Appalachian Basin

Latest Food & Water Watch Report Shows Switch in Tactics: Attack Petrochemicals … To Ban Fracking

In Food & Water Watch’s (FWW) ongoing pursuit to ban fracking everywhere, the group recently released an issue brief that attacks the major petrochemical and plastics investments being made in the Appalachian Basin, calling the region “Another Petrochemical Sacrifice Zone.” Why? Because FWW believes that if it can squash the estimated $36 billion potential petrochemical investments for the region, the group can also achieve its long-term goal of banning fracking. From the report,

“Without the petrochemical and plastics industries to sop up the excess gas supply, it does not make economic sense to maintain the fracking frenzy when gas prices are this low.”

In fact, FWW’s top recommendations (resulting from the exaggerated risks in its report) clearly lay out the group’s “Keep It In the Ground” agenda:

  • “Banning fracking everywhere”
  • “Stopping fossil fuel exports and the construction of [pipeline] infrastructure to support these exports”
  • “Limiting purchases of non-biodegradable, plastic products that effectively supports and finances the oil and gas industry”

This may be FWW’s most bizarre report yet in that a vast majority of it is spent detailing the benefits of the shale industry and potential downstream investment with phrases thrown in randomly to spin these as negatives. For example:

“Too Much Gas: Setting the Stage for a Petrochemical Construction Boom” is an actual sub-heading within FWW’s report.

The Appalachian Basin is driving natural gas production growth across the country thanks to the incredible production taking place in the region. And oddly, that’s one of discussions FWW chooses to lead with in its report:

“The fracking industry’s gas production expanded nearly sixfold in 10 years, with gas production jumping from 2.9 quadrillion cubic feet in 2008 to an estimated 16.9 quadrillion cubic feet in 2017. The Marcellus and Utica shale basins beneath the Tri-State area have become a major source of shale gas, producing 7.6 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2016 — about 45 percent of all shale gas and a quarter of all gas produced in the United States. … Now the fracking industry needs new demand sources to absorb excess gas to justify more drilling. … This fracking-driven plastics bonanza also has a global reach.”

FWW actually dedicates more than 450 words to describing the increased production occurring in the region, while simultaneously injecting negative connotations to its explanation with language such as,

“Surging fracked gas production has collapsed natural gas prices, spawning a crisis in the fracking industry.”

The group then transitions to how this increased production has spurred investment interest – seriously. From the report:

“The surplus of ethane has been a boon for the plastics industry…”

“… ‘shale-based natural gas represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity’ for the North American plastics market.”

“The [American Chemistry Council] dubs shale gas as a ‘game changer for the chemistry industry,’ stating that it ‘holds the promise of a renaissance of chemical manufacturing in the United States.’”

“By 2023, the chemical industry could spend over $164 billion on 264 new facilities and expansion projects nationwide specifically to take advantage of shale gas, according to the ACC.”

“The building boom would include a large natural gas storage facility, a cluster of new petrochemical and plastics plants and a network of pipelines to transport the natural gas and NGLs to and from the hub. Since 2010, investors have planned to pour $16 billion into the region’s petrochemical and fracked gas infrastructure projects, but the ACC has recommended at least $32 billion to jump-start a petrochemical boom.”

“The industry investments will total tens of billions of dollars. Three facilities alone — two ethane crackers and the Storage Hub — are estimated to tally at least $26 billion.”

“The region is already home to many factories that manufacture plastics or plastic products. Currently, these factories buy plastic inputs like ethylene from the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. The regional buildout of gas storage, transportation and petrochemical processing plants like ethane crackers would substantially reduce transportation costs and supercharge the development of a new regional plastics powerhouse modeled after the Gulf Coast.”

“The Ohio Rail Development Commission is also receiving a $16.5 million grant that could serve as critical transportation infrastructure for the Ohio petrochemical plant, since almost all plastics in North America are transported by rail.”

And aside for one brief section on pipelines being at risk for leaks and explosions, the FWW report goes on about the positives of these industries for 6 1/2 pages – the whole report is only 9.5 pages, not counting endnotes – with phrasing like “polluting partners” thrown in occasionally to keep readers aware they should be reading these benefits as negatives before FWW ever gets into why in its mind any of this is a bad thing.

We’re not really sure what was up with that either, but … thank you?


Despite FWW’s assertions that “pipeline construction is disruptive and dangerous” and “threats to public safety and the environment remain even after construction is completed,” it’s a fact that pipelines are the safest means of transporting natural gas and natural gas liquids. From the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration:

“Pipelines enable the safe movement of extraordinary quantities of energy products to industry and consumers, literally fueling our economy and way of life. The arteries of the Nation’s energy infrastructure, as well as one of the safest and least costly ways to transport energy products, our oil and gas pipelines provide the resources needed for national defense, heat and cool our homes, generate power for business and fuel an unparalleled transportation system.

“The nation’s more than 2.6 million miles of pipelines safely deliver trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of billions of ton/miles of liquid petroleum products each year. They are essential: the volumes of energy products they move are well beyond the capacity of other forms of transportation. It would take a constant line of tanker trucks, about 750 per day, loading up and moving out every two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to move the volume of even a modest pipeline. The railroad-equivalent of this single pipeline would be a train of 75 2,000-barrel tank rail cars everyday.

Pipeline systems are the safest means to move these products.” (emphasis added)

Cancer, Environmental Justice and Worker Safety

In true FWW fashion – albeit seven pages in – the group does eventually detail what it means by polluting partnership, claiming that shale development and these petrochemical and plastic facilities will cause a new cancer alley in Appalachia, have negative consequences for marginalized populations, and be harmful to workers.

But here’s the thing – cancer rates are actually lower in top shale basins than in states that have banned fracking. And shale is helping to greatly reduce the cost of energy in the Appalachian Basin, with recent reports from the Consumer Energy Alliance finding that this regional development saved natural gas consumers more than $80 billion from 2006 to 2016. Further, for ethane cracker facilities in particular, an ExxonMobil study of its existing facilities finds that ongoing monitoring “continue[s] to show the overall health of our employees is better than that of the U.S. population.”


The bottom line is this – for all of the reasons and more that Food & Water Watch highlighted, shale development has been a boon for this region. And the investment that it is spurring in manufacturing and other industries will ensure that these benefits last for generations. It’s a historic thing that’s happening here, and as this report proves, even one of the staunchest opponents of fracking had a difficult time ignoring the incredible benefits already seen and forecasted to occur in the Appalachian Basin.

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