The Bark - Edition 18
The Bark is your early warning system. A signal that bad corporate actors are trying to bend the rules or pollute without accountability. It’s a heads up that anti-environmental forces in Harrisburg or Washington, D.C. are trying to eliminate environmental protections or give handouts to polluters. The Bark is PennFuture ringing the alarm bells to alert the general public of major attacks on our clean air, clean water, public land, and climate. We hope we don’t have to send you The Bark often, but we’ll be sure to keep you informed as we watchdog Pennsylvania’s polluters.
Welcome back to another edition of The Bark.
In The Bark’s previous edition, we told you about a new scheme by the fracked gas industry to extend its shelf life amid a global push to reach net-zero emissions.
In this edition, we want to warn you about a new (but also old!) fossil fuel industry scheme to gobble up taxpayer dollars so that Pennsylvania keeps fracking: turning fracked gas into gasoline.
Officials in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County announced last week plans to build a massive gasoline refinery that will purportedly use a series of catalysts, reactors, and boilers to turn fracked gas into synthetic gasoline, a technology that has been around since the Carter Administration.
The company—Nacero—is basing its vision on a gasoline refinery operation in Turkmenistan, but with added promises to use renewable energy to power its facility and use of carbon capture for use in making other chemicals, so that the synthetic gasoline has a lower life cycle emission than if burning oil-based gasoline.
The Texas-based company is proposing to construct the $6 billion refinery and create 450 permanent jobs and thousands of construction jobs. This would represent the fourth attempt by Nacero to build its gasoline refinery: it currently has plans to build similar sites in Kingman, Arizona and Odessa, Texas, while it canceled another proposed facility in Casa Grande, Arizona. To date, Nacero hasn’t started construction or completed any of its facilities.
Many buzzwords and grand promises accompanied the announcement, such as “clean gasoline” and “renewable natural gas,” greenwashing a project and product that will indisputably be a climate-killer at a time when we need to lower our carbon footprint, not enhance it, as well as break away from fossil fuels, not invest in industries and petrochemicals that prolong their use. Just look at the aforementioned plant in Turkmenistan, which doesn’t use renewables to power its facilities or capture carbon. It was constructed for the sole purpose of “monetizing gas resources.”
While the pollution and climate impacts of this project conveniently were left out of glossy press releases and celebratory news conferences, there was plenty of talk about new jobs and economic impact. The only problem is that there was no discussion about the price Pennsylvania taxpayers paid to help lure Nacero to Luzerne County.
First, a quick recap of Pennsylvania’s recent history with fossil fuel subsidies: In 2020, the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf approved Act 66, a subsidy for up to four additional petrochemical facilities. That legislation provided these facilities, which turn fracked gas into chemicals and fertilizers, 24 years of tax breaks totaling about $160 million per facility.
On June 25, 2021, state lawmakers tweaked Act 66 to reduce the number of facilities that could benefit from the subsidy from four facilities to two—a tacit recognition that their subsidy package in 2020 wasn’t the economic driver they claimed it would be—but kept the total handout at $26.6 million. It also mandated that the unallocated tax credits, now guaranteed to be between $320 million and $480 million over 24 years, can go to one facility.
That one facility has just been announced. In other words, Nacero will be provided up to $480 million in state tax credits in addition to the local tax credits it will assuredly be provided like most other fossil fuel facilities.
Equally as insidious is how deeply the state government has collaborated to bring this refinery project to Pennsylvania. According to a recent media report, a “multi-state agency workgroup” led by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) has been formed to help Nacero “navigate permits and all other state regulatory requirements” to get this project constructed as quickly as possible.
The hypocrisy is stunning. On one hand, Pennsylvania is working to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), but on the other hand it is focusing all of its economic development money and expertise on drawing more refineries, cracker plants, pipelines, and fossil fuel power plants to the state rather than renewable energy. It’s easy to tell where Pennsylvania’s political leaders' priorities lie.
Ultimately, the Nacero gasoline refinery proposal is in its infancy, with many twists and turns in its development surely to come. PennFuture will be watching this project every step of the way and we will keep you informed as we do.