BRIDGEPORT — The FreshWater Accountability Project has been notified that it was approved for a $40,000 grant for baseline air and water monitoring and ongoing testing to provide community protections in the region of the planned PTT Global petrochemical plant in Belmont County on the Ohio River.
The Citizens’ Watch program will incorporate scientific research and successful community advocacy programs initiated across the U.S. by residents faced with the potential of a major polluting source such as an ethane cracker plant.
The grant will provide aid for this initiative to ensure that companies are held accountable for potential environmental and public health harms that would be caused by building a major petrochemical complex.
The grant application was made because of residents’ concerns of potential adverse environmental and health impacts brought by companies in the Ohio Valley. This opportunity was funded by the Ohio River Valley-Appalachia Collaborative Fund of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.
“With the Ohio River needed as a drinking water source for 5 million people and a valley prone to air inversions, we wonder why bringing a major polluter like an ethane cracker plant to the Ohio Valley would be considered a good idea,” said Lea Harper, managing director of FreshWater Accountability Project. “As soon as we heard about this project and its associated salt cavern storage being planned by Energy Venture Partners, we had to take action to inform residents in the region about the health and economic risks they face and to advocate for better jobs not tied to the boom/bust industry of fossil fuel extraction.”
The Ohio EPA has approved the permits necessary to allow the project to move forward, though an official announcement that the plant will be built has yet to be made.
“The Ohio Valley deserves better,” said Bev Reed of Concerned Ohio River Residents. “We have a wonderful opportunity now with the resources and guidance provided by the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange program to bring science to the community so that we can protect ourselves since we live in a regulatory environment that is not as protective as needed in the face of major polluting projects like an ethane cracker plant.”
“The importance of protecting public health in the face of the planned petrochemical buildout cannot be overestimated,” said Raina Rippel, director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. “The FreshWater Accountability Project will play a vital role in making sure families in the Ohio River Valley get the information they need to make decisions about their health. We support this project and look forward to adding our knowledge and resources to those of other dedicated, concerned organizations.”
Recently, the U.S. saw the largest settlement in a Clean Water Act lawsuit, brought by private individuals against the petrochemical giant Formosa, which resulted in a $50 million fine and a consent agreement that includes zero discharge of plastic pellets and PVC powders. By setting up a citizens monitoring program in the Ohio River Valley, residents will be able to use science to track air and water pollution and ensure that environmental regulations are upheld.
This grant funding will put PTT Global and its associated storage and pipeline projects on notice that local residents will be educated and equipped to patrol for pollution events and to monitor for toxic emissions exceeding regulations. In addition, research will be conducted to assess the cumulative impact of pollution permits granted by the Ohio EPA in a small region such as Belmont County, which is now the most heavily fracked county in Ohio.
Some residents are concerned the cumulative emissions allowed by the Ohio EPA could show that the region is already put at risk by permitted pollutants and those not monitored and reported, such as radioactivity, that will combine over time to cause adverse environmental and human health impacts.
The project claims the proposed ethane cracker plant would create a much greater toxic burden to the region’s air and water, and if built, must be monitored closely to assign accountability for toxic pollution. Baseline testing will be done as a necessary first step, and people will be trained to proactively protect themselves and document pollution events to assign accountability for damages, the project added.
Last September, PTTGCA LLC said it arrived at a pact with three environmental groups to settle their appeal of the air permit-to-install issued in December by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for the proposed petrochemical complex in Belmont County. PTTGCA agreed to enhance environmental protection and public transparency measures beyond what is required by OEPA if the project goes forward. Sierra Club, Earthworks and FreshWater Accountability Project agreed to withdraw their appeal of the air permit.
PTTGCA stressed, though, that it still has not made a final investment decision on the project.
The plant, if constructed, would use byproducts from fracked natural gas to make polyethylene, a component of plastic. Ethane is one of the natural gas liquids found in abundance in the local natural “wet” gas stream, particularly in the Utica and Marcellus shales.
According to the Sierra Club, the plant and others like it at sites along the Ohio River would make up the nation’s second largest petrochemical complex. The club pointed out that the largest is located in southern Louisiana along the Mississippi River, in an area known to environmentalists as “Cancer Alley” because of the high rates of illness among nearby communities. Ethane crackers are known to release air pollution, including cancer-causing benzene, the Sierra Club states in a news release.
Highlights of the agreement between PTTGCA and the groups include:
∫ An enhanced leak detection and repair program;
∫ A commitment to publishing all information reported to OEPA on a publicly available website; and
∫ A commitment to perform additional stack testing.
*Not part of the article: despite the above agreements met in the settlement, the air permit still has many deficiencies and is not protective of human health to the degree that it should be. Email us for more information on the settlement agreement, etc.