steel

Pennsylvania Communities Grow Wary of Worsening Air Pollution as Petrochemical Industry Arrives

Read time: 9 mins
Shell Petrochemical Complex under construction in Beaver County, Pennsylvania

While the Ohio River Valley, long home to the coal and steel industries, is no stranger to air pollution, the region’s natural gas boom and burgeoning petrochemical industry threaten to erase the gains of recent decades. Concerns about air quality, which has already begun declining nationally since 2016, are growing rapidly for those living in the shadow of Shell’s $6 billion plastics plant under construction along the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania’s Beaver County.

Residents and activists from the greater Pittsburgh area fear that worsening air quality will lower the value of homes, deter new clean business development, and sicken people.

“It is not lost on us that Allegheny Health Network is building a cancer institute directly above the cracker plant at the Beaver County Mall,” Matt Mehalik, executive director of the advocacy group Breathe Project, said at a November 6 public meeting about the Shell plastics plant, also known as an “ethane cracker.” “There is a certain degree of sick irony about that.”

Coal Mining's Financial Failures: Two Thirds of World's Production Now Unprofitable

Read time: 5 mins

Sixty-five percent of the world's coal production is unprofitable at today's prices, a new research report by Wood Mackenzie, a commercial intelligence company often cited by investment analysts and the coal industry itself, concluded.

Both major types of coal — the coking coal used for making steel and the thermal coal burned in coal-fired electrical power plants — were included in Wood Mackenzie's analysis. The estimate may be conservative, as the group excluded some costs incurred during mining, and focused primarily on the sharp drop in the price of coal.

EPA Internal Audit Finds Flawed Pipeline Oversight Adds $192 Million a Year to Gas Bills, Harms Climate

Read time: 5 mins

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog, the inspector general released a scathing report on the agency's failure to control leaks from the nation's natural gas distribution system.

The report, titled “Improvements Needed in EPA Efforts to Address Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Distribution Pipelines,” describes a string of failures by the EPA to control leaks of one of the most potent greenhouse gases, methane, from the rapidly expanding natural gas pipeline industry.

“The EPA has placed little focus and attention on reducing methane emissions from pipelines in the natural gas distribution sector,” the report begins. “The EPA has a voluntary program to address methane leaks — Natural Gas STAR — but its efforts through this program have resulted in limited reductions of methane emissions from distribution pipelines.”

To date, the industry has faced little binding regulation on leaks, in part because the EPA assumes that pipeline companies will not allow the product they are attempting to bring to market to simply disappear. But the reality is that when gas is cheap and repairs are expensive, pipeline companies often put off repairs unless there's a threat of an explosion.

Under many state policies, pipeline companies would have to pay upfront costs for pipeline repairs — or they simply choose to pass the cost of lost gas from unrepaired leaks on to consumers, an issue that the audit faults the EPA for failing to take into account.

Nationwide, the Inspector General report concluded $192 million worth of natural gas was lost from pipelines in 2011 alone.

Subscribe to steel