While state business leaders frequently complain that the permitting process takes too much time and is overly burdensome, an official from Odebrecht expressed no such concerns when asked about environmental matters during a news conference last week.
"One of the things we are committed to is a sustainable philosophy," said David Peebles, vice president of business development for the company. "Permitting is a very, very fundamental part of this process.
"And the permitting process is positive," Peebles said. "You hear some complaints about permitting, but we have clean air, we have clean water, we have safety rules in place because of best practices, and we are going to follow these best practices."
However, Vivian Stockman, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said her group's concerns about the Marcellus boom and any related proposals for a cracker plant are more fundamental.
"While Governor Tomblin is calling this possible plant a 'game changer,' for West Virginia, he and most other state politicians seem to be playing the same old poisonous fossil-fuel game: Rush headlong into tax giveaways and look the other way while public health and well-being suffer," Stockman said.
Burning natural gas generates fewer greenhouse gases than burning coal, and so advocates of the drilling boom say it's a far better alternative, as far as its impact on global warming. More recent studies are more closely examining the methane releases from natural gas production, though, and even industry advocates say much more needs to be done to reduce those greenhouse emissions.
Cindy Rank, a representative of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said that group has not talked much about cracker plant proposals but remains concerned about impacts from the Marcellus boom.
Two years ago, West Virginia lawmakers passed a law they said would toughen regulation of modern, horizontal natural gas drilling. However, the final version was significantly weakened during talks between Tomblin's office and industry lobbyists.
Studies released since that law was passed have raised questions about the adequacy of the law's provisions for buffer zones between drilling and homes, limiting air emissions and controlling the flow of wastewater from drilling operations. So far, neither Tomblin nor legislative leaders have announced plans for additional legislation on those issues.
"State officials have been ignoring the outcry from folks whose lives have been upended by Marcellus Shale drilling and waste disposal activities," Stockman said.
Stockmen noted that many residents in the Wood County area and downstream have already seen their drinking water supplies polluted by toxic chemicals from the nearby DuPont Co. plant's longtime production of Teflon materials.
"Considering these folks would be a game-changer," Stockman said. "Acknowledging climate change, as well as the state's troubles with water quality and quantity would be a game-changer. Working to bring cleaner, renewable energy jobs and manufacturing here would be a game-changer. Embracing a highly-polluting industry without thinking about all the hidden costs is just more of the same, sad old game."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.