It’s Not a Done Deal: Say “No!” to Appalachian Storage Hub
Planned Chemical Monstrosity Would Bring Skyrocketing Climate Emissions,
Public Health Dangers
The nation’s largest petrochemical hub is located in southern Louisiana along the
Mississippi River. This area is known as Cancer Alley, because its neighbors suffer
very high illness rates. This Gulf Coast region is increasingly beset with hurricanes, floods and other storms which endanger the reliability of chemical production there. Meanwhile,
there’s been a recent increase in Gulf Coast export markets for natural gas liquids
and the chemicals derived from them. So, industry and government are now
planning to create a second major petrochemical region here in our Appalachian
Ohio River Valley.
The biggest increase in fracking for natural gas (methane) and natural gas
liquids is projected to come from Appalachia. According to March 3, 2017 Shale
Daily article, “The Appalachian Basin’s shale formations helped to birth the
natural gas renaissance in North America, and the region now is poised to join the
Gulf Coast as a major petrochemical hub.”
Central to these plans is the establishment of an Appalachian Storage Hub
which would consist of underground storage facilities for natural gas liquids
extracted from the Marcellus, Utica and Rogersville shales across West
Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, as well as a vast network of new
Petrochemicals have been stored underground for a long time, but not without
some serious problems. For example, a salt deposit dug out for multiple
underground storage caves for natural gas liquids and other chemicals became the
site of a catastrophe that destroyed most of a small town in Louisiana in 2012. A
drill bit pierced the side of one chemical storage cavern. Toxic chemicals oozed up
and most of an entire community were forced to move out.
We also remember a more recent huge and long-lasting problem with leaking
underground petrochemical storage in southern California.
As part of the Appalachian Storage Hub, one hundred million barrels of natural gas
liquids would be stored in a to-be-built system of “underground caverns, salt caves
and areas where natural gas has been extracted,” according to a January 23
Kallanish Energy article.
The Hub would transport natural gas liquids and their constituent chemicals by
means of six big pipelines running 386 miles along the Ohio River from
Monaco, PA to Catlettsburg, KY, right though the Huntington, WV. Unless the
plan is to blow up steep hills, there is nowhere these six mammoth pipelines could
run other than virtually adjacent to the banks of the Ohio River, the source of
drinking water for millions of people.
Monaco PA is where Royal Dutch Shell wants to build a multi-billion-dollar
ethane cracker plant; Catlettsburg KY is where Marathon Petroleum has a refinery.
A major expansion of Marathon Petroleum’s refinery is now underway. A 68-mile
Hub pipeline spur would also go from Point Pleasant, WV to Charleston, WV.
Also planned is an additional three thousand miles of smaller pipelines to
transport chemicals to current and future industrial plants along a 454-mile corridor
in the four states.
No Surprise, American Chemistry Council Says Bring It On
In a May 18, 2017 press release and report, the American Chemistry Council
(ACC) opines: “The Appalachian region is an ideal location for the emergence of a
second major petrochemical manufacturing hub in the United States, offering
benefits such as proximity to abundant NGL (natural gas liquids) resources from
the Marcellus/Utica and Rogersville Shale formations.” ACC reckons these shale
gas deposits “could feed at least half a dozen world-scale petrochemical complexes
in addition to a number of smaller facilities.”
The American Chemistry Council report says that at least five natural gas liquids
cracker complexes would be needed to fully realize the petrochemical potential in
the four-state Ohio River Valley region extending from southwest PA to
Catlettsburg, KY (several miles west of Huntington, WV). Their analysis assumes
that 90% of the plastic resin products from the five hoped-for crackers would be
shipped outside of the Appalachian region. This would include exports to countries
all over the globe.
Royal Dutch Shell has already received permits to build a cracker complex in
Monaco, PA. Two other crackers are proposed, but not yet permitted. A Thai
company wants to build a cracker complex in Belmont County OH, and two
Brazilian companies want to build one near Parkersburg, WV. (We at OVEC are
painfully aware of how difficult it is to force U.S.-based companies to comply
with coal mining pollution laws; trying to influence foreign companies would be
Before this “world class” Ohio River Valley petrochemical complex could come to
fruition, several things are necessary. Construction of the Appalachian Storage
Hub would cost around $10 billion, which the American Chemistry Council says
would require a public-private partnership, with the financial backing of the private
sector, as well as funding from federal and state governments. This means that
our tax dollars would be necessary for these developments that would bring
huge increases in global warming emissions, as well as all kinds of dangers to
public health, from chemical emissions to potential pipeline explosions.
