Three environmental groups and an international petrochemical company in late September reached a settlement agreement to increase air pollution controls at an ethane cracker plant proposed to be built in Belmont County, Ohio.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approved an air permit for the project in December, but the Sierra Club, Earthworks, and FreshWater Accountability Project filed an appeal to the Environmental Review Appeals Board, arguing that the OEPA “grossly underestimated the amount of pollution to be emitted from the plant and should have required for effective technology to reduce those emissions,” a Sierra Club press release states.
The air quality permit would allow the plant, which would crack apart methane into ethylene and polyethlene used for plastics and chemical manufacturing, to emit almost 400 tons of volatile organic compounds per year. The Belmont County plant, if built, would join a $6 million Shell Chemical cracker plant now under construction in Monaca, Beaver County, Pa. Both would sit along the Ohio River in the Ohio Valley.
PTTGC America of Thailand and Daelim of South Korea have proposed the plant on a 500-acre tract. While a final decision on construction has not yet been made, site clearing has begun and permits have been issued. The companies expect a final decision soon.
The environmental groups argued that the facility “would be a major source of air pollution” and would emit large amounts of volatile organic compounds, particulates, and nitrogen oxides, “all of which are known to negatively impact human health,” according to the appeal. They also expressed concern about greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. The draft permit states that the plant could potentially emit 1.785 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year, although the appeal argues that it underestimated.
The settlement agreement calls for the company to use an enhanced leak detection system, using optical gas imaging, conduct more testing to ensure compliance with air pollution limits, install an on-site meteorological station that will monitor wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, and pressure, establish a website available to the public that will include all information it submits to OEPA and weather data, and conduct additional stack testing.
While the environmental groups said the settlement contains important improvements, “the plant continues to pose a serious public health risk to nearby communities, and opposition to the proposed project remains strong,” the press release states.
PTTGC America also issued a statement outlining the enhanced measures. “We respect the Sierra Club, Earthworks and FreshWater Accountability Project for working with us on this agreement,” said Toasaporn Boonyapipat, president and CEO of PTTGC America in a press release. “The resolution of these issues is a tribute to their commitment to environmental protection.”
Construction of the Belmont County plant would continue the build-out of the petrochemical industry in the Appalachian Basin as Marcellus and Utica shale provides an abundant supply of gas containing high levels of natural gas liquids that can be used as feedstock for the crackers. Federal Department of Energy officials have said that expanding the industry in the Appalachian Basin is a priority.
If that occurs, more cracker plants could be on the horizon. Reports recently circulated that ExxonMobil representatives were scouting the Beaver County area for property for another plant. That could bring more concerns about pollution and health issues to the Ohio Valley.