PennFuture Blog

Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues

Fracked Gas, Petrochemical Industries Continue to Overpromise and Underdeliver for Pennsylvanians

A core tenant of our mission at PennFuture is working to secure a better and brighter future for all Pennsylvanians, and a large part of that mission is protecting our basic rights to clean air and pure water.

Unfortunately, a significant threat to those rights has emerged in the form of the fracked gas and petrochemical industries, which are trying to further entrench and intertwine themselves into our political landscape and economy.

The industries attempt to woo our small and mid-sized communities with promises of revitalization and economic prosperity, all while promising to be stringent and responsible protectors of our shared environment and natural resources.

Unfortunately, they’re lying. These claims aren’t hard to debunk: in the last week alone, four news stories have been published that expose the financial realities of fracked gas and petrochemicals, as well as those industries’ complete disregard for the health of Pennsylvanians and our environment.

The first story concerns a group of economists, engineers, policy analysts and former policymakers who banded together to issue a letter to the governors of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia , stressing that a reliance on petrochemicals for prosperity is both dangerous and badly misguided.

The authors—among them prominent officials like former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger, Executive Director of West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Ted Boettner, and Carnegie Mellon University Associate Professor of Economics Nicholas Z. Muller—told the governors that they “risk squandering hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds in pursuit of a vision that will not materialize.”

That vision won’t materialize largely because it’s becoming increasingly unprofitable. Market conditions are extremely unfavorable as the price of plastic is plummeting, combined with an oversaturation of fracked gas and petrochemical plants that are far outpacing demand.

Simply put, the dream of an Appalachian petrochemical hub is dissipating quickly, but some of our elected officials and policymakers are hesitant to let go and pursue more viable strategies and sound economic development policies.

Unfortunately for residents in Beaver County, the decision to cater to the petrochemical industry has already been made, and another report issued last week is showing the folly of that decision.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis warns that Shell’s massive plastics factory on the banks of the Ohio River won’t be nearly as profitable as once thought due to a combination of poor market conditions and the fact that Shell will be making fewer plastics because of global oversupply.

That all spells bad news for a community that was previously decimated by the collapse of the domestic steel industry, and a community that took Shell at its word when the company promised prosperity and economic revitalization.

It goes without saying that a less profitable plastics plant means fewer jobs and far less impact on the local and regional economy. It is also further proof that Pennsylvania’s lawmakers in 2012 shouldn’t have offered a massive $1.6 billion tax break to lure Shell to Pennsylvania in the first place.

It’s bad enough that these industries are not delivering on promises made to Pennsylvanians, but it’s even worse that they are also destroying our environment and natural resources in the process. 

To that end, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced on Friday that his office had secured a criminal conviction against Range Resources, one of the largest fracking companies operating in Pennsylvania, for environmental crimes at two separate sites in Washington County.

Specifically, Range Resources pleaded no contest to several environmental crimes after a two-year investigation found the company so heavily polluted a family’s drinking water supply that it was rendered “dangerous and unsuitable for consumption.” In a separate incident, the company so heavily polluted a field in Washington County that 100 trees and 12,000 square feet of soil had to be removed.

As if those environmental crimes aren’t enough, the attorney general proved that the company knowingly covered up issues that ultimately led to the contamination of the drinking water supply.

Finally, the attorney general on Monday announced similar environmental crimes against Cabot Oil and Gas after the company contaminated well water in Dimock, Susquehanna County. In one instance, a landowner held a match to a jug that contained water used for drinking and bathing, and the water caught fire.

Water set ablaze. More than 100 trees permanently removed. A family’s drinking supply permanently contaminated. These are very real and very serious incidents, but they are far from the only incidents.

Is the promise of jobs worth the environmental degradation and sickness that accompanies them? Should our elected leaders continue to believe these companies when they promise a better and brighter future?

Keep in mind, these industries beg for and often receive enormous subsidies and tax breaks from our elected officials, and still continue to fail financially even as taxpayers foot the bill. They consistently and purposefully overpromise and underdeliver, then pack up and leave our communities in far worse shape after extracting our resources and destroying our environment. 

Time and again we’ve been shown the true nature of these industries, both financially and environmentally. It’s time we start listening.

Get the Latest onOur PennFuture

Sign up for email updates on the latest news, events, and opportunities to make a difference.

Sign Up