Here we go again. West Virginia is going to be saved — saved! — by a new large industry based on our natural resources. This time it is going to be a petrochemical industry based on the byproduct of drilling for gas, natural gas liquids.
The state broke away from the Confederacy in 1863 under the influence of the coal market and the good railway connections to the Union. By the 1890s the oil industry was king. Gas was an unwanted byproduct, which couldn’t be shipped easily; but by the time of World War I, it was fueling a large glass industry.
When pipes were improved so long-distance transportation was easy, it became more profitable to move the gas outside the state for sale. Now towns in West Virginia may have the buildings of the glass business, but the jobs are gone.
Big mines continued to ship bituminous coal, and by World War II coal stripping was in vogue. All of these are gone, but the hulks and environmental damage remains.
Now it is mountaintop removal and fracking. Each chapter seems to make a greater impression on the earth and the resources people will have to live on in the future. Petrochemicals depend on so-called “natural gas liquids,” which is somewhat of a misnomer, since they are gases unless cooled and put under pressure.
The result of this kind of development is the capital comes from out of state, and the profit goes back out of state. Those who work in these industries are constantly being beaten out of both a decent wage and benefits for the profit of the few people out of state who put the industries in place. Those with legislative and legal power to change things are bending over backward for these industries.
The data from a recent Forbes Magazine article by Laura Begley Bloom shows the situation clearly: “As the least innovative state in the country, West Virginia — no surprise — also ranked lowest when it came to its share of technology companies (number 51). It also bombed with STEM professionals (ranking number 49), entrepreneurial activity (47) and scientific knowledge output (46). The only good news? It ranked just number 18 when it came to tax friendliness.”
The last point seems like it may be fading rapidly. Income inequality is extreme. The top 1 percent gets over 14 percent of the income. The average real income increase in West Virginia between 1979 and 2011 was 70.8 percent, for the same time the bottom 99 percent lost 2.9 percent. Income inequity in West Virginia continues to grow.
Being a mineral colony is not enough. We also have to be a dump for pollution and leftover trash of the factories when the storm of development has blown through. West Virginia is becoming a sort of a brownfield in the mountains.
The effects go well beyond our home. It is well known burning of carbon compounds in coal, oil and gas pollutes the atmosphere.
So do natural gas liquids. The principal use for them is making plastics. Plastics, which don’t biodegrade. Plastics that are cheap, discarded in many cases after a few minutes of use and don’t degrade. They are along roadways, in our streets, washing down every stream. For example of that, look behind Corps of Engineers dams. They are a major component of our landfills.
The ocean is full of the fine particles it breaks up into, being eaten by all kinds of sea creatures, which it kills. The fish production is reduced, and in many places the bottom is littered.
Hey, you under the gold dome, what’s wrong with providing a good primary and secondary education? Why not push for small businesses based on our timber products, or lure high technology where they can enjoy our pleasant climate and gorgeous scenery, our location near the big cities of the East and outdoor recreation? Why not create a long-term development plan instead of waiting like a crab in its hole, looking for something to come by?
Let’s get with it, so we don’t have to “Thank God for Mississippi” for the next 164 years!