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Pollution

Pittsburgh’s mayor denounces petrochemical development in western Pennsylvania

Industry critics applaud a stand that expands Bill Peduto’s commitment to a green economy beyond the city limits

by Rick Mullin
November 9, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 44

 

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Credit: Rick Mullin/C&EN
A plant under construction by Shell Chemical on the Ohio River is scheduled to come on line in 2021.

Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh drew a hard line on petrochemical development in western Pennsylvania at an environmental conference in the city on Oct. 30.

“Let me be the first politician to say publicly: I oppose any additional petrochemical companies coming to western Pennsylvania,” he told the 2019 Climate Action Summit in a speech in which he encouraged green energy investment instead.

The mayor’s statement was applauded by environmentalists and industry critics in the region around Pittsburgh, where Shell Chemical is building a petrochemical plant that many laud for creating much-needed jobs.

Among the politicians taking an opposite view to the mayor is President Donald J. Trump, who visited the region twice since this summer, extolling the energy and chemical sectors as economic engines. His first visit was to the Shell site in Beaver County, about 50 km from Pittsburgh on the Ohio River, where about 6,000 construction workers are currently at work.

Shell’s cracker is the first to take advantage of low-cost feedstock from the Marcellus Shale, an underground formation rich in natural gas that spreads from southern New York through Pennsylvania and into Ohio and West Virginia.

PTT Global Chemical, a Thai company, has chosen a site in Belmont, Ohio, for a similar plant, and the Pittsburgh Business Times recently reported that ExxonMobil has reengaged with Beaver County officials on talks—started several years ago but recently dormant—about siting a petrochemical facility a stone’s throw from Shell’s. ExxonMobil is said to be scouting sites in Ohio and West Virginia as well.

No project besides Shell’s has a corporate green light. PTT Global Chemical, which recently navigated environmental groups’ challenge to its air permit, has yet to begin construction on its cracker in Ohio. And the Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub, an ambitious scheme to invest in natural gas infrastructure that would help a local petrochemical industry grow out of the Marcellus Shale, is still just a plan.

Still, resistance to more petrochemical manufacturing in the region has given a new focus to citizens’ groups such as the Breathe Collaborative, a collection of environmental groups and agencies.

Matthew Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Collaborative, welcomed Peduto’s statement. “It was music to my ears to have a regional leader speak out about the risk of aligning the region’s future to petrochemicals,” he tells C&EN.

In his speech, Peduto called for cooperation between industry, government, and communities in the region to bolster investment in green energy rather than fossil fuels.

“There is a direct opportunity cost when we continue to invest in 19th-century industry that costs us the opportunity to bring 21st-century industry to this region,” Peduto said.

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