Guest column/Another look at the planned Belmont cracker

Most of those opposed to the Belmont Cracker plant and the buildup of the petrochemical industry are worried about air and water pollution and all the other externalities that come with plastics manufacturing as well as petrochemicals.

Appalachians have been hearing the same mantra for years, “jobs, jobs, jobs” and, trust us, “it will all be regulated and safe” is once again repeated. That $30 million grant just announced from JobsOhio would have gone a long way toward improving roads, many of which are in horrible shape due to the oil and gas industry or funding small-scale businesses.

It is true that our valley’s population has decreased. But, transforming the region into a toxic valley will hardly be a welcome home invitation for young families wanting a healthy environment in which to raise their children.

According to the U.S. Census, more than 20 percent of the population of the five local counties in West Virginia and Ohio are older than 65 years of age, and 19 percent are under 18. This population will not be working in the cracker plants and petrochemical factories, but they will be the most affected by the pollution stemming from them.

What we need is sustainable small-scale local development for local entrepreneurs. We don’t need to cater to foreign owned companies whose stockholders and CEOs have much more to gain by using our resources than we will ever recoup in a job market.

Anyone who thinks that the regulatory agencies in the Tri-State Area are looking after the best interests of Ohio Valley residents is mistaken. West Virginia invites the West Virginia Manufacturers Association to weigh in on drinking water standards and claims the fatter West Virginian can handle more toxins.

As St. Clairsville residents are finding out, Ohio has one of the most lenient policies on fracking wastes. The state has become the dumping ground for oil and gas produced water from outside the state with more than 226 wells in the state. This waste is not regulated, but trucked up and down our roads in tankers labeled as “brine” and sprayed on our highways as de-icers. In reality it contains toxic chemicals such as benzene and radionuclides such as Radium-226 and Radium-228.

One cracker plant could mean 1,000 new frack wells every three-to-five years. Obviously, no one involved in the buildup of fracking in this region cares about the increased methane emissions from fracking and associated infrastructure, the enormous water withdrawals or the increasing climate crisis.

More than 40 percent of plastics made are single-use plastics. They include plastic cups, utensils, water bottles, food packaging, bags and straws. Europe and many other countries are starting to ban single-use plastics. Yes, plastics have become a part of our lives, but are we opting for a convenience that carries an enormous environmental impact? Plastics are found in our feces, and plasticizers affect our endocrine systems as well as other body systems.

In a recent report by the plastics industry, “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics,” it was stated there are 150 million tons of plastic in the ocean. The same report cites the “degradation of natural systems as a result of plastic pollution, greenhouse gas emissions from production and health and environmental impacts as significant negative externalities.”

Plastic does its job well, it lasts — forever. No known enzyme or bacteria can break the carbon-carbon bonds in plastics to any significant degree. Plastics are ubiquitous on our planet. About 91 percent of all plastics in the ocean are the size of a grain of sand. It doesn’t break down, it just breaks.

There are ways to create jobs without sacrificing our health and the environment. We are blessed with a beautiful region and smart, hard-working people. Why are they always sold out for big fossil fuel interests? These projects are not about providing local jobs and opportunities. The fossil fuel industry is not our benevolent uncle helping us out. It is a global entity that received $15 billion in subsidies in 2015 and has used lobbyists and laws like Citizens United and the Halliburton loophole of the Energy and Policy Act of 2005 to effectively run our democracy into a ditch.

Those who oppose the petrochemical buildup are simply mothers, fathers, grandparents, scientists and residents of the valley who are trying to speak truth to power in a world where truth seems to be obliterated by monetary gains.

(Pokladnik, a resident of Uhrichsville, has a Ph.D in environmental studies.)


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