Julie Dermansky

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

Texas Petroleum Chemical Plant Explosion, And Our Petrochemical 'Collective Suicide'

Read time: 5 mins
A sign in Port Neches, Texas, on Thanksgiving, with smoke billowing from the TPC plant explosion in the background. 

A plume from the Texas Petroleum Chemical (TPC) plant hung over Port Neches, Texas on Thanksgiving as emergency workers continued to fight the fire following explosions at the plant on November 27. A mandatory evacuation that called for 60,000 people within a four-mile radius from the plant to leave their homes the day before the holiday was lifted yesterday. 

However, officials warned that returning residents be aware of the plume’s location because elevated levels of particulate matter associated with the plume near the plant could be “harmful to sensitive groups,” and direct exposure could result in respiratory irritation.

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.

Environmental Justice Activists Arrested Amid Growing Concerns Over Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Pollution

Read time: 9 mins
Police and protesters in Baton Rouge

Mounting concerns over pollution, public health, and the expansion of the petrochemical industry came to a head when two activists were detained in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on October 30, the last day of a two-week protest against environmental racism in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. 

Bayou Bridge Pipeline Construction Mess Poses Major Risk to Atchafalaya Basin

Read time: 6 mins

It is a crime against nature,” Jody Meche, president of the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, said while scanning the Bayou Bridge pipeline right-of-way on the west side of the Atchafalaya Basin, the country’s largest river swamp in a designated National Heritage Area. 

His voice trembled with rage as he told me that he was speaking for all the animals living in the basin that can’t speak for themselves.

“The Bayou Bridge pipeline has left a dam across the Atchafalaya Basin affecting the fisheries, the birds, the otters, minks, raccoons, and nutria,” Meche said.

Already Burning for a Month, Fracked Gas Blowout in Louisiana Could Last Two More Months

Read time: 7 mins
Gas well blowout burning in Louisiana on October 1

For the fifth week since the blowout began, a large flare is still burning**update below** at the site of GEP Haynesville, LLC’s blown out fracked gas wells in northwestern Louisiana. The blowout occurred on August 30, shortly after the company began a frack job, igniting two adjacent wells. A state official estimated that efforts to contain the blowout could take another two months, or more.

Greta’s UN Climate Summit Speech Successfully Predicted More Business as Usual From World Leaders

Read time: 7 mins
Greta Thunberg at the UN Climate Action Summit

On Monday, the United Nations Climate Action Summit opened with a glossy video projected around the room. It hawked a hopeful message that climate catastrophe can be averted. With the lights turned down and music turned up, for a few minutes the summit felt like an IMAX movie experience. 

Unfortunately, the video is symbolic of the summit itself — all talk, little action,” Jesse Bragg, media director at Corporate Accountability, said via email.

A scathing speech by Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg and the passing presence of President Trump upstaged presentations from world leaders, who in some cases did announce pledges to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 but overall failed to offer visionary solutions for the rapid transition away from fossil fuels.

New York City Climate Strike in Photos

Read time: 3 mins
Climate Strike in New York City

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.  

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, inspired millions of students worldwide to take part in climate strikes on Friday, September 20 to demand politicians take urgent steps to stop climate change. An estimated 250,000 strikers marched in New York City from Foley Square to Battery Park. 

The global climate strikes took place before the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City. The opening session of the summit is on September 21, with the fitting kickoff: Young People at the Frontlines. Greta Thunberg will be addressing the assembly on September 23.

Many of New York City’s student strikers expressed fear about their future when I asked them about their motivation for joining the strike.

Fracked Gas Well Blowout in Louisiana Likely to Burn for the Next Month

Read time: 8 mins
Fracked gas well blowout in Haynesville Shale Louisiana

A fracked natural gas well in northwest Louisiana has been burning for two weeks after suffering a blowout. A state official said the fire will likely burn for the next month before the flames can be brought under control by drilling a relief well.

Following Pushback, Chinese-owned Chemical Giant Pulls Plug on Massive Plastics Project in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley

Read time: 5 mins

Chinese giant Wanhua Chemical officially withdrew its plans to build a $1.25 billion plastics manufacturing complex in St. James, Louisiana, in the heart of the already industrialized Cancer Alley. The news bought relief to opponents of the plant. 

I’m glad they won’t be coming,” Eve Butler, a lifelong resident of St. James Parish, told me in a call. “I live straight across the river from where the plant was going to be built.” Butler was part of a group of residents, local community groups, and environmental advocacy nonprofits that took part in a concentrated battle to stop the Wanhua plant from being built. 

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