Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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“We don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone.” World Ocean Day 2018

“We don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone”
World Ocean Day – June 8, 2018
Patricia M. DeMarco

“Don’t it always seem to go that we don’t know what we’ve lost till it’s gone?”  Joni Mitchell

Photo: winner in the Youth Category
of World Oceans Day Photo Competition/Jack McKee.[1]

“The Ocean is a place of paradoxes.  It is the home of the great white shark, two-thousand-pound killer of the seas, and of the hundred-foot blue whale, the largest animal that ever lived. It is also the home of living things so small that your two hands might scoop as many of them as there are stars in the Milky Way.”Rachel Carson[2]

Walking along the edge of the sea in the early morning after a storm reveals the power and the wonder of Nature. Long ribbons of winged kelp, Alaria, with rock clinging to their moorings wrenched from the depths by the power of the storm clump along the tide line.  Strewn among them are the spiral egg cases of the Channeled Whelk, stranded jellyfish, or sea urchins along with bits of shell and an occasional starfish cast out of its depth.  The sanderlings and gulls prod through the debris running back and forth, or swoop and dive into the shallows. The detritus of humanity is there too, adding unnatural bright colors of plastic bottles, straws, styrofoam cups, toys, tampons, plastic containers of joint compound or kitty litter, shards and pieces of plastic goods once used and discarded. Indigestible even by the bacteria and detrital consumers of the ocean deep, this accumulated debris of human convenience chokes the life out of the creatures of the sea.  Inevitably, it will choke the life out of all of us, too

The ocean as we have known it for hundreds of years now exhibits the effects of careless and deliberately harmful human actions. The ocean has been considered so vast that no amount of contamination could possibly affect it.  Now the effects of endless dumping, runoff from chemical agriculture, and the acidification of the water from absorbing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels are degrading vast areas of the ocean.  Coral reefs stand bleached and dying over 50% to 80% of their reaches.[3]No coastline on earth is free of plastic debris washed to the ocean from land.

Since 1983, the United Nations has celebrated World Oceans Day on June 8thto help raise awareness of our dependence on the ocean for most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, food for millions of people, tempering our climate and contributing endless connections in the global web of life.  The ocean covers 70% of the surface of planet Earth. Though part of the Earth from the time of its ancient origins, vast expanses of the ocean remain unexplored, shrouded in mystery.  All of life on Earth depends on the functions of the ocean and the myriad of living things embraced in its waters.  Most critically, 50% of the free oxygen in the atmosphere comes from phytoplankton living in the top 18 inches of the ocean water. These small life forms convert sunlight to sugars and oxygen as they float on the surface of the sea.  At the ground base of the food chain, plankton feed creatures from beluga whales, to sockeye salmon to small fry of fishes. Millions are suffocated by oil slicks. Worse, the plankton are now joined by micro-plastic particles, ground into bits from years of tossing in the ocean, now intermixed with the life forms, reducing the food value and offering surfaces on which toxic bacteria and toxic pollutants accumulate. Some of the plankton will ingest the micro-plastic, and thus incorporate this material into their own systems.[4]The feeding fishes and whales do not distinguish the plankton from the plastic micro-particles, ingesting huge quantities of the increasingly contaminated material to the point of starvation. Plastic has been found in the bodies of fish caught for human consumption also.[5]

Plastic pollution is causing tremendous harm to our marine resources. For example:

  • 80% of all pollution in the ocean comes from people on land.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic per year ends up in the ocean, wreaking havoc on wildlife, fisheries and tourism.
  • Plastic pollution costs the lives of 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals per year.
  • Fish eat plastic, and we eat the fish.
  • Plastic causes $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems each year.[6]

The global contamination of the ocean from single use plastic is an especially poignant tragedy because it represents the epitome of the unintended consequences of modern progress. Plastic came into the market as a convenience, a wonder material that could lower cost and bring myriad improvements in critical things such as health care, packaging and disposable consumer products. Since the 1950s, plastic use has grown exponentially. While the uses of plastic have grown, there has been no concerted effort to address the waste stream that now reaches 300 million tons per year of plastic waste.[7]The uses of plastic and their production represent a $184 billion industry, with exports expected to grow by 7% per year until 2030 based on increased use of shale gas as a feedstock.[8]But the reclamation, recycling, or re-use of the raw petrochemical derived material has no value as a profit center, and thus accumulates as trash, and erodes the public amenities of water, land and ocean ecosystems. The unintended consequence of creating a material that is strong, non-biodegradable, light weight, formable into a variety of shapes are the same properties that make plastics a scourge when discharged into the oceans.

