Over the past several months, there has been a lot of talk about a Petro-Chemical plant in Beaver County. I wanted to know more about what this plant was, how it would benefit our area and what the consequences of such a plant would be? It was time to do some investigating and decide for myself. In the following, I will tell you what I was able to learn.
First, I needed to know what a “cracker” plant is. I am going to simplify what I was able to learn. The plant is dependent on natural gas. In the Marcellus Shale, there are several chemicals other than natural gas, which is a compound made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Contrary to much belief, natural gas is odorless. When we notice what we call the smell of natural gas, it is actually the smell of the chemical added to the natural gas for our protection. You can imagine if there was a gas leak and we could not detect it, the problem that it would cause. This is the type of gas that we use in our homes for heating and cooking. There are, however, many other forms of gas in the Marcellus Shale layers, such as ethane, propane and butane. The propane gas or liquid gas is also used in heating and cooking. The difference in these gases is their number of carbon and hydrogen atoms. For example, ethane has two carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms. Likewise, propane has three carbon atoms and eight hydrogen atoms. This goes on and on. The basis of organic chemistry is one atom: carbon. All life as we know it is based on the carbon atom.
With this little history out of the way let’s look closer at the ethane gas compound. The proposed “cracker” plant will use ethane to make plastic. We say that is a great thing and it will produce jobs. Yes, there will be some jobs gained. During the construction of the plant, there will be a lot of jobs; but upon completion, the jobs will drop off drastically. The indirect jobs will increase greatly while construction is ongoing, but these jobs too will drop off.
Since this plant will produce plastics, we have to ask ourselves how valuable this plastic will be. Plastic is a very easy means to store items, but how beneficial is plastic in the long run? You must remember of all the plastic produced, over 40% is only used once. What do you do with it after that? It is easier to produce plastic than recycle it. This is the reason why there is a mass of plastic the size of Rhode Island floating in the ocean. Plastic is detrimental to marine life.
Let us look closer at the plant itself. If the plant is built environmentally safe, it might be a good thing, but we all know that is not going to be the case. For example, the Clairton Coke Works plant has been operating for years, and, for years, there have been problems with water and air pollution. Just a few weeks back, the plant caught on fire. This damaged some of the air quality controls at the plant. However, the plant is still operating at full capacity even without these safe guards. Tons of air pollutants are being dumped into the air. Another example of problems is the MarkWest plant near Houston, PA. Time and time again this plant’s safe guards have failed, dumping tons of harmful materials into the air. This brings us to the proposed “cracker” plant. As bad as the Clairton Coke Works plant is for carbon dioxide emissions, the “cracker” plant will produce three to four times as much carbon dioxide. It is estimated that 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide will enter our air. The projected costs to health care from these emissions are estimated to be over $1 billion dollars.
This plant will have about 500 permanent jobs when built.
Why are these plants being built in our area? Two reasons stand out. First; these plants are close to the rich natural gas in our area. Second, similar plants are being damaged by hurricanes in the south. The main reason for bigger hurricanes is climate change, to which these plants contribute. So instead of cleaning the emissions, the plants are moved inland. Does this make sense to you? Is all this worth 500 jobs? You decide for yourself.