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Shell Turning American Dreamscapes into Industrial Wastelands

Posted by John Donovan: 20 March 2024

Once upon a time, in the quaint town of Vanport, PA, Rebecca Quigley lived a simple life, her days brightened by the charming view from her wraparound deck, overlooking the serene Ohio River. Little did she know, the oil titan Shell had grand plans to transform her picturesque panorama into something straight out of a dystopian novel. Enter the “ethane cracker,” a behemoth plant designed not for cracking jokes, but for churning out tiny plastic pellets, lighting up the night sky like a low-budget version of Gotham City.

As if summoned from the depths of an oil exec’s wet dream, the plant soon began its symphony of pollution—flaring waste gases, puffing out black smoke, and diffusing an aroma that could only be described as eau de antifreeze meets syrup. Quigley, suddenly finding herself living in an industrial perfume ad, started worrying about the “minor” side effects of air pollution and potential health hazards.

But fear not, dear citizens, for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection swooped in, slapping the plant with fines over $10 million for being naughty not once, not twice, but 19 times, releasing fun stuff like volatile organic compounds and benzene into the air. Who needs clean air when you can have carcinogens, right?

Shell’s ethane cracker isn’t the only villain in this saga, though. It’s just one of 50 plastic-producing titans erected in the last decade, taking advantage of the U.S. fracking boom’s “gifts.” And guess what? Your tax dollars are helping fund these monuments to pollution, with two-thirds of these plants enjoying a cozy financial hug from state or local governments.

According to the Environmental Integrity Project, these industrial behemoths are essentially giant air fresheners, if air fresheners were designed to emit greenhouse gases and carcinogens instead of lavender or vanilla. In 2021 alone, they matched the greenhouse gas emissions of 15 coal-fired power plants. But who’s counting, right?

Most of these plants have decided to grace the Gulf Coast, choosing scenic, majority non-white, low-income communities as their prime locations. Because if you’re going to pollute, why not do it where it hurts the most?

The report’s author, Alexandra Shaykevich, pointed out the absurdity of taxpayers funding their own demise, with plants manufacturing pollution that comes back to haunt them. Meanwhile, Shell, in a move that shocked absolutely nobody, ghosted questions about the report. And the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers? Crickets.

But hey, not everyone’s complaining. Ken Broadbent of the local steamfitters union praised the plant for the wads of cash it brought to union members. After all, what’s a little air pollution when you’ve got a shiny new $19 million training facility, paid for with union dues from members working on this environmental marvel?

Shell’s air violations? Just growing pains, according to Broadbent, soon to be swept under the rug of industrial progress. Because in America, you don’t have to choose between jobs and public health—you just pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

As for Rebecca Quigley, she and her husband are planning their escape, ready to trade their industrial views for retirement tranquility somewhere far from Shell’s reach. Because when your home turns into the backdrop for an industrial horror flick, it’s probably time to call it quits.

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