Map of the proposed Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub (ASTH) in West Virginia. Graphic: MATRC / Blue Ridge Outdoors

By Natalie Stickel
13 June 2018

(Blue Ridge Outdoors) – The biggest energy project you’ve never heard of commonly goes by the acronym ASTH—the Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub. This massive petrochemical hub in West Virginia and Pennsylvania would be the largest infrastructure in the region’s history, consisting of hundreds of miles of pipelines, fracked gas processing facilities, and underground storage of petrochemicals and fracked gas liquids.

Once completed, ASTH would stretch along the Ohio-West Virginia border from Pennsylvania to Kentucky along the Ohio River. Its powerful backers—including the Trump administration, the Chinese government, and Shell Oil—claim it will revitalize a region torn apart by a fizzling coal industry. President Trump and Xi Jinping, the president of China, met this past November on a trade mission, during which Xi Jinping signed on to invest nearly $84 billion in the ASTH over the next two decades—that’s more than West Virginia’s entire 2016 GDP.

U.S. Representative David McKinley (R-W.Va.) says that the petrochemical hub “fits in well with Trump’s desire for more federal infrastructure investment.” Opponents say it will be the country’s next Cancer Alley.

“‘Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub’ is a benign name for how massive and detrimental this project and its impacts would be,” says Dustin White. His roots in West Virginia stretch back 11 generations. He comes from a long line of hardworking coal miners, and he’d always felt proud of that way of life. That changed, however, when he learned his community cemetery and the entire mountain where he his family had lived were threatened by mountaintop removal mining.

This discovery spurred him to look more closely at the coal industry and its impacts on Appalachians. The legacy of exploitation he found challenged many of his beliefs. “It slapped me in the face,” says White. “I don’t want others to go through that.”

White believes that the petrochemical hub will lock Appalachia into another century of exploitation by the fossil fuel industry. “Coal dug Appalachians’ grave, oil-and-gas built the coffin, and petrochemical industry wants to put the nails in the lid.”

The petrochemical hub has long graduated from early planning stages. “They’ve been working on this for ten years with support from both the West Virginia and Ohio governments,” says Cheryl Johncox, Sierra Club organizer. “Despite this, it hasn’t been on the radar for most citizens or even many large environmental organizations.”

John Morgan, a resident of Belmont County, Ohio, since 1979, became aware of ASTH eight years ago when gas companies started leasing land adjacent to his community. He has seen firsthand the impact of extractive industries and how the explosive rise of shale gas has irreparably changed the region. His neighbors are especially weary since multiple homes were damaged years ago by nearby mining operations in unstable geology.

“Most people have no clue how much more damage is coming if it doesn’t stop,” Morgan says. At a meeting, a gas company representative divulged that around 6,000 shale wells would be required to extract the desired natural gas in Belmont County alone. “The industry doesn’t want people to know about this,” he says. [more]

Appalachia’s $84 Billion Secret

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