Without concerted action, we face the tragedy of a loss beyond measure – an ocean sterile of life, bereft of the resilience and regenerative power of millions of living things from the smallest plankton to the mightiest of whales that rise from the depths to breathe. There is no way to “recycle” out of this problem, though recapturing plastics for re-use is one part of the solution.  We must address the need to design systems for the capture of waste, so the “garbage” of modern life does not end up in the ocean. We must address the problem of excess plastic at the source. We must adopt policies and systematic solutions that prevent further pollution from plastic, and begin to clean up what has already accumulated in the ocean.

The United Nations has adopted an action focus for 2018: preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean. Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment, said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”[9]At the closing of the G-7 meetings in Charlevoix, Canada, six of the countries, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, adopted an Ocean Plastics Charter: “Plastics are one of the most revolutionary inventions of the past century and play an important role in our economy and daily lives. However, the current approach to producing, using, managing and disposing of plastics poses a significant threat to the environment, to livelihoods and potentially to human health. It also represents a significant loss of value, resources and energy.” [10]The charter includes a five- part commitment to take action toward a resource-efficient lifecycle management approach to plastics in the economy by:

  1. Sustainable design, production and after-use markets
  1. Collection, management and other systems and infrastructure
  2. Sustainable lifestyles and education
  3. Research, innovation and new technologies
  4. Coastal and shoreline action

As we enter the summer season, many people travel to the seashore to enjoy the beaches, or fishing, or just being at the seaside. It is important to recognize that the simple pleasures we derive from experiencing the coast depend on much larger forces at work. The unthinking carelessness and wasteful practices surrounding our conveniences in using plastic take a relentless toll on essential life systems.  We cannot live without the complex living ocean, but we can certainly live without plastic straws, plastic bags and hundreds of other single-use items. For hundreds of suggestions about reducing plastic in your life, see https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/  The most important step is to care about preserving the life of the ocean, to care about preserving our planet for our children. The   mysteries of the ocean depths are worth preserving, worth fighting for, and worth making changes in the “convenience” we take for granted without counting the cost.

“But even with all our modern instruments for probing and sampling the deep ocean, no one can say that we shall ever resolve the last, the ultimate mysteries of the sea. … For the sea lies all around us. The commerce of all lands must cross it. The very winds that move over the lands have been cradled on its broad expanse and seek ever to return to it. The continents themselves dissolve and pass to the sea, in grain after grain of eroded land. So the rains that rose from it return again in rivers. In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations, the dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea – to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.”  
Rachel Carson. 1951. The Sea Around Us- Commemorative Illustrated Edition. Oxford Press. (2003) Page 259.

 

References and Citations:

[1]As the photographer of this young yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus) said, small marine creatures as well as large ones are fascinating and worth protecting. The fish was in a rocky crevice in the Tweed River, New South Wales, Australia.

[2].” Rachel Carson “Undersea” Nawaukum Press. Santa Rosa. 2010.

[3]https://www.insidescience.org/news/bringing-plight-coral-reefs-our-screens

[4] https://inhabitat.com/plankton-pundit-video-shows-exact-moment-plastic-enters-the-food-chain/

[5] Chelsea M. Rochman,Akbar Tahir,Susan L. Williams, Dolores V. Baxa, Rosalyn Lam,Jeffrey T. MillerFoo-Ching Teh, Shinta WerorilangiSwee J. Teh. “Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption.”

Scientific Reports. volume 5, Article number: 14340 (2015) https://www.nature.com/articles/srep14340#auth-8

[6]http://www.un.org/en/events/oceansday/

[7]Briony Harris. This is what countries are doing to fight plastic waste.” World Economic Forum. June 8, 2018. https://medium.com/world-economic-forum/this-is-what-countries-are-doing-to-fight-plastic-waste-d7673132230b

[8]https://www.americanchemistry.com/Trade-Overview/

[9]http://web.unep.org/unepmap/un-declares-war-ocean-plastic

[10]https://g7.gc.ca/en/official-documents/charlevoix-blueprint-healthy-oceans-seas-resilient-coastal-communities/#a1


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Earth Day 2018 – A View of Hope from the Pit of Despair

April 22, 2018

by Patricia M. DeMarco

A bright profusion of daffodils rims the pond.  Young mourning doves explore the edge of the waterfall with their fuzzy plumage offering camouflage from the Coopers hawks soaring overhead.  Blossoms and tree leaves swell in readiness to burst forth with the rich foliage of summer.  I listen to the songs of the birds in their Spring courtship calls and take comfort that the flow of the seasons continues.  At the micro-level of a single back yard, the thrum of Life pulses within the Earth and gives me peace. So much of what gives life meaning is embedded in little things. Priceless things like Spring.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder. P. 100)

My thoughts turn to Rachel Carson this Spring of 2018. Her heroic battle to complete her book Silent Spring in the face of the devastation of metastatic invasion of breast cancer into her bones, her lungs, her every nerve ending wracked with the devastation of a disease that in her time was a death sentence.  The one in eight women in America who face this same disease have a much more favorable trajectory for survival.[1] Rachel Carson’s voice calling for precaution in the use of man-made materials that are biologically active has fallen on deaf ears.  Even the protections for clean air and water and the toxic substances controls imposed by law have failed to stem the flow of toxic releases. Now labeled as “burdensome regulations” even the minimum standards in place are under attack in favor of unfettered pollution to create short–term economic profits. The myth that protecting the environment costs jobs is well entrenched and shows no sign of abatement. I look at a trajectory forward from this year and see nightmare visions of rivers flowing black with coal waste, plastic suffocating the life of the oceans, air thickened by noxious emissions newly relieved of constraints.  I think of the Pittsburgh of the late 1950’s when I was old enough to notice and complain of the sulfurous smell that suffused my world. Is it even remotely possible that this past will be the future my grandchildren know? I tremble in rage at even the possibility of such an outcome.

For the first time in the history of the world,
every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals,
from the moment of conception until death. 
Rachel Carson. (Silent Spring. P.12)

Rachel Carson’s precautionary message, vilified in the industrial mainstream in America, has taken hold in the regulatory systems of other countries, especially Europe. In the EU, the burden of proof of safety rests on the manufacturers who must demonstrate that products and their breakdown components pose no health or toxic danger to people or living things.  Not so in the US.  Here, the industry meets minimum requirements, and whole categories of materials are “generally regarded as safe” without testing for health effects.  The burden is on the consumer to prove that their illness was caused by exposure.  According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biennial bioassay of the US population, for example, the average American has over 300 synthetic chemicals in his or her body, 75 of which are known mutagens or carcinogens.[2]  93% of the adult population has Bis-Phenyl-A in their bodies, a known endocrine disruptor found in plastic container linings, thermal paper such as receipts, and plastics used for food.[3] Even babies are born pre-polluted, as documented by a study of cord blood in newborns that showed 237 synthetic chemicals present at birth, including carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds.[4] The wanton disregard for post-consumer fate of synthetic materials now forms a global chemical stew that surrounds all living things. The modern Age of Plastic has been a massive experiment on life without any controls.

Global awareness of global pollution as an existential problem is growing across the world.  It is impossible to ignore the millions of ocean creatures coming to land dead from consuming plastic debris floating in the ocean in great gyres concentrated by the currents. Our habit of converting fossil raw material to trash as rapidly as possible with no plan for retrieving the waste creates millions and millions of pounds a year of synthetic material that does not break down into smaller molecules that can re-enter the cycle of life.  Synthetic materials made from fossil resources, extracted with great damage to the living systems of the Earth, transported, manufactured into materials for convenience. 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year, over half for single use items that become trash – More than eight million tons of plastic debris ends up in the ocean every year.[5] Modern living has hundreds of daily actions depending on plastics- structural components of buildings, vehicles, electronics, tools, instruments, fibers. The problem of plastic pollution is complex, and has evolved over fifty years at least.  The solutions will require dedicated effort, but most critically, a force of will to change the process toward solutions.

It is a moral and ethical problem, not a technology problem. The plastic pollution of the globe is the most serious unintended consequence of convenience combined with a failure to take responsibility for the waste produced at any level.  Manufacturers have failed to take responsibility at the design stage to prevent toxicity and harm in the biological activity of the synthetic material they produce.  Unless regulatory restrictions are imposed and enforced, there is no ethic of assuring safety in the products or their degradation by-products.  Industry, especially in the US screams about burdensome regulation and insists that restrictions limit profits and kill jobs. Producers of plastics, especially single-use consumer convenience products, take no responsibility for reclaiming or recapturing the waste. There is no profit in recapturing the used materials, it is apparently cheaper to make new plastics from more fossil raw resources like petroleum and natural gas liquids.  Retailers and advertisers promote ever more items for convenience, representing the single use and throw away concept as a convenience to the consumer. Cutlery, plastic cups, dishes, straws, food containers, take-out foods, packaging everything within packages then clad in shrink-wrap… the list is endless. Consumers take little responsibility for the waste created with all this “convenience.” Americans recycle less than 5% of the plastic waste.  The ethic of taking responsibility for recycling plastic has evaporated with the old-fashioned practice of returning beverage bottles for re-use. Soda. Milk, beer, water once came in bottles with a deposit and refund on return.  Glass bottles could be cleaned and reused five or more times before being recycled and reformed for renewed use.  A circular fate for the silica based resource of glass.  This practice is routine in Germany, where re-use of beverage bottles is standard.[6]  They also recycle and re-use some plastic bottles with machines that shred the bottles at the point of sale for a deposit.

Solutions to the single-use plastic problem can begin immediately with citizens calling for responsible plastic policies.[7] REFUSE single-use plastics: straws, shopping bags, water and soft drink bottles, cutlery, food containers.  REDUCE the amount of disposable plastic in a conscious effort at the point of purchase.  Ask: “Is there a reusable version of this product?  Is the container recyclable? Is the packaging excessive? What becomes of this product when I am done with it?” Plan ahead to bring re-usable shopping bags, re-usable cutlery, cups and water bottles. Bring re-usable containers fort take-out rather than Styrofoam or polystyrene take out boxes. RE-USE items that can be re-purposed for creative applications from crafts to the selection of goods made from recycled materials, such as wrapping paper, carpet, flooring, some furniture. Recycled plastic for 3-D printing and ocean recovered plastic for product containers are two initiatives from industries developing more responsible global practices. (Ref) RECYCLE responsibly. Know the requirements for recycling in your community. Sort appropriately; wash out food contamination, avoid cross-contamination that will send the entire load to a landfill. RAISE YOUR VOICE to demand better plastics management policies.  From the local level, seek community action to have efficient recycling programs, compositing clean materials for community gardens being careful to prevent plastic contamination. Stand up for state and federal rules that make product safety a priority to protect consumers. Call product manufacturers of brands you use and demand a responsible waste recovery program.  Send the packaging back! In the UK, a group of consumers have been leaving excess single-use packaging at the store after check out….. Call your Representatives and Senators to demand stronger regulations that protect consumers and the environment by reducing the production of single-use materials at the source.[8]

Forty-eight years ago, the first Earth Day called millions of people to action.  We filled the streets in droves, held Teach-Ins and demanded that law-makers pay attention to the pollution of water air and land that was killing us and our children. Today, the approach of limiting the exposure by determining allowable levels of emissions has still resulted in 5.2 billion pounds per year of toxic releases into air, water and land.[9]  Today’s technology has the capacity to go beyond the old adage that the “Solution to pollution is dilution.” We have managed to pollute the oceans globally, the air worldwide, entire watersheds, acres and acres of farmland.  It is time to exercise the precautionary principle in full force.  Design materials to be safe from the beginning – benign by design through green chemistry practices.[10] The culture of convenience based on consumer freedom to act without restraints and for industries to make decisions based exclusively on the economic profit as a driver, leaves the priceless attributes of the living Earth exposed to wanton destruction.[11] Freedom without responsibility and accountability for damage leads to chaos. The moral obligation to preserve the priceless life support system of the Earth must balance the economic drive of profits at any cost.  We can live without plastic straws; we cannot live without fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the interconnected Web of Life, of which humans are but one part. On this Earth Day, take a walk through your neighborhood, and pick up all the trash around you. Notice how much plastic debris has become a normal part of the landscape, and resolve to be part of the solution.

 

Citations and References

[1] U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics  http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Biomonitoring Program. https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/index.html

[3] Edna Ribiero et. Al. Occupational Exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA): A Reality That Still Needs to Be Unveiled. Toxics. 2017 Sep; 5(3): 22. Published online 2017 Sep 13.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5634705/

[4] Sara Goodman. “Tests Find More Than 200 Chemicals in Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood.” Scientific American. December  2, 2009. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa

[5] Joe McCarthy. “9 Shocking Facts About Plastics in Our Oceans.” Global Citizen. June 12, 2017. https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-oceans-facts-images-2436857254.html

[6] James. How Does The German Pfand System Work, And Is It Effective? 21 May 2017.

https://liveworkgermany.com/2017/05/how-does-the-german-pfand-system-work-and-is-it-effective/

[7] Beth Terry. 100 Steps to a Plastic Free Life.  https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/

[8] National Council of State Legislatures offers resources and model legislation.    HTTP://WWW.NCSL.ORG/RESEARCH/ENVIRONMENT-AND-NATURAL-RESOURCES/PLASTIC-BAG-LEGISLATION.ASPX

[9] Environmental Protection Agency.Toxic Release Inventory. National Analysis 2015.  www.epa.gov

[10] Patricia M. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh. 2017) Pages 140-169.

[11] Report of the World Commission on The Environment and Development “Our Common Future.”  United Nations 1985.  http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf

 

 


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Comments on the Shell Falcon Ethane Pipeline

 

April 5, 2018

Allegheny County Public Hearing

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Southwest Regional Office
Waterways & Wetlands Program
400 Waterfront Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
RA-EPWW-SWRO@pa.gov 

 

In the Matter of: Shell Pipeline Company, Falcon Ethane Pipeline

JOINT PERMIT APPLICATION FOR PENNSYLVANIA CHAPTER 105 WATER OBSTRUCTION AND ENCROACHMENT PERMIT AND U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS SECTION 404 PERMIT (JANUARY 20, 2018)

My name is Patricia M. DeMarco, I reside at 616 Woodside Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15221.  I am an elected Member of the Borough Council in the Borough of Forest Hills, representing 5,600 citizens.[1] Our community lies in the area affected by air emissions and watershed contamination potential impacts from the Falcon Ethane Pipeline. I speak on behalf of the citizens I am sworn to represent and for the unborn children of the 21st century who will bear the consequences of the decisions made today.

 

I oppose the construction of this pipeline and the entire industrial complex of which it is a critical component. The Falcon Ethane Pipeline system is a 97-mile pipeline network intended to feed the SHELL Appalachia Petrochemical facility in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The Falcon Pipeline will carry more than 107,000 barrels of ethane per day through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, to Shell’s Appalachia Petrochemical facility, which would then “crack,” or break apart, ethane molecules to create ethylene and polyethylene for single-use plastic materials at the rate of 1.6 million tons per year. The SHELL Appalachia Petrochemical facility would be the first step in building a regional petrochemical hub.[2] Piecemeal permitting of the multiple components of this intended petrochemical industry hub prevents the comprehensive impact review of the consequences of converting the forested, rural landscape of western Pennsylvania to an industrial mega-complex. The petrochemical industry is migrating from the storm ravaged Gulf Coast areas of Louisiana and Texas to escape the effects of climate change that their own industrial activities are exacerbating. Western Pennsylvania communities will become part of the sacrifice zone to this endeavor, as has happened in Baton Rouge Louisiana and parts of Houston, Texas.[3][4]

 

The construction of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline should be denied for three reasons: it presents a clear danger to critical ecosystem functions in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution; it presents a public health hazard; and it contributes to the immoral and unethical destruction of our climate and planetary health. Propagating infrastructure for fossil-derived methane to be burned as fuel, and petrochemicals to be converted into single-use plastic materials accelerates the slow suicide of our civilization.

 

Falcon Ethane Pipeline violates PA Constitutional protection for the environment.

The Pennsylvania Constitution protects the natural resources of the Commonwealth:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.[5]

This Constitutional provision argues explicitly for precaution in protecting natural resources, including their inherent ecosystem functions, for the use of current and future generations.  It is clear from the proposed route of this Falcon Ethane Pipeline that the permanent right of way will assure the clearing of forest lands, the disruption of natural habitat, the exposure of wetlands, streams and rivers to spill hazards and erosion for the imposition of roads and crossings, and the loss of aesthetic and recreational use of lands. The proposed route of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline will require 1, 273 acres of construction space and 650 acres for the permanent right of way. The Shell Pipeline Company has a poor record of spills, from breaks, leaks and operations. An examination of Shell’s operations around the world makes it clear that the company operates with a brazen disregard for the safety of its own workers, the needs of local communities both here in the United States and internationally, and the long-term impact of drilling on the environment.[6]  In the United States, Shell has one of the worst environmental violation records in the industry, illustrated by these few examples. In September 2011, Shell was fined $500,000 for failing to report five toxic releases at the Deer Park refinery in Harris County; the facility is close to two schools and multiple communities; In 2010, two Shell subsidiaries were forced to pay $3.3 million in civil penalties to the government and spend $6 million to install pollution reduction equipment at refineries in Louisiana and Alabama; In addition, four years earlier, the company was fined $6.5 million for more than 50 environmental violations in Riverside, California.[7] This pattern of corporate behavior is unlikely to change in the proposed Pennsylvania operations at Shell petrochemical facilities.

 

Clean fresh water is essential for life- single use plastic from natural gas liquids like ethane is not. Critical environmental and ecosystem functions will be at risk of damage and degradation from the effects of this pipeline and the extensive infrastructure required for the extraction of fossil methane and natural gas liquids such as ethane from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields. Fully implementing this strategy to locate a petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania will assure the destruction of the natural landscape, watersheds, and fresh water rivers and streams for decades into the future. Protecting fresh water resources is a critical need to support the habitability and resilience of the Western Pennsylvania region.  The Falcon Ethane Pipeline compromises watersheds, wetlands, streams and rivers that provide the water supply directly for at least 8,500 people, and the 30,000 people who rely on the Ambrige Reservoir, not counting people served by private wells within the affected area.[8]

The Falcon Pipeline will directly intersect 319 streams with 361 additional streams located only 500 ft from construction areas and 174 wetlands with 470 additional wetlands located only 500 ft from construction areas. For the most part, these intersections will use open cuts and dry ditch trenching for the construction process, offering minimum protection from sediment, erosion and the introduction of contaminants.  Horizontal Directional Drilling to give greater protection to sensitive areas was indicated in some planned crossings, including highway crossings, but was not included in the plans for crossing areas that directly affect water reservoirs in the Ambridge and Tappen Reservoirs. No plans for DEP or other regulatory oversight of operations in these sensitive watershed, wetland and stream crossings are included in the Application.

 

The Montour Trail will be crossed by the Falcon Pipeline in nine locations: five by the pipeline itself, three by temporary access roads, and one by a permanent access road.[9] Construction of the pipeline and ongoing right of way maintenance will entail clearing of woods and disruption of scenery and a recreational bike way used by an average of 400,000 people annually. This constitutes a permanent and irreparable harm to a scenic and recreational asset of Pennsylvania.

 

The Falcon Ethane Pipeline will deliver ethane extracted from Marcellus and Utica shale deposits to the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Plant in Monaca, PA. The anticipated output of this facility is polyethylene plastic, a precursor for single-use plastic packaging, among other plastic products. It is anticipated to use low-cost ethane supplied by shale gas producers in the Marcellus and Utica basins to produce 1.6 million tons (Mt) of polyethylene a year.[10] Global pollution from plastic waste has reached crisis levels. In 2010, eight million tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean from coastal cities and river discharges.[11] With no restrictions for recycling, reclaiming single-use plastic waste, or designing for repurposing and recapturing this material, the net effect of the Shell Appalachian Petrochemical facility, and the ethane pipeline that feeds it, will be to convert fossil raw materials to trash as rapidly as possible to generate profits for the industry.  The costs to the environment in the form of permanent non-biodegradable plastic pollution will endure for generations.

 

Falcon Pipeline contributes to health effects for workers and communities.

The slick water hydraulic fracturing method for extracting fossil natural gas and associated liquids from deep shale deposits was enabled by the National Energy Act of 2005, which gave an exemption for this process from seven federal environmental and public health laws.[12]  Due to such exemptions, the Falcon Ethane Pipeline is not technically required to file for air quality permits under the Clean Air Act. The rapid expansion of the industry has been accompanied by an increasing documentation of public health and worker exposure data. As a result of the rapid growth of this industry, 9.4 million Americans in 39 states live within one mile of fracking facilities. The Fifth Compendium of peer reviewed documentation of health effects from the fracking industry has been compiled by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Physicians for Social responsibility. The major findings of this study based on peer-reviewed health studies are as follows:

By several measures, evidence for fracking-related health problems is emerging across the United States and Canada. Studies of birth outcomes in regions of intensive unconventional oil and gas extraction continue to point to reproductive risks, including low birth weight and preterm births. In Pennsylvania, as the number of gas wells increase in a community, so do rates of hospitalization, and community members experience sleep disturbance, headache, throat irritation, stress/anxiety, cough, shortness of breath, sinus, fatigue, wheezing, and nausea. Drilling and fracking operations are also correlated with increased rates of asthma, elevated motor vehicle fatalities, ambulance runs and emergency room visits, and gonorrhea incidence. Benzene levels in ambient air surrounding drilling and fracking operations are sufficient to elevate risks for future cancers in both workers and nearby residents, according to studies. Animal studies show numerous threats to fertility and reproductive success from exposure to various concentrations of oil and gas chemicals, including at levels representative of those found in drinking water. Two dozen chemicals commonly used in fracking operations are endocrine disruptors that can variously disrupt organ systems, lower sperm counts, and cause reproductive harm at levels to which people can be realistically exposed.[13]

Given that significant public health impact is already evident from the build out of the petrochemical industry based on hydraulic fracturing, the continued expansion of this industry, including the pipelines that connect the fracking sites with petrochemical production, processing and export facilities, is not in the public interest. This industry may be technically operating legally due to a special interest exemption from environmental and health protections, but its continued development will come at a tremendous price in avoidable human suffering.

 

Ethical Arguments against expanding fossil-based petrochemical industry.

Climate change and global pollution from synthetic non-biodegradable materials are the existential crises of our time. In addition to carbon dioxide produced from the direct combustion of fossil methane from Marcellus and Utica shales, the proposed power plant to drive the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical facility and the millions of diesel-fueled trucks that connect all the parts of this industry contribute to accelerating global warming. Methane leaks from U.S. oil and gas operations were significantly higher than previously estimated, as were U.S. methane emissions overall, which increased by more than 30 percent over a twelve -year period. Most of this excess methane, which is responsible for 30-60 percent of the recent upsurge of global atmospheric methane, represents leaks from U.S. gas and oil operations.[14]

 

There is a three-layered ethical conundrum surrounding fracking.

  1. The hydraulic fracturing industry only exists because the Halliburton Loophole in the National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptions from seven federal environmental protection and worker safety standards. It may be legal, but it is wrong to suspend environmental and worker protections to promote the profitable extraction of a fossil resource for the economic benefit of corporations. Using petrochemical liquids from fracking to add to the single-use plastic burden of the Earth is another highly unethical consequence of this industry.

 

  1. Environmental justice issues arise from exposures to people who live in proximity to pollution sources such as fracking operations, coal fired power plants and petrochemical facilities. The areas around such sources are considered “sacrifice zones” where people cannot afford to leave and are subject to pollution for generations. (See the lengthy literature on Baton Rouge cancer alley, for example) There is also the issue of the supremacy of mineral rights over surface rights. This is an ethical issue especially when the surface  rights include essential ecosystem functions such as watersheds, wetlands, forest, prairie grasslands and rivers. In Pennsylvania, where the mineral rights owners are given access to fossil resources even over the objections of surface property owners, the Constitutional protection for natural resources for future generations is ripe for testing in court.

 

  1. Inter -generational justice issues arise as the fracking process extends the use of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its extraction, processing and use for another thirty years. Global warming from increasing greenhouse gas emissions is an existential threat to all life on Earth as we know it. This is a step in the wrong direction.

 

Finally, policies for a just transition for heavy industry need to be developed. As the whole industrial supply chain moves to a more circular system based on sustainable practices for resource management, the fate of existing workers and the human and social needs in the transition must receive focused attention. Economics alone in a market heavily skewed by embedded fossil industry subsidies will not drive a just and equitable transition to a sustainable future. Policies that suspend the environmental and health protections to the advantage of the petrochemical, oil and gas industries at the expense of public health and worker well-being impede progress to a more sustainable future.

