Royal Dutch Shell's decision to drop plans for a natural gas cracker is good news for residents of the Upper Ohio Valley and Pittsburgh regions. Recently Shell was fined $115 million for regularly underreporting emissions of pollutants and carcinogens at a Texas cracker. Officials in Houston have found crackers to be one of the biggest polluters in the region, and companies have even decided NOT to locate in the city because of its air pollution. Crackers emit high levels of VOCs, which combine with water and sunlight to form ozone. High ozone levels have been tied to increased levels of cardiac arrest, asthma and childhood leukemia. We aren't talking about the ozone layer or global warming: These are real, known impacts on the health of us and our children.
The people of the valley deserve a clean, healthy place to live where residents, longtime or newly arrived, of all backgrounds and skillsets can find gainful and fulfilling employment. Politicians like to lavish tax breaks, financing and other enticements on huge international corporations like Shell, all paid for by the people who already live here. Instead of pandering to the gas industry, which is already here, we should focus our economic development efforts on creating a diversified economy that can withstand the boom and bust of any one industry or sector.
Instead of a cracker strikeforce, the Ohio Valley needs a high-technology strikeforce. Cities Pittsburgh and Detroit once belched smoke like Wheeling, but many there have realized that recapturing the industrial past is neither feasible nor desirable. Now they attract software developers, venture capitalists, and technology development firms that emit mostly shredded printer paper and $75,000+ salaries.
We even have workers to fill all these positions: Every Thanksgiving and Christmas they return to the Ohio Valley visit their parents or grandparents, eat DiCarlo's and a Coleman's fish, and maybe talk about how they wish they could find a job in their field here so they could move back home. Then they pack up and go back to New York, D.C., Denver, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, Boston and other points.
The Ohio Valley has the opportunity to move forward toward a diversified economy. Our elected officials have a duty to pursue every opportunity for the people of this region to flourish. They also have a duty to insure industries, especially those taking taxpayer money, are good neighbors.
Brandon W. Holmes