Cracker Plants for Plastic are Bad News

Air pollution from the Shell Cracker Plant in Beaver County will be like adding 50,000 automobiles to the roads!
One of the most informative speakers at the 2015 Shale and Public Health Conference in Pittsburgh was Wilma Subra.

Over seven years of attending the Shale and Public Health conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, certain presenters stand out in your mind. Wilma Subra was one such speaker, talking not only about the pollution and health risks around fracking, but also cracker plants.

Image: Shell Cracker Plant under construction in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Photo: Marcellus Air

A massive cracker plant is currently under construction north of Pittsburgh in Monaca, Pa., along the Ohio River. There’s been talk over recent years of four to six more cracker plants being constructed in the Ohio River Valley, followed by related industries that would use the plastic nurdles created by cracking Marcellus Shale ethane.

Listen to what Wilma Subra had to say:

2015 Video – Ethane Crackers and Associated Health Impacts

Image: Wilma Subra speaking at the 2015 Shale and Public Health conference in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Nick Cunningham of Yale Environment 360 writes:

A Fracking-Driven Industrial Boom Renews Pollution Concerns in Pittsburgh
March 21, 2019 – Shell purchased pollution credits to offset its emissions. Industrial emitters frequently buy such credits, particularly in areas that don’t meet federal air quality standards. In Shell’s case, however, this has been controversial, because while the company secured enough credits for its nitrogen oxide pollution, it could not find enough credits for its VOC emissions. So it lobbied the Pennsylvania DEP to convert surplus nitrogen oxide credits into VOC credits. While this may help reduce pollution in a neighboring county from a shuttered facility, pollution will increase in the vicinity of the cracker plant when it comes online, opponents warn.

The plant’s critics also maintain that Shell’s ethane cracker represents a significant setback in the region’s long battle to clean up its air. Pittsburgh is ranked in the top 10 nationwide for most polluted cities in terms of year-round particulate matter. Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, is ranked in the top 2 percent nationally in terms of cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants, according to a 2013 study by the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Yale Environment 360
Below are excerpts from a few of the 2015 permitting documents filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection:
To the chagrin of many who are already concerned about long standing air pollution problems in our region, we recently learned that a second cracker plant is being considered for the SAME western Pennsylvania county. In American football, we call that “piling on” — something that’s unfair and should not be allowed. Reid Frazier of StateImpact Pennsylvania and WESA 90.5 writes:

Report: ExxonMobil Scouting Property For 2nd Cracker Plant In Beaver County
October 17, 2019 – ExxonMobil is reportedly looking for land to build a large chemical plant in Beaver County. The Pittsburgh Business Times is reporting that agents representing ExxonMobil are scouting riverfront property in Beaver County to build a cracker — a large plant that turns natural gas into plastics and chemicals. If built, it would be the second major chemical plant in Beaver County built to take advantage of cheap natural gas from the region’s fracking industry. Shell is already building a six-billion dollar plant in Monaca that will make plastic out of ethane, a common byproduct of natural gas. Other companies are looking at locations in Ohio and West Virginia. 


Source: May 9, 2019 WTAE-TV4

Your Health vs. Cracker Plant Jobs
Pollution from Shell’s ethane cracker will be a major issue impacting everyone in the region, especially people in proximity to the plant — 2.25 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents is a staggering measure of the greenhouse gases that will be released each year by the largest ethane cracker in North America. The plant will also emit up to 522 tons per year of volatile organic compounds — three times the VOC output of the Clairton Coke Works — to create asthma-inducing ozone. It will release more than 30 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants, which, like VOCs, include benzene, linked to cancer and childhood leukemia; tolulene, linked to brain, liver, and kidney problems and to spontaneous abortion and birth defects; and, in levels surpassing those of the Clairton Coke Works, the No. 2 cancer driver from air pollution in southwestern Pennsylvania: formaldehyde. The plant will release 159 tons per year of PM2.5 — particulate matter that can pass straight through the lung’s alveoli and into the bloodstream to contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory disease, as well as to lung cancer and bladder cancer.

From the Mayor of Pittsburgh – Where fracking is Banned

The mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, recently shared his opinion about a potential build-out of the Petrochemical Industry in the Pittsburgh region. The mayor has joined many other mayors across the United States in supporting the Paris Climate Agreement, while working to meet those goals at the city level.

Ryan Deto of the Pittsburgh City Paper writes:

Bill Peduto says no additional petrochemical plants should come to Western Pa.
October 30, 2019 – Today at the Climate Action Summit, Mayor Bill Peduto announced his opposition to any additional petrochemical cracker plants that have been rumored for the Western Pennsylvania region. The region’s first cracker plant is currently being constructed in Beaver County by oil giant Shell. Cracker plants refine natural-gas into plastic pellets. The Shell cracker will likely be fueled by natural-gas fracked in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region. Since its construction, other oil and gas companies have been eyeing potential cracker plants in the Ohio River Valley, including ExxonMobil. Business interests have been hinting at the potential of four cracker plants in this region. “I oppose any additional petrochemical companies coming to Western Pennsylvania,” said Peduto to the crowd, according to Pittsburgh Business Times reporter Paul Gough. “We don’t have to become the petrochemical/plastics center of the United States.”

Pittsburgh City Paper
Antonia Juhasz of Rolling Stone writes:

Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’ Is Getting Even More Toxic — But Residents Are Fighting Back
October 30, 2019 – Sharon Lavigne knows some 30 people who have died in and around her tiny parish of St. James, Louisiana, in just the past five years. She buried two close friends this past weekend — one died of cancer, the other heart disease. Two of her brothers have cancer, and her boyfriend of 17 years died of COPD, a respiratory disease linked to air pollution and chemical fumes, in 2013. “They promised us jobs,” Lavigne says. “Instead they pollute us with these plants, like we’re not human beings, like we’re not even people. They’re killing us. And ­­­that is why I am fighting.” The exceptionally elevated toxic air emissions released by the industry are linked to a host of ailments, from cancer to cardiovascular and respiratory disease to reproductive and developmental disorders.


Image: Flares at the Shell Cracker Plant – “There will also be an elevated flare, ground flares and a multipoint ground flare. The elevated flare will only be operated during periods of malfunction.”

With increasing prospects for a Pennsylvania ‘Cancer Alley’ due to a Petrochemical Hub build-out, many are once again weighing their options for exiting the region, to leave all the fracking pollution behind.


The wooing of a would-be petrochemical plant

In the Ohio River Valley, with the pandemic’s help, the petrochemical boom is on hold

Enviro Groups Challenge EPA’s New Air Rule for Ethane Crackers