With the approach of the US presidential election on November 3, this election advertising spot is all the rage on local TV channels in the Pittsburgh area, in western Pennsylvania, one of those “swing states” (Undecided states) whose shift in one camp or the other can be decisive for the conquest of the White House. A man in overalls, cap flocked with his company logo on his head, praises his “brilliant” work in the shale gas industry. Then frowns and, pointing an angry finger at the camera, launches in a dismal tone: “If Joe Biden is elected, I will lose my job.” “
The message, declined in countless sketches, is approved by the Republican Party, which exploits more than ever this campaign theme in this state where fracking – hydraulic fracturing, a process used to extract natural gas nestled under shale rock – is king. The region encompassing Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio is the second largest gas field in the world, after Qatar!
It must be said that Joe Biden, during the last televised debate with Donald Trump, fueled the controversy. When his rival asked him if “the oil industry should go out of business”, the Democratic presidential candidate retorted, to everyone’s surprise: “Yes, I have a transition plan to leave the old industry. Old, and therefore too polluting for Democrats rallied to the Paris agreement on climate change.
Trump jumped at the chance: “He wants to destroy the oil industry: will you remember it in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania?” He pounded in his overheated meetings. Biden, himself from Pennsylvania, has struggled since his unexpected “exit” to repeat that natural gas is not affected by his “plan”.
“Plastic has given life back to our region”
In Pennsylvania, in this region of Pittsburgh belonging to the Appalachian Natural Park but also to the Rust Belt (rust belt, the old bastion of steel and coal), fracking directly or indirectly supports half a million people. It is also at the heart of controversy, because the technique, consisting of injecting water at high pressure and chemicals to fracture the rock, would pollute the water tables and would be toxic to humans, which could even cause cancer. according to some scientific studies. Hydraulic fracturing is also prohibited in France.
In rural Beaver County, along the Ohio River, stretches out, in contrast to the wooded hills teeming with deer, the immense construction site of a 156-hectare factory, all in tapered cranes, massive slag heaps , in roaring trucks and silos of matt steel. It is the “Shell cracker”, so called by the inhabitants because the Dutch oil group is the operator. The objective of this $ 6 billion (approximately € 5.1 billion) project: to produce some 16 million tonnes of plastic balls per year from liquid natural gas drawn from the region’s basements. In normal times, 6,000 people work on the site, but the pace and workforce have dropped considerably because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is raging more than ever in the country.
“Biden shares our values”
John Kochanowski, president of the powerful electricians union IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), arms folded and mask on his nose, firmly planted in the parking lot in front of his offices where he welcomes visitors, is immediately surprised that the we can question the future of our sector. “Plastic is found in the clothes people wear, in their cars, their cell phones, in a bunch of products, and even in heart valves! It is not tomorrow that we will ban it ”.
At his side, Larry Nelson, trade union representative, adds: “Between the fracking drilling itself, pipelines, factories, construction sites, plastic has given life to our region hit by the end of the steel and coal in the 1980s ”. If the two men do not dispute a polluting effect – “limited because we respect very strict rules, not like our Asian competitors” – they doubt, on the other hand, medical studies on health. “My father and all my uncles used to work at the zinc plant, roughly on the cracker site today,” Kochanowski says. I can tell you that it was much more harmful ”.
Does Trump’s Message Get Here? Not really, seeing the large “Biden-Harris” sign at the entrance to IBEW headquarters. “Yes, I support Biden, like my comrades. The Trump administration has done great harm to labor unions, while Biden shares our values and has a much needed health insurance program, says Chairman John. I see too many people around me who are afraid of falling into poverty by being sick. Like Larry, he shows his confidence in the Democrat’s commitment to maintain fracking if he is elected president. Kamala Harris herself, who advocated its ban when she ran for the Democratic primary, has joined the candidate’s line since her appointment as running mate for vice-presidency.
Trump, “pro-business president, cut taxes”
Helen (the first name has been changed), she displays in her garden, in a market town near Pittsburgh, her support for Trump. With her husband a farmer, this drugstore manager owns a large piece of land in the basement full of natural gas, the concession of which she sold ten years ago to a drilling company, for a hundred thousand dollars (in the United States). United, unlike France, the basement of property belongs to private individuals, not to the State).
Thousands of wells have been drilled across Pennsylvania in this way, just as the oil microforages in Texas once did. The family also receives very comfortable royalties every year … except when the prices of raw materials fall, as this year because of the slowdown in the world economy due to the pandemic. Not to mention the measures against the use of plastic taken in many countries. “Our income is undergoing a drastic drop”, she confides on condition of anonymity because “the subject is delicate”. She fervently wishes the victory of Donald Trump, “a pro-business president, who lowered taxes and removed the rules that hindered gas activity.”
On Tuesday, the couple will go vote “in person” (in person, not by mail), as recommended by the GOP, the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party. In 2016, Trump had ravished Pennsylvania, Democratic stronghold, to Hillary Clinton. Will its gas offensive allow it to repeat the feat?
Original article by : www.leparisien.fr