Appalachian Basin

Ohio Activist Capitalizes On Earth Day to Attack Local Natural Gas Workers

An anti-oil and natural gas activist in Ohio recently attempted to use the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to attack the men and women providing America with the energy we need at this critical time.

The importance of those workers and the industry that employs them – a huge economic driver in Ohio – has been highlighted by governors and the U.S. government in response to the pandemic. The Department of Homeland Security determined that those in the energy industry are “essential critical infrastructure workers,” including those “owrkers who support the construction, maintenance, or rehabilitation of critical infrastructure.” The energy industry, and its related infrastructure, have always been of national importance, but it is especially true during a pandemic when energy is necessary to power hospitals and other essential structures as well as ship medical supplies and food around the country.

Yet that critical role was ignored in a recent column by local activist Randi Pokladnik in the Steubenville Herald-Star, which attacked the energy industry and infrastructure projects in the Ohio Valley in a tone-deaf piece which heavily relied on bad science.

In her column, Pokladnik claims that the energy industry has tried to position itself as “essential,” ignoring the fact that not only has the DHS determined energy industry workers are essential, but overlooking the many states that have also determined that these workers are essential, critical and life-sustaining.

In an attempt to argue that the energy industry is not essential—and further argue that its workers should not receive government support—Pokladnik decides to quote Oil Change International activist Collin Rees:

“We need billions of dollars invested directly in vulnerable communities dying from COVID-19, not spent propping up massive oil companies.”

What Rees and Pokladnik ignore is that the oil and natural gas industry has not asked for a corporate bailout like other industries. However, if smaller, independent operators cannot have access to the same loans and payroll protection afforded to other companies at this time, layoffs and bankruptcies will follow. The devastation to millions of workers would certainly create more vulnerability within communities around the United States, including potentially in Ohio.

Energy Infrastructure Safely Continuing

Pokladnik further attempts to spread falsehoods about energy infrastructure projects, claiming that out of state workers are flooding into the Ohio Valley, straining resources in rural communities and putting the local population at risk for COVID-19 transmission. Her claim is based on outdated and distorted information. Energy infrastructure, including pipelines, are constructed with highly-trained local workforces, meaning that these projects create local jobs and do not require an influx of workers from outside the region. Pokladnik only has to look to Ohio’s labor unions which have logged millions of man-hours annually just on local pipeline projects to see just how misinformed her claim is.

These projects not only support local jobs, they increase tax revenues and further support local economies.

Pokladnik also spreads further misinformation about specific projects, like Shell’s Plastic Cracker plant in Pennsylvania. While Pokladnik claims the plant’s construction is unsafe due to current social distancing, the truth is that Shell decided to halt construction and is only now beginning to slowly increase activity, employing local workers, in order to maintain safety protocols and observe social distancing as much as possible.

A Reliance on Bad Science

Pokladnik also uses bad science to try to back up her claims that energy companies contribute to the COVID-19 crisis. Citing a pre-print article from Harvard researchers which suffers from poor data and methodology issues, and has rightly received criticism for its flaws, Pokladnik tries to make a haphazard claim that the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel efficiency standards will lead to more pollution, causing more deaths from COVID-19.

An editorial from the Wall Street Journal explains why activists like Pokladnik are touting the Harvard study in an attempt to link fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to an uptick in COVID-19 deaths, completely ignoring how natural gas has helped lower PM 2.5 levels across the United States:

“PM 2.5 levels across the U.S. have fallen 40 percent since 2000 as power plants and cars have become more efficient, and coal has been replaced with cleaner-burning natural gas. Only nine or so counties now don’t meet the EPA’s PM 2.5 national standard. Hence the left is now pressing the EPA to tighten PM 2.5 limits. They know regulating PM 2.5 is a back door to restricting CO2 emissions from power plants, which the Supreme Court in 2015 blocked the Obama EPA from doing. It may be that long-term exposure to PM 2.5 modestly raises the coronavirus death risk, but more rigorous studies are needed to prove this, and shutting down fossil-fuel production now won’t save lives. It will deny livelihoods to hundreds of thousands of people.” (emphasis added)

Pokladnik’s views are clouded by negative bias against the energy industry, which has resulted in a column that distorts facts, ignores the truth and relies on bad science. Energy industry workers and infrastructure continue to be essential as America tries to slow the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring hospitals, homes, and essential businesses have the power they need to continue operating.

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