The Appalachian Storage Hub would also necessitate that government develop
“appropriate policies and permitting practices,” according to the ACC report. To
those of us at OVEC who have been decoding industry-speak for decades, what
this means is companies would demand lenient permitting rules and lax pollution
Plus, we would expect a behind-the-scenes agreement with state and federal
regulators that pollution enforcement would not be a priority. It is no secret that
WV and other states have widely ignored pollution laws in their “oversight” of
mountaintop removal coal mining, leaving some counties in southwestern WV and
eastern Kentucky as some of the poorest and sickest counties in the nation. Surely
fracking and pipeline industry officials figure that they can expect the same degree
of cooperation from government officials.
A Conference on Your Future, Held Without You
Promotional material for the June 15, 2017 regional Appalachian Storage Hub
Conference promised attendees networking opportunities with key regional
governmental decision makers. There has been no networking opportunity with
regular citizens whose taxes pay the salaries of these key governmental decision
Speakers slated to address the conference included Congressman David McKinley
(R-WV) and three other state government employees, including the Deputy
Secretary of the WV Department of Commerce.
The conference pre-registration information noted:
–To maximize opportunities “an open back and forth dialogue is critical;”
–“All sectors will benefit” from the storage hub;
–“All are needed to support the rapid development of this regional mega project.”
–A conference goal was to “Help shape the future and establish relationships with
those driving this mega project.”
One can assume that the “all” who are supposed to support the rapid development
of and benefit from the Hub—Cancer Alley Two—are not the people who actually
live here, since we were not invited or even able to become informed after the
conference. We are obviously not wanted to take part in the oil and gas industries
designs on our future.
The conference fee ranged from $495 to $2,500. It sold out and had a wait-list. A
great deal of pre-registration information, from multiple sources, is and was
available online to get the right kind of people to attend the conference. But, so far,
we have been unable to find online information on who said what at the
conference. Nor have we seen any media coverage of this event whose goal was to
“help shape the future”.
Is the information being kept secret from us? Conference attendees most likely
realize that the extensive underground cavern storage and mega-pipelines the Hub
would require would not be a good thing for all, namely the nearby communities.
Call us cynical if you like, but, thanks to previous experience, we bet that those
who truly stand to profit from the Hub, at our expense, wish to hide all the details
until plans, permits and greased palms are all firmly in place.
While the public is not allowed to know details about this Appalachian Storage
Hub conference, we are being assured that this “mega project” would be safe and
highly regulated, and would bring high paying industrial jobs back to our area
which is reeling from the loss of thousands of coal, steel and chemical industry
Several glowing op-eds, as well as an editorial, have recently appeared in the
Charleston Gazette Mail and the Huntington Herald Dispatch, written by
enthusiastic industry backers. Any risks to our health and safety are apparently to
be endured for the prospect of new jobs. Those of us who would find ourselves
living in Cancer Alley Two must happily accept the risks, in order to improve the
U.S. balance of trade. The Hub would allow the U.S. to export massive amounts of
natural gas liquids and the chemicals derived from these liquids, as well as
Massive Fracking Increases Planned WV Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) says, “We have a moral imperative to provide low-cost energy, not only to West Virginia but to the
world.” Clearly, the same moral imperative does not apply to protecting the health
of West Virginia’s people.
Extensive fracking increases here would be necessary to make Cancer Alley Two,
along with the proposed Appalachian Storage Hub, a reality.
Fracking has begun in the very deep Rogersville Shale which underlies Wayne
County, WV and adjoining eastern KY, here in the Huntington Tri-State area. The
Rogersville extends into other WV counties as well. Marathon Petroleum and
MarkWest have already committed a billion dollars to develop Rogersville Shale
infrastructure. Dozens of oil and gas companies have leased land in the Rogersville
It’s Not a Done Deal: Say “No!” to Appalachian Storage Hub 6
A couple of years ago the oil and gas fracking industry went through an economic
downturn. The industry’s biggest priorities during the downturn seemed to be
finding new export markets and developing cheaper, untested ways to operate.
Since our region’s state governments are so beholden to fossil-fuel corporations,
companies feel free to experiment, knowing they won’t be bothered too much by
government pollution enforcement, or by strict penalties for the inevitable spills
and explosions. (After all, this is the region where “our” politicians are still trying to get more
mountaintop removal coal mining, even after dozens of peer-reviewed studies have
shown exceptionally high illness and early death rates in people who live near the
blown up mountains, buried streams and obliterated communities.)
