Monday, October 22, 2012

Beaver County and the ‘Cracker’ Debate

Potential site for major new ‘cracker’ plant near Monaca in Beaver County, PA

By Carl Davidson

Our county was was hit hard and early by globalization and the export of jobs. Our towns were largely formed around mills, and when the mills were closed in the 1980s, the towns were stressed to the extreme. Many workers moved away or retired, and those remaining in the towns themselves were largely poor and Black with few options.

Now with the new natural gas boom creating by dubious and dangerous deep underground ‘fracking’ explosions, Shell Oil wants to build a new 'ethylene cracker’ plant that turns natural gas into plastics. Fewer than 1000 people would work in the new $1.2 billion facility, but 10,000 people would be hired over five years to build it, and perhaps another 7000 more for new plastic manufacturing plants draw to be created alongside it.

For the county, it means two things. First, a complete turnaround for employment and new small business and new orders for the tube mill still running. Second, since hundreds of new ‘fracking’ gas wells would be needed to feed the ‘cracker,’ there is serious danger to the county’s water supply and many other health and environmental issues.

So we have a big ongoing debate. Are you for or against the ‘cracker.’ Are you opposed to fracking? Or do you just want to tax and regulate it? And what about clean and green energy?

Natural beauty of our townships soon to be ‘fracked.’

The issue keeps coming up in various forums, including our Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Committee page on Facebook. I had posted some pictures to it showing the natural beauty of our area, which led some to say it could all be ruined by the ‘cracker’. Here’s my brief reply:

'Beauty' looks one way out in the townships. But in the deindustrialized mill towns along the rivers, you see something else--the impact of joblessness is not so pretty. You have to view these things strategically, meaning the whole, not just the part, the future, not just the present, and who are the key engines of change as your allies, if not the unemployed and underemployed. In order to unite the many to defeat the few, you have to find ways to unite people who disagree on many things--no easy task, but it's demanded of us.

Query to me: Why haven't jobs come to Beaver County? The skilled left the area for better jobs and now the perfect storm. I do not know the percentages of skilled or college grads or even people who only have a high school diploma or just a GED in Beaver County.

CarlD: The lack of opportunity means we already have exported a good number of our youth, or at least those with options and prospects. We are demographically now one of the oldest counties, if not the oldest, even though we still have many distressed young people among us, under-employed and unemployed. We have the means to create skills--BCCC, Robert Morris, Geneva and Penn State Beaver--and we have done so.

But I know younger folks in my own family, educated, who have moved away for lack of new industry. For those remaining, the fracking jobs, the trucker jobs related to it and the construction jobs related to the 'cracker' are viewed by them as a Godsend, or potentially so.

Our task is first, to defend clean water, and second figure out a positive way to deal with this developing industry. I doubt that it's going to be stopped, but it can be modified and a share of the profits from it can be diverted toward green renewables in the longer run. The devil is in the details, of course, but I don't think we do well simply to avoid those details with an abolitionist stance not likely to get very far and likely to separate us from real friends. Even people working at building a 'cracker' have an interest in clean water…

Don’t look for this debate to be resolved easily. The opinion and suggestion box is now open! Feel free to comment.

1 comment:

Glycotech said...

Imagine the jobs that could be created if the Farm Bill, now intended to relieve farmers from the land to work instead in factories, if the farm bill instead of mostly going to industrial agriculture in few states, went to local agriculture instead. At $50 billion a year, that's $166 a person in the US. A city of a million would get $166 million a year to support local agriculture, and jobs would be abundant. As well, even the poor could afford healthy food. We need to reconsider why we want factory jobs instead of agricultural ones, at such great cost to our national health, as well as to the environment.

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