Fracking With Fitz

Following a recent protest in front of the City County building in downtown Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald made a few erroneous statements to the Press, according to a recent story by Eric de Place, a research fellow at the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI) in his blog, “Fact-Checking Fitzgerald on Fracking Allegheny County Executive fumbles with falsehoods in his response to protests.”

The original newspaper story, “Petition urges Allegheny County executive to end his support of shale, petro development Fitzgerald refuses, citing benefits,” by Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, included several quotes from Mr. Fitzgerald, who uses the initials “A.C.E.” at the beginning of his Twitter handle.

Maren Cooke, founder of the local environmental group, Putting Down Roots – Remake Learning, was an organizer of the Monday event to deliver the message, in the form of a letter and petition, trying to get Allegheny County to move away from promoting and relying on fossil fuels. As Ms. Cooke described it, “The letter lays out the science against continued use of fossil fuels. We know more today than two years ago about the impacts on children’s health, climate change, pollution and job creation. We’re asking Rich Fitzgerald to withdraw his support of those industries. We can do better for the region than that.”

“Hugh Climate Impact!”

Ms. Cooke went on to say the Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC ethane cracker plant, now under final construction 23 miles to the northwest of ACE’s office in downtown Pittsburgh, will emit up to 522 tons of volatile organic compounds, 30 tons of hazardous air pollutants and 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide — about half as much as the city of Pittsburgh does on an annual basis, and have “a huge climate impact” on the region.

Fact Checking Fitzgerald on Fracking.

In a phone interview with reporter Don Hopey, Mr. Fitzgerald did not back away from his previous pro-petro chemical and shale gas advocacy, saying, “Marcellus Shale gas development has totally revitalized the region’s economy,” and Shell has invested $7 billion in the cracker plant, and billions more has been invested in pipeline infrastructure projects. ORVI’s Eric de Place countered with this, “The facts say otherwise. Since the start of the fracking boom, the major gas-producing counties in Pennsylvania have seen declines in their share of national jobs, income, and population. (The same is true for the most prolific gas counties in Ohio and West Virginia.) That’s right: the places that hosted most fracking fell behind their neighboring counties, their states, and the country.” 

Mr. de Place followed those facts with this, “It’s true that Shell is spending a lot of money on the cracker plant under construction in Beaver County, but it’s not like the oil giant is spending it locally. In fact, the vast majority of the corporation’s “investment” is going elsewhere, which is part of the reason why Beaver County employment has actually fallen. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the county boasted some 85,000 workers in the mid-2000s, but that number had fallen below 80,000 by the time the pandemic hit in early 2020.” 

Looking back at the Post Gazette story, we see another quote from ACE Fitzgerald: ”We’ve seen a 70% reduction in home heating costs. For the poor and vulnerable, nothing else, not health care, not transportation, not housing, one of the essentials, comes close. The benefits have been tremendous.”

Those bold claims brought forth another lashing with facts from ORVI’s Eric de Place, “Nope. Fitzgerald seems to be using some outdated industry talking points, but they are not true. In fact, a look at the history reveals that gas prices have spiked and collapsed, but on net, since 2000, Pennsylvania families have seen their natural gas prices climb steadily. Worse yet, according to the US Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania families face home heating gas prices that are about 7% higher than they are for average Americans. Despite putting up with the many impacts of fracking, Pennsylvania residents pay more for their home heating fuel than residents of states in the Upper Midwest—including Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin—and the Pacific Northwest—including Idaho, Oregon, Washington—where natural gas drilling is either nonexistent or very limited.”

Mr. de Place then turns it into a real ‘ACE smackdown’ continuing with this…

“It’s the same story with the utility bills that households face each month. Pennsylvania families pay more each month than the national average. They even pay more than their colder fracking-banning neighbors in New York state. And, since the fracking boom started, residential electricity prices have actually gone up faster in Pennsylvania than in the rest of the United States. So contrary to Fitzgerald’s assertion, the poor in Pennsylvania are getting a raw deal. It’s worth noting, too, that Pittsburgh ranks second among metropolitan areas where African Americans spend the greatest proportion of their income on energy bills.”

Mr. de Place continues, “To be fair, Fitzgerald’s rosy distortion of the industry is nothing new.”
Here we see a video of ACE at a meeting concerning drilling and fracking of the Pittsburgh International Airport property in February 2013:
And again in a March 2014 video, when ACE Fitzgerald improperly attempts to add the Deer Lakes Park drilling proposal from Range Resources onto council’s agenda after the meeting has already started.
In 2019, ACE further defended the petrochemical buildout in our region with this quote in the Pittsburgh City Paper, “For anyone to think that the growth of this region happened without this industry is just flat wrong.”
Back to reality.

In another blistering reply to that claim by ACE, Eric de Place finishes his in- depth fact checking with this stark reality, “That sentiment is hard to square with the reality of the vaunted petchem buildout: that manufacturing employment in the Pittsburgh area is now at its lowest level in modern history, and possibly ever. In fact, despite being lavished with record-breaking subsidies, Shell’s cracker plant in Beaver County has yet to attract even a single new manufacturing plant to the region, very much contrary to the promises of boosters like Fitzgerald. Let’s hope Fitzgerald soon comes to terms with the facts about the region’s experience with fracking and petrochemicals. Because his failure to acknowledge reality seems to be doing great harm—and the region deserves much better.”

I often compare the shale gas industry to a house of cards, or castles made of sand, or in this case, frac sand. In 17 short years, the Marcellus Shale industry has already gone through two boom and bust cycles, and now, with investors and nations moving forward faster toward renewables, the shale gas industry is on even shakier ground, like the earthquakes they are known to create.
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