Now fracking activities are steeply on the rise in WV, PA, OH, and KY. Some of
the newer, cheaper, but untried methods are apparently in use. Some wells in the
Rogersville Shale has been permitted to 15,000 feet deep. Some wells feature
lateral (sideways) fracking which extends much further than in “regular” deep
shale fracking. The world record for the longest lateral fracking pipe is said to be
at One Utica Shale well in OH which is more than five miles deep, and the lateral
is more than three and a half miles long!
Is it possible to safely frack at this extreme depth and length? Even at 5,000 to
7,000 feet (the typical depth of a Marcellus Shale well in WV), fracking neighbors
have problems with contaminated water, toxic air, and scores of massive trucks
taking over the roads and making them much more dangerous.
Hundreds of West Virginians living close to Marcellus drilling operations have
already sued fracking companies as a result of how miserable it is to live near these
sites that make other people rich. Many have had to resort to having water trucked
in after their well water is contaminated. And in Pennsylvania, even the DEP has
said that more than 200 private wells have been contaminated as a result of
fracking operations. Nevertheless, we’ve been told repeatedly that fracking
activities are safe and do not contaminate the groundwater
Politicians: Appalachian Storage Hub Cheerleaders
In October, top politicians from three states signed an agreement promising
cooperation in securing the cracker complexes for the region that would be
necessary to the development of the Appalachian Storage Hub. Then WV
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, Lieutenant Governor of Ohio Mary Taylor, PA
Governor Tom Wolf signed the agreement.
According to Steve Hedrick, CEO of South Charleston’s Mid-Atlantic Technology,
Research and Innovation Center (MATRIC), this “enables collaboration without
fear of too much competition, as the Appalachian Storage Hub would enable a win
for Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia—and Kentucky too.”
Over the past few years, industry and political officials from these states have been
working to plan and try to find financing for Cancer Alley Two. Senator Manchin
(D-WV) says he is urging all of these states to invest more taxpayer dollars to
attract the Hub. The Benedum Foundation has primed the pump by providing
$100,000 for initial planning of the Hub.
Senators Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Rob Portman (R-OH),
introduced a bill that would direct federal agencies to study the feasibility of the
Appalachian Storage Hub. West Virginia Congressman McKinley plans to
introduce similar legislation in the U.S. House. McKinley said that he’s spoken
with President Trump about the Appalachian Storage Hub, and says the Hub fits in
well with Trump’s desire for more federal infrastructure investment.
Air Inversions: Toxic Pollution in Our Ohio Valley
The major cluster of petrochemical plants and refineries in southern Louisiana is
located in a flat area where the wind blows. The proposed petrochemical hub here
in the very narrow Ohio Valley would be surrounded by steep hills that often block
the wind. Our region is known to have frequent air inversions where pollution
settles in the valleys instead of blowing away more quickly. So we would expect
that toxic air pollution would have even more of a health impact, as compared to
air pollution in a flat area. It would be hard to think of a worse area for a large
concentration of new huge cracker complexes, chemical plants, and refineries.
There is no longer any doubt that the toxic emissions from the petrochemical plants
in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley are having serious health impacts on its neighbors. But
in Louisiana, as in West Virginia, these industries are politically powerful and
industries’ wishes are politically more important than people’s health.
(The sociologist author Arlie Russell Hochshild examines the ways conservatives
and Tea Party members in Louisiana justify the severe pollution inherent in living
near petrochemical industries in her 2016 book, Strangers in Their Own Land;
Anger and Mourning on the American Right.)
When Fracking, Pipeline Spokespeople Say Industry is Strictly Regulated,
They’re Lying. OVEC, WV Highlands Conservancy and Sierra Club, represented by
Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Public Justice, have had dozens of legal
wins relating to illegal water pollution at mountaintop removal mines.
It has literally taken many millions of dollars to make our lawsuits happen. As
large scale fracking was beginning in the U.S., the George W. Bush administration
made sure that fracking activities were free from some of the laws that govern
other polluting industries, including coal mining. So in addition to money
challenges to any potential large legal strategy against fracking activities, citizens
and lawyers would also need to contend with weaker laws.
Mountaintop removal continues in West Virginia, though not as extensively as in
the past, and “our” state government continues to grant new permits and push for
more new mountaintop removal mines. When you hear fracking proponents say
that this unconventional gas production is governed by strictly enforced laws,
please know that they are lying.
Appalachian Storage Hub is Not a Done Deal
Don’t take the lies lying down! Please join in our efforts to resist. Contact OVEC