Cracking Appalachia: A Political-Industrial Ecology Perspective
About the talk
A massive industrial re-development project is underway in the wet gas regions of the Marcellus and Utica shale basins of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. State governments have been coordinating and competing to establish a global petrochemicals industry using ethane by-products from hydraulically fractured shale gas. There are reportedly enough ethane reserves in the basins to support up to five ethane processing plants, known as crackers, each with a capacity to produce about a million tons of plastics components per year. Shell is building the first cracker plant outside of Pittsburgh after receiving a 25-year, $1.65 billion tax break from the Pennsylvania government, the largest in state history. PTT Global and Braskem, two of the world’s largest petrochemical conglomerates are in the process of building crackers in Ohio and West Virginia, respectively. Through the lens of political-industrial ecology, an emerging and interdisciplinary field of nature-society geography, this paper will examine the interwoven material and political practices and environmental implications of attracting global capital to Appalachia, a region long at the center of industrial development and environmental degradation within the US.
About the speaker
Jennifer Baka is an assistant professor of Geography at Penn State. She conducts interdisciplinary research on energy policy using research methods from political ecology, industrial ecology and resource geography. For nearly a decade, Dr. Baka researched international biofuel policies, primarily in India. More recently, she has been examining unconventional energy policy in the US. Prior to joining Penn State, she was an assistant professor of geography and rnvironment at the London School of Economics from 2013–16. She earned a Ph.D. in environmental studies from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a master's in public policy from UC Berkeley. Prior to graduate school, Dr. Baka worked in the energy industry for numerous years, first as an economic consultant in Washington, DC and second as a consultant for the United Nations Environment Programme in Paris, France. She is originally from the anthracite coal mining region of Scranton, Pa., and is a coal miner’s granddaughter.
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