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Cracking Appalachia: A Political-Industrial Ecology Perspective

A steel bridge over a scenic lake in West Virginia. Text: "Cracking Appalachia: A Political-Industrial Ecology Perspective. Mon., Feb. 5, 4–5 p.m., Levine Science Research Center, Room A158. Learn more: Speaker: Dr. Jennifer Baka, Associate Professor, Geography, Penn State University. Part of the Environmental Institutions Seminar Series." Logos for Duke Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability; Duke Nicholas School of the Environment; Duke Sanford School of Public Policy.
Monday, February 05, 2024
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Dr. Jennifer Baka
NI and UPEP Series

Dr. Jennifer Baka, an associate professor of geography and an associate at the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State, will speak at the first spring 2024 installment of the Environmental Institutions Seminar Series presented by the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability and the University Program in Environmental Policy (UPEP). Students, faculty, and staff at Duke and other Triangle-area universities are invited to attend this in-person event (no virtual viewing option).


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. Baka advances 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 byproducts from hydraulically 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 toward 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.

The Environmental Institutions Seminar Series is presented by the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability and the University Program in Environmental Policy, a doctoral degree program jointly offered by the Nicholas School of the Environment and Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.