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Fact-checking Ethylene Production in the U.S.



Natural gas pipe for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline sits in a yard Feb. 27, 2019, near Morgantown, W.Va. Photo: Larry Dowling/West Virginia Public Broadcast

Three U.S. House members from West Virginia have proposed creating an Appalachian Storage Hub to store and transport large amounts of natural gas liquids in the region.

One of those House members is West Virginia Republican David McKinley. In a news release announcing House Resolution 4433 — the Appalachian Regional Energy Hub Initiative — McKinley said he backs the effort and cited Hurricane Harvey, the 2017 storm that shocked coastal Texas and Louisiana, as evidence that a more reliable storage system is needed.

“Developing such a ‘Hub’ in Appalachia would bring significant investment and jobs to the region,” McKinley said in his op-ed for the Fairmont News.

In his news release, McKinley wrote that the danger for the nation is that today, “about 95% of America’s production of ethylene is produced on the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana — a region exposed to major storms like Hurricane Harvey.”

Is he right about that percentage? We took a closer look.

What is ethylene?

First, let’s explain what ethylene is.

Ethylene is commonly used to produce polyethylene, which is one of the most commonly produced plastics in the world. Food packaging and containers, bottles, and housewares are among the products manufactured from polyethylene.

McKinley’s District of Columbia office pointed us to a report to Congress by the U.S. Energy Department released in November 2018.  

The report includes a line that says that “ethylene production capacity is highly concentrated in the United States Gulf Coast; over 95% of U.S. ethylene production capacity is located in either Texas or Louisiana.”

The figure below illustrates the total capacity in million metric tons that each region produces, the majority of which comes from Texas and Louisiana. 

Documented Ethylene Production Capacity in the U.S. Source: Ethane Storage and Distribution hub in the United States

After Hurricane Harvey hit the U.S. in Texas and Louisiana, 60% of the production capacity in America went offline, causing problems for industry, at least in the short term.  

It’s worth noting that these numbers can be expected to shift once a major “ethane cracker” plant in Monaca, Pa., comes online in another year or two. 

Crackers are facilities that break down ethane into multiple byproducts, including ethylene. The Shell Chemicals facility in Monaca is expected to produce 1.6 million metric tons per year of ethylene.

The Energy Department report cites two additional ethylene facilities in the Appalachian region that are on the drawing board, though they are slated to come online after the Monaca plant. They are in Washington Bottom, W.Va., and Shadyside, Ohio.

Our Ruling

McKinley said, “About 95% of America’s production of ethylene is produced on the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana — a region exposed to major storms like Hurricane Harvey.”

The scale of operations in Appalachia are on track to grow in the coming years, but for now, McKinley is correct: Energy Department data shows that more than 95% of U.S. ethylene production capacity is located in either Texas or Louisiana. 

We rate his statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Shelley Moore Capito Correct on Suicides in West Virginia



Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., asks a question of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the FY19 budget, Thursday, May 10, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP Photo.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., recently sought to raise awareness about suicide, focusing on its toll in her home state.

“On average, one person dies by suicide every 22 hours in West Virginia,” Capito said in a Facebook post on Sept. 19.

She went on to note her efforts with two Senate colleagues, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Doug Jones, D-Ala., to pass the Suicide Training and Awareness Nationally Delivered for Universal Prevention, or STANDUP, Act, which would expand efforts to educate young people about mental health resources.

Is Capito correct about the frequency of suicide in West Virginia? Capito’s office did not respond to an inquiry for this article, but we were able to find statistics that backed up her assertion.

We turned to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s WISQARS database, which includes data as recently as 2017. The database shows that there were 393 suicides in West Virginia. 

With 8,760 hours in a year, that comes out to about one suicide every 22.3 hours, making Capito’s statistic correct.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in West Virginia. It ranks even higher for certain age groups, ranking second among those between 15 and 34 and fourth among those between 35 and 54. On a per capita basis, West Virginia has the eighth-highest rate of suicide in the nation.

We checked with both the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and University of Denver associate professor of social work Stacey Freedenthal, a specialist in suicide, and both agreed that there are no complications with the data that would undercut Capito’s statement.

Our ruling

Capito said, “On average, one person dies by suicide every 22 hours in West Virginia.” This statistic is backed up by official data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so we rate her statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: How Low is Gov. Jim Justice’s Approval Rating in West Virginia?



