Environmental groups gear up for production at cracker factory | News, Sports, Jobs
MONACA — Environmental groups are mobilizing to monitor air and water quality around the soon-to-open Royal Dutch Shell petrochemical cracking plant in Beaver County.
Several groups held a joint videoconference on Tuesday evening which drew more than 200 people who listened to how various organizations have already begun testing air and water samples to establish a baseline ahead of the official opening of the plant along the Ohio River near Monaca later this year.
While most people knew little about Marcellus Shale when the natural gas drilling boom began in western Pennsylvania and the tri-state area in the late 2000s, the project’s executive director of environmental health, Alison Steele, said groups like hers work to educate the public on what to expect. from the cracker factory.
She said various environmental groups have positioned numerous air and water monitoring stations around Beaver County, while Shell is required to monitor and share results from four plant sites and 20 around the property. The Peters Township-based group also produced baseline test results from a “monitoring network” to see if there are any changes in the environment when the plant is operating. Steele said the group is pushing for accountability and trying to get comprehensive health policies from state regulators so residents aren’t the only ones “lead the fight”.
Steele also gave the 225 videoconference attendees a brief history of the plant in which the Pennsylvania state government offered a $1.6 billion tax incentive to Shell to build the plant here in return for 600 jobs in progress. Construction of the plant began in November 2017 on the 340-acre property in Potter Township, which was once a zinc smelter.
“The question everyone asks is: ‘Why here? Why now?'” she says.
As renewable energy sources become more affordable, the natural gas industry has moved to find other production uses for its product. The cracking plant will separate ethane from natural gas to produce ethylene which enables the creation of plastic products commonly used by consumers.
Heather Hulton VanTassel, executive director of Three Rivers Waterkeeper, said her group had already seen evidence that the plant was starting some production, as they had found plastic “Nurds” in the river. Nurdles are produced at the factory and then shipped across the country for makers to create various plastic products. These small pellets can be ingested by wildlife or contain dangerous chemicals that can be released into the environment, she said.
She said they are currently working in the area on boat patrols to find nurdles and have baseline water quality readings that will let them know if there are any issues when the plant is fully operational. She said the environmental organization will continue to monitor water quality in the Ohio River and around its watershed to ensure there is no release of harmful chemicals that could endanger humans or wildlife.
She added that environmental organizations that monitor air and water quality do not want this area of Beaver County to become a “sacrifice area” for industry.
“We are here to monitor the water” she says. “And we will work hard not to end up in this place. … “We press the DEP (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) to account.
The precise date when the plant will begin official operations was not immediately known. An email sent to Royal Dutch Shell headquarters on Wednesday morning about the seminar’s environmental concerns did not receive an immediate response.
The hour-long virtual meeting was hosted by Beyond Plastics and began with some breaking news, as Judith Enck, president of a Vermont-based environmental group, announced that a “side agreement” brokered by US Senator Joe Manchin to cut red tape with new energy-related projects stalled. Manchin, DW.Va., had reached a tentative agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., to support the federal Inflation Reduction Act this summer. However, the deal had received lukewarm support from Democrats and Republicans, condemning the initiative.
“We are leaving on a high note” Enck said to start the meeting.
Alexis Goldsmith, National Organizing Director of Beyond Plastics, said environmental groups played a vital role in opposing the legislation and were one of the reasons “why the side deal with Manchin didn’t go through.” She pointed out that “tenacious response” as an example of what local groups are doing to protect the environment of the community living around the Shell cracker plant.
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