Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto Say Enough of These Polluting Fracking Cracker Projects

by Duane Nichols on November 3, 2019

Shell’s ethane cracker creates toxic chemicals & hazardous air pollution

Pittsburgh’s mayor denounces petrochemical development in western Pennsylvania

From the Article by Rick Mullin, Chemical & Engineering News, November 1, 2019

PHOTO — The petrochemical plant under construction by Shell Chemicals on the Ohio River is scheduled to come online in 2021.

Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh drew a hard line on petrochemical development in western Pennsylvania at an environmental conference in the city on October 30th.

“Let me be the first politician to say publicly: I oppose any additional petrochemical companies coming to western Pennsylvania,” he told the 2019 Climate Action Summit in a speech that encouraged green energy investment and attracting business to the region by improving air and water quality.

The mayor’s statement was applauded by environmentalists and industry critics in the region around Pittsburgh, where a petrochemical plant, lauded by many for much-needed job creation, is being built by Shell Chemicals.

Among the politicians taking an opposite view to the mayor is President Donald J. Trump, who visited the region twice since this summer, extolling the energy and chemical sectors as economic engines. His first visit was to the Shell site in Beaver County, some 50 km from Pittsburgh on the Ohio River, where about 6,000 construction workers are currently at work.

Trump’s association with the city and its mayor dates back to the president’s statement—made in June 2017 when he pulled the US from the Paris climate accord—that he was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris. Peduto tweeted in response: “As the mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris agreement for our people, our economy and future.”

Since then, regional environmentalists have been lobbying him to renounce petrochemical development in the area around the city.

Shell’s cracker is the first to take advantage of low-cost feedstock from the Marcellus Shale, an underground formation rich in natural gas that spreads from southern New York, through Pennsylvania, and into Ohio and West Virginia.

PTT Global Chemical, a Thai company, has chosen a site in Belmont, Ohio, for a similar plant, and the Pittsburgh Business Times recently reported that ExxonMobil has reengaged with Beaver County officials on talks, started several years ago, about siting a petrochemical facility a stone’s throw from Shell’s. ExxonMobil is said to be scouting sites in Ohio and West Virginia as well.

No project besides Shell’s has a corporate green light. PTT Global Chemical, which recently navigated a challenge to its air permitting from environmental groups, has yet to begin construction on its cracker in Ohio. And the Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub, an ambitious scheme to invest in natural gas infrastructure that would allow a local petrochemical industry to grow out of the Marcellus Shale, is still just a plan.

Still, resistance to more petrochemical manufacturing in the region has given a new focus to citizen’s groups such as the Breathe Collaborative, a collection of 34 environmental groups and agencies.

Matthew Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Collaborative, welcomed Mayor Peduto’s statement. “It was music to my ears to have a regional leader speak out about the risk of aligning the region’s future to petrochemicals,” he tells C&EN.

The mayor, Mehalik says, “is acting from a place of wisdom. It’s not like this region has never been down this road before. We’ve kind of written the book on what it’s like to live in the midst of toxic industry and clean up after it.”

Leann Leiter, a field researcher and community advocate with the environmental group Earthworks, says the Mayor’s statement will have an impact. “It’s a big deal,” Leiter says, adding that industry critics are frustrated that Peduto has not addressed the Shell plant directly.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after his speech, the mayor commented that several groups have asked him to join in their opposition to the Shell cracker, but said “the ring is out of the bell and we can’t put it back.”

In his speech on Wednesday, Peduto called for cooperation between industry, government, and communities in the region to bolster investment in green energy rather than fossil fuel projects.

“There is a direct opportunity cost when we continue to invest in 19th century industry that costs us the opportunity to bring 21st century industry to this region,” Peduto said. He added that industry leaders have told him that the best incentive for investment in the Pittsburgh area is improved air and water quality.

Grant Ervin, Pittsburgh’s chief resilience officer, tells C&EN that Paduto intends to write a letter to Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf stating that the expansion of the petrochemical industry is an impediment to the region’s overall growth.

# Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), American Chemical Society #

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Abby Foster November 5, 2019 at 1:24 pm

Mayor Peduto on petrochemicals is just one point of view

>>> From a Opinion Report by Abby Foster, Pennsylvania Business Report, November 1, 2019

Consider the irony.

On a day when educators, economic development groups and state agencies from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia gathered at a conference just up the road in Monaca to discuss job opportunities tied to petrochemical investments, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was quoted at a climate summit stating, “I oppose any additional petrochemical companies coming to western Pennsylvania.”

I have a vastly different point of view.

Consider the role petrochemical and chemical manufacturing has played in the revitalization of the entire region. Even with an isolated view of the direct impact within Pittsburgh, you would be hard-pressed to find an area not benefiting from industry or industry products.

