield a two-in-three chance of meeting this goal, was equivalent to starting CO2 emission reductions immediately and continuing in a straight line to zero in less than 40 years: a formidable challenge.

Formidable, but not inconceivable. The distinction matters, because if it were already completely impossible to achieve the Paris ambition, many might argue there was no point in pursuing those efforts in the first place – or that the only option left is immediately starting to cool the planet with artificial volcanoes.

We knew this finding would be controversial, since previous estimates had indicated that to meet the same goal, emissions might have to reach zero in well under a decade, which really is inconceivable. Crucially, the reason for the correction was not that we had a new estimate of the climate response, or warming per tonne of CO2 emitted – we used exactly the current consensus range – but that we took better account of past emissions and where human-induced warming has got to already.

It was a relatively technical paper, so we prepared as best we could, wrote a non-technical blogpost and organised a press briefing with the Science Media Centre. Almost all of the initial coverage on Monday and Tuesday was accurate: both the Times and Telegraph had headlines about ‘wrong’ or ‘faulty’ models, but in the articles beneath them, Ben Webster and Henry Bodkin were careful not to say there was any evidence the models were systematically over-responding to CO2. We took pains at the briefing to stress the discrepancy was likely due to other, more transient, factors. Those who were there evidently understood.

Then the opinion writers piled in. Writing in Breitbart, James Delingpole announced that our paper “concedes that it is now almost impossible that the doomsday predictions made in the last IPCC assessment report of 1.5C warming above pre-industrial levels by 2022 will come true.” Which would be exciting, except that the 2013 IPCC report made no such prediction. In fact, the IPCC specifically assessed that temperatures in the 2020s would be 0.9-1.3C warmer than pre-industrial, the lower end of which is already looking conservative. Anyone who had troubled to read our paper would have found this “IPCC AR5 Ch11 projection” helpfully labelled on two of our figures, and clearly consistent with our new results.

In the Daily Mail, Graham Stringer, a Labour MP, weighed in: “According to these models, temperatures across the world should now be at least 1.3C above the mid-19th century average.” Except, they don’t show that, and nor did our paper. Because CO2 concentrations are much better known than emissions, models calculate both the emissions needed to reach observed concentrations and the temperature response. In many models, total accumulated CO2 emissions do not reach today’s level until well after 2020, by which time the level of human-induced warming in the models can indeed be about 0.3C warmer than it is in the real world today, depending on how you measure it. Which means you need to be careful about using these models to work out the remaining carbon budget for an ambitious goal like 1.5C – precisely the point of our paper. In a rapidly warming world, a few years makes a big difference: the discrepancy between modelled temperatures today and observed temperatures today is much smaller.

Moving on to the Sun, James Delingpole (again) announced that our paper would “scotch the […] myth […] that man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) is causing the planet to warm at such dangerous and unprecedented speeds that only massive government intervention can save us.” Note the careful wording. Delingpole presumably knew that our paper said nothing at all about revising the impact of CO2 on climate. But by adding a swipe at government intervention, perhaps he hoped to pack just enough into that sentence to squeak it past the UK Independent Press Standards Organisation (which presumably has no sway over Breitbart).

So after reasonably accurate initial reporting, suddenly our paper was about a downgrading of the threat of climate change, when it was actually nothing of the kind: our predictions for warming rates over the coming decades are identical to those of the IPCC, and we do not assess the impacts of climate change for any warming level. And then, of course, these ideas were picked up by sympathetic editors all over the world.

Who really loses from all this? While Delingpole and Stringer were making out that our paper was about something it wasn’t, it seems to have prompted much more interesting conversations among scientists around the world about what the true level of human-induced warming really is, and what the Paris goal actually means.

These are important questions. For such a tight target, the actual remaining carbon budget is sensitive to a number of assumptions, including even how we define global average temperature. Significant uncertainties remain, and while we believe our paper improves on previous estimates, it is by no means the last word. But debating the current level of human-induced warming and how it relates to the 1.5C goal feels a bit like discussing how best to steer a spacecraft into orbit around Saturn while Delingpole and Stringer are urging their readers to question whether the Earth goes round the Sun.

Critics of mainstream climate policy frequently complain that they feel excluded. The real problem is that they exclude themselves, and their readers, from the discussion as soon as it starts to get interesting.



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