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Should Huge Petrochemical Project Get Federal Clean-Energy Funds?

Supporters argue a storage hub for ethane from natural gas would be key to developing a petrochemical industry that could produce consumer plastics in the northern Ohio Valley. (DOE)
Supporters argue a storage hub for ethane from natural gas would be key to developing a petrochemical industry that could produce consumer plastics in the northern Ohio Valley. (DOE)
August 12, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia conservation groups are fighting a plan to use U.S. Department of Energy clean power funds for a huge petrochemical project.

The state's congressional delegation is pushing for the Appalachian Storage Hub to get $1.9 billion in loan guarantees designated for clean energy development.

But Dustin White, project coordinator for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, says it's not even an energy project, much less a clean one.

"There is nothing about this that is going to be 'clean,'” he states. “From cradle to grave, from the moment these natural gas liquids are fracked, to the plastic pollution, it is not clean in any way."

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of W.Va. says without federal help, the plan to store and distribute chemical feed stocks, such as ethane and butane that come as byproducts of natural gas, probably couldn't happen.

Supporters argue the $10 billion project would be a key to dramatically increasing the size of the chemical and plastics industry in the northern Ohio Valley.

They say without it, West Virginia would just continue to export natural resources, such as the feedstocks extracted from the state's so-called "wet" natural gas.

But White points out that the Ohio River is the drinking water source for 5 million people. And he notes the petrochemical industry is already polluting other areas, like what's known as "cancer alley" in Louisiana.

"That's all taxpayer money, that should be allocated for other things – especially clean energy products that will actually help people – rather than single-use plastics," he states.

The U.S. House has passed an amendment to stop the use of those loan guarantees from going to any project that doesn't reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

That legislation could block the funding for this mammoth underground storage facility, but the bill's future in the Senate is very much in doubt.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV