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Cracking Appalachia: A Political-Industrial Ecology Perspective
Co-sponsored with the George Perkins Marsh Institute
A massive industrial re-development project is underway in the wet gas regions of the Marcellus and Utica shale basins of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. State governments have been coordinating and competing to establish a global petrochemicals industry using ethane by-products from hydraulically fractured shale gas. There are reportedly enough ethane reserves in the basins to support up to five ethane processing plants, known as crackers, each with a capacity to produce about a million tons of plastics components per year. Shell is building the first cracker plant outside of Pittsburgh after receiving a 25-year, $1.65 billion tax break from the PA government, the largest in state history. PTT Global and Braskem, two of the world’s largest petrochemical conglomerates are in the process of building crackers in OH and WV, respectively. Through the lens of political-industrial ecology, an emerging and interdisciplinary field of nature-society geography, this paper will examine the interwoven material and political practices and environmental implications of attracting global capital to Appalachia, a region long at the center of industrial development and environmental degradation within the US.