Royal Dutch Shell Plc

New Film Dark Waters Shines Light on Chemical Pollution History in Ohio River Valley

Read time: 8 mins
Mark Ruffalo in Dark Waters

Dark Waters, the new film starring Mark Ruffalo as attorney Rob Bilott, is set in the Ohio River Valley city of Parkersburg, West Virginia — a place about 150 miles downstream from where Shell is currently building a sprawling plastics manufacturing plant, known as an “ethane cracker,” in Beaver, Pennsylvania.

Ruffalo’s film, directed by Todd Haynes, debuted to critical acclaim, earning a Rotten Tomatoes critics' rating of 91 percent, with The Atlantic calling it a “chilling true story of corporate indifference.”

While much of Dark Waters, as the title suggests, centers on contaminated water, the story of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the Teflon-linked chemical at the heart of the film, is also a story about air pollution. And as much as the film looks back to history, DuPont’s pollution — and the company’s decades-long cover-up — may gain new relevance as the chemical industry plans a multi-billion dollar expansion, fed by fracked fossil fuels, along the banks of the Ohio.

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.”

With Coal’s Decline, Pennsylvania Communities Watch the Rise of Natural Gas-fueled Plastics

Read time: 9 mins
Cemetery angel next to closed Bruce Mansfield Coal Plant and Beaver Valley Nuclear Plant

For Beaver County, just northwest of Pittsburgh, the construction of Royal Dutch Shell’s towering new plastics factory overshadows the closure of the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant, the state’s largest coal power station, located along the same stretch of Ohio River in western Pennsylvania. 

The juxtaposition of these two projects, in which one powerful fossil fuel supply rises as the other falls, reflects the broader pattern of changing energy sources in America. A growing chorus agrees the expansion of the natural gas industry, which feeds plastics and petrochemical plants like Shell’s, is moving the U.S. in the wrong direction to prevent catastrophic impacts from climate change.

Will Ohio River Get Optional Pollution Limits as New Fracking-Reliant Plastics Industry Moves in?

Read time: 10 mins
Shell's petrochemical and plastics plant in Potter Township, Pennsylvania

Tomorrow, June 6, in Covington, Kentucky, a routine quarterly meeting of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), an eight-state compact responsible for setting water pollution control standards for the 981-mile Ohio River, is expected to fall under unusual scrutiny from both industry and environmentalists.

ORSANCO is considering a proposal to make its water pollution standards — designed to coordinate pollution rules the length of the river — voluntary amid a brewing battle over the fate of a river that’s both the source of drinking water for 5 million people and central to the petrochemical industry’s plans for a new fossil-fueled plastics manufacturing network.

Shell and Chevron: Two Oil Giants With Two Very Different Approaches to Climate Change

Read time: 5 mins

This week saw two oil companies take two very different approaches to climate change. One has recognised the impact that global efforts to cut emissions will have on its bottom line while the other denies climate action will have any adverse impact.

I’m talking about Shell and Chevron. Both behemoths in the energy world but with drastically opposite views sitting on either side of the Atlantic.

This week Shell released its latest annual report for the year up to December 2015. Reading through it, it quickly becomes clear that the company has started joining the dots on climate change following the Paris climate agreement and mounting shareholder pressure.

Shell, ENI Responsible for 550 Oil Spills In Nigeria Last Year

Read time: 3 mins

Late last year, it came to light that Shell had been warned repeatedly by its own staff that the Trans Niger Pipeline was at significant risk of failure well before a 2008 spill of 500,000 barrels of oil. It was also revealed that Shell had drastically understated the extent of the spill.

These revelations were made during the proceedings of a lawsuit brought by a group of 15,000 Nigerians over a second spill from the same pipeline and helped lead to a much heftier payment by the company to the Bodo community in the Niger Delta in compensation for the impacts of both spills.

It would appear that the company has still not managed to correct whatever problems are leading to its poor safety and environmental performance in Nigeria, however, as Shell was responsible for more than 200 oil spills in the country last year alone, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

As horrible as Shell’s record is, Italian oil giant ENI managed to outdo the Hague-based multinational oil and gas titan. ENI's operations caused nearly 350 spills last year even though it operates in a much smaller area, the report states.

“These figures are seriously alarming. ENI has clearly lost control over its operations in the Niger Delta. And despite all its promises, Shell has made no progress on tackling oil spills,” Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Global Issues Director, said in a statement.

“In any other country, this would be a national emergency. In Nigeria it appears to be standard operating procedure for the oil industry. The human cost is horrific — people living with pollution every day of their lives.”

Obama Opened Floodgates for Offshore Fracking in Recent Gulf of Mexico Lease

Read time: 6 mins

In little-noticed news arising out of a recent Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas lease held by the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the floodgates have opened for Gulf offshore hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

With 21.6 million acres auctioned off by the Obama Administration and 433,822 acres receiving bids, some press accounts have declared BP America — of 2010 Gulf of Mexico offshore oil spill infamy — a big winner of the auction. If true, fracking and the oil and gas services companies who perform it like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger came in a close second.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Lease Map August 2014
Map Credit: U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

On the day of the sale held at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, an Associated Press article explained that many of the purchased blocks sit in the Lower Tertiary basin, coined the “final frontier of oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico” by industry analysts.

“The Lower Tertiary is an ancient layer of the earth's crust made of dense rock,” explained APTo access the mineral resources trapped within it, hydraulic fracturing activity is projected to grow in the western Gulf of Mexico by more than 10 percent this year, according to Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc., which operates about a third of the world's offshore fracking rigs.”

Subscribe to Royal Dutch Shell Plc