This week, Pittsburgh is home to a double-header of oil & gas industry conferences, the Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction conference and the big DUG East Appalachia Rising conference. DUG originally stood for Developing Unconventional Gas, but with the discovery of shale oil, Hart Energy, the industry consultants who developed the “DUG Brand”, changed it to Developing Unconventionals. For the protesters who took to the streets yesterday, it really doesn’t matter what they call it. It’s all bad.
A march through the city at rush hour was bookended by rallies at the sites of both conferences. The topic just about every speaker addressed was the Royal Dutch Shell ethane cracker plant approved for construction in Beaver County, just north of Pittsburgh. Ethane crackers “crack” open ethane molecules to extract ethylene used to make single-use plastics. The state legislature gave Shell a historic $1.65 billion in tax breaks to build the plant and Governor Tom Wolf did everything he could to seal the deal. Shortly after the deal was done, Wolf issued a report commissioned by his office that found that western Pennsylvania can support four more cracker plants.
Putting aside the direct impacts to communities, as Wolf does so well, it’s worth noting that ethane contributes to climate change in three ways.
- It is a greenhouse gas
- It creates smog, the third largest cause of global warming behind carbon dioxide and methane
- It gobbles up molecules the very potent methane needs to convert to carbon dioxide. Without those hydroxides to hook up with, methane’s life is extended
I was one of the rally speakers outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center where DUG East was just getting underway. I brought up the ethane cracker, too, as part of my talk about Wolf’s practice of what I call Climate Denial, Democrat Style, the particular kind of climate denial we have witnessed in so many Democratic leaders who claim to know climate change is real, man-made, and a catastrophe in the making, yet take no action or take actions that actually make things worse. Wolf is a master of Climate Denial, Democrat Style. He’s not much of a champion of the environment, either.
That’s why his office told reporters it was still “reviewing” the landmark decision handed down yesterday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the case of PEDF v. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That’s usually code for “we hate this, but haven’t figured out how to spin it yet.” A majority of the justices ruled that Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, otherwise known as the Environmental Rights Amendment, limits the way funds raised from leases for drilling on state lands can be used. Section 27 establishes that, as trustees of resources that belong to the public, the state should not be funneling money into the General Fund, but should be using it to conserve the resources. As PEDF’s attorney John Childe told StateImpact, “It clearly mandates that the Commonwealth can no longer treat our natural resources as government property.”
Once thought of as nothing more than an aspirational statement, Article 1, Section 27 became the basis of the 2013 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that struck down major sections of Act 13, the controversial rewriting of the state’s oil & gas act. Yesterday’s ruling affirms that the amendment has relevance.
I wonder if Wolf’s Department of Economic and Community Development chief, Denis Davin, saw that decision coming and referred to it in his talk at the Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction conference, “Pennsylvania’s role as the next U.S. leader in natural gas, petrochemicals, and plastics manufacturing”. Climate Denial, Democrat Style.