Webinar: Jenn Baka - Cracking Appalachia: A Political-Industrial Ecology Perspective
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This paper presents a political-industrial ecology analysis of an emerging petrochemical corridor in Appalachia. Political-industrial ecology is a nascent field of geography that embeds resource metabolisms within their broader political economic contexts. I advance the field by evaluating how resource metabolisms and governance processes interconnect to shape nature-society relations. Within Appalachia, various ethane “cracker” plants are under construction, or are being permitted, to transform ethane by-products from hydraulicly fractured shale gas in the Marcellus and Utica shales into plastics. The political-industrial ecology analysis links these developments in the former steel belt to the growing environmental burdens of plastics, highlighting how record state subsidies are facilitating these linkages. Further, the systems perspective afforded by a political-industrial ecology view reveals three notable findings. First, the footprint of the corridor extends well beyond the Ohio River Valley to Canada, the US Gulf Coast and international markets in Europe and Asia. Second, the corridor is a significant step towards establishing more globally integrated markets for ethane and natural gas. Third, the analysis illustrates the myriad of environmental systems and communities interlinked through the corridor, which can serve as a roadmap for facilitating cumulative impact analysis, a key gap in environmental impact and justice scholarship.
Political-industrial ecology, hydraulic fracturing, metabolism, environmental governance, Appalachia
Jennifer Baka is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Penn State. She conducts interdisciplinary research on energy policy using research methods from political ecology, industrial ecology and resource geography. For nearly a decade, Dr. Baka researched international biofuel policies, primarily in India. More recently, she has been examining unconventional energy policy in the US. Prior to joining Penn State, she was an Assistant Professor of Geography and Environment at the London School of Economics from 2013-16. She earned a PhD in Environmental Studies from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a Master's in Public Policy from UC Berkeley. Prior to graduate school, Dr. Baka worked in the energy industry for numerous years first as an economic consultant in Washington, DC and second as a consultant for the United Nations Environment Programme in Paris, France. She is originally from the anthracite coal mining region of Scranton, PA and is a coal miner’s grand-daughter.