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Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: Methanol facility a bad idea for valley

The company West Virginia Methanol, Inc. submitted a permit application in November 2020 to build a facility in Pleasants County on a former carbon black site along the Ohio River. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection accepted public comments and held an online public hearing this week on the facility. This facility is yet another bad industrial idea for the Ohio River Valley.

If built, the permit application for this facility states that it will use 36 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to create 1,000 tons of methanol per day. All of that gas has to come from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale deposits. On Dec. 14, 2020, Concerned Health Professionals of New York along with Physicians for Social Responsibility released the 7th Edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction). This fully referenced compilation breaks down the enormous health and environmental harms of fracking. You can download the entire document at concernedhealthny.org.

One of the authors of the Compendium, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, spoke with Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action on Zoom in February. It was an extremely informative meeting co-hosted by West Virginia Citizen Action Group, FACT Ohio, and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. We learned so much from Dr. Steingraber, in conjunction with reviewing the Compendium, and we at Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action want to convey the severity of continuing the incredibly harmful practice of fracking.

Fracking is far from the only harm presented by this facility, though. Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas. Though it is shorter-lived in the atmosphere, methane has 86-times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide over twenty years. The current administration and Congress are taking methane capture from oil and gas operations much more seriously, but utilizing 36 million cubic feet of natural gas a day to produce 1,000 tons of methanol a day is only going to exacerbate what are referred to as fugitive methane emissions.

The facility will also have a total of 9, 375,000-gallon methanol storage tanks. The company has stated that it will comply with the Aboveground Storage Tank Act and all other applicable regulations in West Virginia, but this past legislative session Del. John Kelly from here in Wood County sponsored legislation to exempt storage tanks storing up to 9,000 gallons of oil and gas waste in zones of critical concern for our drinking water from regulation under the ASTA.

The legislation failed, but who’s to say that Kelly or another delegate or senator won’t try this again next session? These tanks could present a further threat to the Ohio River–a drinking water source for 5 million people.

Methanol is used in the production of various plastics and petrochemicals for various uses. Ours is a world smothering in plastics pollution. Plastics can be found in the most remote regions of the Arctic and the deepest depths of the oceans. It literally rains plastic in some places. A study conducted for the World Wildlife Fund found that humans are ingesting 5 grams of plastics a week, the equivalent of a credit card! We need to be ditching single-use, disposable plastics entirely and engineering biodegradable and safer alternative polymers for the rest, not piling on.

Finally, per reporting on the permit application for this facility by Mike Tony with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, this facility has the potential to cause major air pollution issues:

“The proposed facility has the potential to emit 91 tons of carbon monoxide, 92 tons of nitrogen oxides (poisonous, highly reactive gases), 54 combined tons of three different kinds of particulate matter, and 11 combined tons of the known or probable human carcinogens formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene and 1,3-butadiene … “

All of this will, according to the permit application, create 30 permanent jobs. This is not a good deal for us in the Ohio River Valley or for West Virginia. This is just another way to keep us an extraction colony and sacrifice zone. Regulators need to say no to the building of this facility.

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Eric Engle is Chairman of the not-for-profit volunteer organization Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, Board Member for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Co-Chairman of the Sierra Club of West Virginia Chapter’s Executive Committee.

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