The Shell Ethane Cracker Is NOT A Done Deal

By Mark Dixon

Lots of people approach me and ask about the Shell Cracker. They often don’t know that it is designed to make plastic from fracked natural gas. They often don’t know that it will require a pipeline that will pass near 240 groundwater wells and put 8700 people into its “vapor zone.” What they all do know is that they heard it was a “done deal,” implying that it isn’t worth fighting. That our efforts are better spent on other fights. But if the Shell Cracker is a done deal, and if our local and global communities buy into Shell’s vision of the future, then there are a whole lot of deals that also become “done” and I don’t think you want them. And I don’t think our brothers and sisters around the world want them. And so based on that simple premise, I offer that…

  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is catastrophic climate change. This facility is permitted to emit more than two million tons of CO2 annually and promotes massive methane leakage by requiring thousands of new fracking wells to feed it. And so it is only natural that…
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so are massive deadly future heatwaves.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the melting of our two essential ice caps.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the global expansion of tropical disease.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so are the increases in catastrophic flooding worldwide.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the global reduction of crop yields.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so are increases in mass starvation.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the mass migration of millions of climate refugees.
  • In fact, the amount of CO2 emitted by the Shell Cracker is painfully similar to the amount of CO2 reductions referenced in Pittsburgh’s latest climate action plan. So if the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then Pittsburgh’s climate action plan is moot.
  • And if the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then the Paris Climate Agreement can go to hell.
  • And if the Shell Cracker is a done deal and the Paris Climate Agreement goes to hell, we can blame the politicians complicit in the petrochmical assault: Governor Wolf, Bob Casey, Rich Fitzgerald — all of whom say they support the Paris Agreement.
  • AND… If the Shell Cracker is a done deal and you are quiet about it for the sake of political expediency, then your role in moving our civilization towards the climate abyss is also a done deal.
  • But it goes well beyond climate change. The Shell Cracker symbolizes a beachhead in a renewed petrochemical invasion of our region, meaning that… If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so may well be another 50 years of petrochemical expansion in our region, including several MORE cracker plants.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so are thousands of new fracked wells that will be required to support it.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so are thousands of water complaints that we can expect from those supporting fracking wells.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the fear that will be felt by thousands of parents for the safety of their children playing near schools adjacent to fracking wells.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the fear that will be felt by millions of homeowners worried that their quality of life may be destroyed by a new fracking well nearby.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so are the thousands of diesel trucks on our roads required to feed the fracking boom with supplies and fuel.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the community discord and conflict that will emerge around thousands of new fracking wells.

And then there’s the plastic!

  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the 1.5 million tons of plastic that will pour out of it every year, eventually finding its way into our oceans, rivers, and landfills.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the starving of the countless sea creatures that mistakenly ingest plastic thinking it is food.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the ultimate domination of plastic over fish in the ocean by 2050.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the global inundation of microplastics that bioaccumulate toxins up the food chain and into the mouths of our families.

And when we build our economy on the foundation of a petrochemical industry, it clouds our judgement…

  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the cultural indoctrination of our children in which we teach them to contribute towards a petrochemical economy.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so are the lies that we’ll need to tell ourselves in order to ignore the climate consequences of earning a living through a carbon-intensive job.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the shame we will feel as a region when the world asks us to answer for our the climate and pollution plague to which we have dedicated our modern economy.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is increased pollution in the Ohio river.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the increase in regional VOC pollution to levels not seen since 1999, making the Cracker the largest VOC emitter in Western PA.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the additional ground level ozone we can expect from its VOC emissions.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so are the additional asthma cases we can expect from its VOC emissions.
  • If the Shell Cracker is a done deal, then so is the curse of pollution, discord, disease, lies, and chaos that we thrust upon all future generations.

Given all this, must we still ask the question: Is the Shell Cracker a done deal? I say NEVER! So long as it stands against everything we stand for, it will be worth our while to actively work against it. If you stand for clean air, clean water, clean energy, green jobs, a stable climate, a healthy community, a more robust democracy, or even simply a clear conscience, your time would be well spent fighting against this facility. Even if Shell gets all the required permits, builds their pipeline, finishes construction. Even if they start up the cracking process, even if they operate for 1, 2, 5 or even 10 years. The Shell Cracker so thoroughly undermines so much of what we hold dear that under any of these circumstances we, and all those around the world, will still be better off if the plant were shut down. Come, join our movement, and help us un-do the Shell Cracker’s deal and instead create a community we can be proud of both here and across the globe.

Mark Dixon is an air quality advocate, independent filmmaker, public speaker and member of the Breathe Collaborative. He lives in Squirrel Hill with his wife Christine Benner Dixon and a impressive array of air quality monitors. He shared these comments at the recent “Other Side of the World” art event last week in Market Square.

Read It on NoPetroPA.

Photo Courtesy Dianne Peterson Photography