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New Economic Crisis May Be in Our Future

It may be that COVID-19 is not the greatest threat to our region’s economy, after all. That distinction may belong to the intensifying national bias against anything related to fossil fuels.

First, the environmentally correct crowd came for the coal industry. Having devastated it and forced electricity prices up for millions of Americans, they are coming now for the natural gas industry.

You may recall that several years ago, when gas was being hailed as a cleaner option for power plants, I warned this would happen. A decade ago, the so-called documentary “Gasland,” received to wide acclaim despite its many inaccuracies and occasional lies, proved my point.

For local residents, Exhibits B and C were furnished recently. First came the decision by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy to cancel the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, into which the firms had invested enormous sums. They explained the current climate makes it too easy for projects such as theirs to be tied up in lawsuits.

Then, last week, Daelim Chemical USA announced it was pulling out of a partnership with PTT Global Chemical America to build an ethane cracker plant in Belmont County. Daelim, a South Korean company, had been involved since 2018.

Daelim referred to the decision as “difficult but necessary.” It left PTT “in the process of seeking a new partner whilst working toward a final investment decision.”

Ominously, PTT added that Daelim’s action would put off that final decision by another six to nine months. It had been scheduled for early 2021.

Only Daelim’s executives know all the factors that went into pulling out of the cracker plant. Both firms cited uncertainty linked to COVID-19. Volatility in oil prices was mentioned. The war against natural gas was not.

It had to have been a factor, however, as it was for Dominion and Duke. The two companies simply got tired of pouring money into legal counsel to fight lawsuits filed by environmentalists.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve heard quite a few trees groaning because I was hugging them too tightly. When I grew up, environmental devastation from irresponsible, virtually unregulated mining was all around. Ever seen a creek the color of a tangerine?

So I understand the risk. I’m also aware the regulatory environment is much different and — though it still has some flaws — much better.

Energy companies — including those building bird-killing windmills — have to be held to account. We’ve gone beyond that, however. One battle that tied up the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for months involved taking it underneath the Appalachian Trail. Many electric lines, pipelines, even highways and railroads already go over, under around and through the trail. Yet the environmentalists tried to stop a new pipeline that would have been hundreds of feet under the trail. Most hikers wouldn’t have known it was there.

No wonder Duke and Dominion pulled the plug. No wonder any company involved in anything related to natural gas is rethinking its plans.

Solar arrays and wind power simply won’t meet our energy needs. They won’t provide the raw materials for products such as plastics. We need to continue using fossil fuels, at least until we develop technology permitting their abandonment.

Unless we start using our heads, the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19 will, in a few short years, seem like a picnic.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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