Nurdles and Crackers and More, Oh My!

By Cynthia D. Ellis

In the mountains of West Virginia, we have concerns about the mega-pipelines that are proposed and progressing across private and public lands.  But we must not overlook the larger picture.

Those pipelines are being vigorously promoted by a gas industry and its allies who see a wealth-generating boom in the production, transportation, storage, and use of natural gas, primarily for plastics and an additional array of industrial components.  One centerpiece of the projects is sometimes called “The Appalachian Storage Hub”.

Boosters envision this boom encompassing areas beyond and within the Ohio River valley.  Gas would be stored underground for use with an array of five or more “cracker” plants that would extract the ingredients of gas for industrial purposes.

There are threats associated with such plans.  These include:

  • Massive increase in use of water
  • Risks of water, land, and air pollution
  • Creation of “Cancer Alley” type localities, with clusters of health harms
  • Precipitous use of tax funds in support of the projects
  • Exacerbation of climate change
  • Adding to the burden of pollution by plastics
  • Massive increases in drilling and pipelines
  • Increased waste truck traffic.

Several of these harms are directly attributable to the “cracker” plants that are a component of the Hub.  “Crack” is a nickname for the process in which ethylene is separated out of natural gas. Emissions from cracker plants may include benzene, volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.

“Nurdles” are very small pellets of plastic which serve as raw material in the manufacture of plastic products.  The escape or loss of such pellets happens during both the manufacturing and transport stages of plastic.  Another ironic name for them is “mermaid’s tears”.  Sadly, nurdles are now a significant part of river and ocean contamination.

Despite these concerns, some West Virginia figures are striving intently to make the Hub a reality.  According to a January report by DeSmog Blog,  “On November 9, the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) named as its new director former West Virginia University Professor Brian Anderson.

NETL, which spearheads federal energy-related research and development (R&D) efforts, is currently deciding whether to grant $1.9 billion in R&D money toward building out the proposed petrochemical complex, known as the Appalachian Storage Hub.”

So, it seems that some West Virginians are overlooking the possible harms. Not so, for many others of us.

We don’t want the pipelines.

We don’t want the crackers and the nurdles.

We want the mountains—and the foothills and the rivers—to be clean and safe and preserved.

No to nurdles. No to the Hub and all.