 

From the beginning, the industry has been touting the production of jobs and a resurgence of manufacturing in the area. As Shell states in its promotion for the Shell Falcon Ethane Pipeline, “The project will bring new jobs to the area, with up to 1,000 workers at peak of construction and four to six permanent employees when completed.”  [15] The Shell Appalachia Petrochemical project is slated to create approximately 6,000 jobs during the construction phase and a further 600 permanent positions upon completion. However, an investment of the equivalent of the $1.34 trillion anticipated to build out the petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania may preclude more sustainable and long-term opportunities.  Imagine what the re-investment of this amount of capital in long-neglected communities in Pennsylvania could accomplish with investments in renewable energy systems, regenerative agriculture, and a circular supply chain for products produced by green chemistry processes.  While Pennsylvanians still support natural gas, the level of understanding for the environmental risks of fracking is eroding that support to the extent that 55% of people polled in March of 2018 say the environmental risks of fracking are greater than its economic benefits.[16]

 

It is time to put a stop to this destructive and dangerous build-out of a petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania.  It is an investment in a backward-looking industry that forecloses better options for the future.

 

Citations and References:

[1]  This statement represents the views of the author alone and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Mayor of the Borough of Forest Hills or any other Member of the Borough Council.

[2] Ref https://www.fractracker.org/projects/falcon-public-eia/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[3] Ted Genoways. “Port Arthur Texas: An American Sacrifice Zone.” On Earth. August 26, 2013.    http://archive.onearth.org/articles/2013/08/if-built-the-keystone-xl-pipeline-will-end-in-one-toxic-town Accessed April 3, 2018.

[4] Pollution A to Z. Cancer Alley, Louisiana. Louisiana Forum. http://www.pollutionissues.com/Br-Co/Cancer-Alley-Louisiana.html  Aslo see:  Centers for Disease Control. (2002). Cancer Prevention and Control “Cancer Burden Data Fact Sheets, Louisiana.” Atlanta, GA.  Accessed April 3, 2018.

[5] Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article I. Declaration of Rights § 27. Natural resources and the public estate. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/00/00.HTM Accessed April 2, 2018.

[6]  Alaska Wilderness League. “SHELL Oil- A Record of Environmental and Corporate Malfeasance.”  June 2012. Page 3. http://www.shellnews.net/wikipedia/documents/CompressedShellReport.pdf Accessed April 2, 2018.

[7] Alaska Wilderness League. “SHELL Oil- A Record of Environmental and Corporate Malfeasance.”  June 2012. Page 5. http://www.shellnews.net/wikipedia/documents/CompressedShellReport.pdf Accessed April 2, 2018.

[8]  https://www.fractracker.org/2018/01/falcon-hca/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[9] Frack Tracker Alliance. “The Falcon: Routes, Facilities and Easements.” January 27, 2018.  https://www.fractracker.org/2018/01/falcon-routes/ Accessed April 2, 2018.

[10]  Hydrocarbons technology. “Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex.”     https://www.hydrocarbons-technology.com/projects/shell-pennsylvania-petrochemicals-complex/ Accessed April 2, 2018.

[11]  J.R. Jambeck, R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T.R. Siegler, M. Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K. L. Law. “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Science  13 Feb 2015:Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 768-771 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768 Accessed April 3, 2018.

[12] National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptins for hydraulic fracturing from provisions of seven federal environmental laws and their associated implementing regulations: National Environmental Policy Act (1969, 2005); Clean Water Act (1972, 1987, 2005); Safe Drinking Water Act (1974); Clean Air Act (1970, 1977, 1990); Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976); Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (1986); Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund)(1980) For further analysis see: Renee Lewis Kosnik. “The Oil and Gas Industry’s Exclusions and Exemptions from Major Environmental Statutes.” Earthworks. 2007.

[13] Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2018, March). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (5th ed.) Pages 114-126. http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[14] Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2018, March). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (5th ed.) (See footnotes 714-716, 724, 733, 734.)

[15] https://www.shell.us/business-customers/shell-pipeline/falcon/about-the-falcon-pipeline.html Accessed April 3, 2018.

[16] Center for Opinion Research, Franklin & Marshall College.  /StateImpact Pennsylvania Poll. March 29, 2018.  https://www.fandm.edu/uploads/files/708725106986767486-f-m-poll-release-march-2018.pdf  Accessed April 4, 2018.