For example, Covestro, a leading polymer materials supplier with U.S. headquarters in Pittsburgh, has hosted a series of THINC30 Tanks throughout 2019 to advance the global United Nations sustainable development goals in the community. Covestro was also instrumental in the Energy Innovation Center’s transformation from a blighted property into a LEED platinum-certified “living laboratory” for community events and meetings promoting the use of clean technologies.

Braskem, a global petrochemical company with U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia has a research-and-development facility just outside downtown Pittsburgh, on the Monongahela River. Braskem has been ranked as one of the world’s top 50 most innovative companies and is widely recognized for its research in products made from renewable resources.

For all yinz sports fans out there, in addition to petrochemical products such as athletic equipment, stadium seating and the net that protects you from a foul ball, you might notice familiar names among the sponsors and partnerships. For example: the Penguins’ PPG Paints Arena, Shell Chemicals’ partnership with the Steelers and Covestro, Carnegie Mellon and the Penguins’ Rethink the Rink collaboration.

Across Pittsburgh, dozens of additional anchor tenants such as PPG’s headquarters, LANXESS, Pressure Chemical, INEOS Composites, PVS Chemicals and Air Products representing the chemical and petrochemical manufacturing industry contribute to the tax base and provide jobs within the city that drive a ripple effect of purchases supporting restaurants, shops, housing and recreation.

Across the economy, this industry has led in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through process improvements, innovative products and new technology.

In the construction industry, plastic-based building materials — made by petrochemical and chemical manufacturers — such as insulation and sealants improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption for commercial and residential buildings, ultimately lowering the carbon footprint of large cities and urban areas.

In the transportation sector, the incorporation of plastic parts has lightened vehicles, including planes, resulting in improved fuel economy and reduced emissions.

The chemical industry is also leading the way toward a circular economy with advanced recycling, enabling manufacturers to convert hard-to-recycle plastics into new chemicals, products, manufacturing feedstocks and low-sulfur transportation fuels.

Chemical and petrochemical companies are a critical ally in reaching state and national emissions reduction goals because the chemical industry supports more than 25 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

Pennsylvania has realized economy-wide reductions. According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, in 2015, statewide greenhouse gas emissions had fallen by 12 percent from 2000 levels. There were many factors in these reductions, including energy efficiencies, regulations, retirements of older electric generation fleets and the entry of natural gas into the market.

Although dry natural gas has provided a cleaner fuel and energy source to many businesses and homes, including those in Pittsburgh, and attracted billions in private investments and tax dollars, it is the wet gas that has ushered in this next phase of industry and advanced manufacturing.

The natural gas liquids (NGLs) in Appalachia are rich in key chemical building blocks such as ethane, propane and butane. These provide the feedstock to create the everyday products of a modern society. Ethylene, produced from ethane, is one of the most versatile building blocks, used in everything from solar panels and wind turbines to carpets, flooring, detergent and packaging. The access to abundant natural gas in this region has provided the petrochemical manufacturing industry a new, more affordable and more environmentally friendly feedstock.

Pennsylvania possesses the most affordable ethane in the world, and it is shipping almost all of it out of state and out of country. Shell Chemicals’ state-of-the-art petrochemical plant in Monaca is the first U.S. investment of its kind outside the Gulf Coast. Pennsylvania is no longer competing just with neighboring states to attract these investments. It is competing with the world. And our largest petrochemical competitor, China, has announced plans to build 20 new ethane crackers.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, from 1970 to 2017, U.S. gross domestic product increased by 262 percent while carbon emissions decreased by 23 percent. Unfortunately, while the U.S. is putting in the work to reduce carbon emissions and has made clear strides, global emissions since 1970 have increased by 90 percent. The top contributor is China, whose emissions have increased more than 50 percent since 2004.

Carbon emissions do not stop at state or international borders. We all contribute to the same atmosphere. If we want what is best to address global emissions and climate change, we will do everything possible to use this resource here in the U.S., where regulations are the most stringent globally and where a large portion of the consumer market is based.

The American Chemistry Council projects that, in addition to current production, the Appalachia region’s NGL resources could sustain five more ethane crackers and two propane dehydrogenation units attracting $36 billion in capital investments, 100,000 new jobs and $2.9 billion in new federal, state and local tax revenue annually.

It is the state’s environmental, economic and social responsibility to develop and benefit from the localization of markets around our natural gas resources, rather than surrendering this valuable asset to global competitors.

So I offer this additional point of view to readers and will continue to state clearly to all existing companies looking to expand operations and to those around the globe considering an investment in this region: Pennsylvania is open for business, and you are welcome here.

>>> Pennsylvania Business Report contributing author Abby Foster is president of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council.


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