The Greenbrier Resort owner and chairman Jim Justice attends the gala opening of The Greenbrier Casino Club on Friday, July 2, 2010 in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Photo: AP Photo/Evan Agostini for The Greenbrier Resort

Recent news reports have suggested that West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice — who faces both Republican and Democratic challengers in his bid for a second term in 2020 — has one of the lowest approval ratings of any governor in the country.

For instance, WHSV-TV reported, “Gov. Jim Justice’s approval rating 2nd lowest among GOP governors.”

Are Justice’s ratings really that weak? Yes, according to the only 50-state comparison data that’s available. 

The WHSV article references polling by Morning Consult, a company that surveys residents of every state about their governor on a quarterly basis. The most recent Morning Consult survey covers July through September 2019 and was based on responses from 4,521 registered voters in West Virginia. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

However you slice it, the Morning Consult poll has bad news for Justice.

One method is to see which of the 50 governors has the lowest approval rating, without looking at their disapproval rating. 

By this measurement, Justice has a lower approval rating (42 percent) than any Republican governor other than Matt Bevin of Kentucky (34 percent). Bevin, as it happens, appears to have lost his bid for reelection on Nov. 5.

Justice does match or outpace five Democratic governors in approval — Ned Lamont of Connecticut (35 percent), Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island (36 percent), David Ige of Hawaii (36 percent), Kate Brown of Oregon (38 percent), and Ralph Northam of Virginia (42 percent).

Another method is to look at the governor’s net approval — how far “above water” or “below water” a governor is. A governor is above water if their approval rating exceeds their disapproval rating. If they are underwater, it means that their disapproval rating is higher than their approval rating.

The most recent Morning Consult survey shows that only six governors are currently underwater in approval. Four are Democrats — Ige, Brown, Raimondo and Lamont. Two are Republicans — Bevin at 19 points underwater, and Justice at 5 points underwater.

So Justice fares poorly on that metric as well.

Finally, it’s possible to compare a governor’s approval rating with that of President Donald Trump in their state. It’s possible to make a direct comparison because Morning Consult also surveys Trump’s approval rating in all 50 states.

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics recently made these calculations. They found that only three governors out of 50 trailed Trump in approval in their home state — Raimondo, by a point; Bevin, by 34 points; and Justice, by 25 points.

Morning Consult is the only company that polls gubernatorial approval in the 50 states, so it’s impossible to use an alternative source to compare Justice to the rest of his gubernatorial peers.

However, there’s one other measurement of Justice’s approval rating on its own. 

A survey released Aug. 30 by MetroNews West Virginia found Justice with the same approval rating as Morning Consult — 42 percent. The poll showed that 40 percent saying they disapproved. (The margin of error was 4.4 percentage points, meaning that Justice could have been slightly above water or slightly below water.)

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Is Murray Energy the Nation’s Largest Coal Company?



In this Aug. 20, 2007 file photo, Robert "Bob" Murray, founder and chairman of Cleveland-based Murray Energy Corp., arrives at a news conference at the entrance to the Crandall Canyon Mine, in northwest of Huntington, Utah. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo/File

Murray Energy Corp., a major player in the coal-mining industry, declared bankruptcy in late October, sending shockwaves across coal-dependent regions of West Virginia and neighboring states.

In addition to putting coal employment at risk, the company is the last major employer contributing to the United Mine Workers of America’s pension plan. 

With such a big development, it was no surprise that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., quickly weighed in on Twitter.

“Murray Energy, the largest coal company in the United States, filed for bankruptcy,” Manchin tweeted on Oct. 29, 2019. “If Murray rejects the UMWA pension plan obligations in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the UMWA pension fund will be insolvent by 2020. Before last night it was projected to be insolvent by 2022.”

However, we noticed a problem with how Manchin described Murray Energy. Is it really the largest coal company in the United States?

Manchin’s office pointed us to a New York Times article published about the bankruptcy the same day as his tweet.

The article includes this sentence: “Murray, the nation’s largest privately held coal company, has nearly 7,000 employees and operates 17 mines in six states across Appalachia and the South as well as two mines in Colombia.”

Manchin’s office also cited a CNN article from the same day that used similar language. “The slow death of the American coal industry has forced Murray Energy, the largest private coal miner in the United States, to file for bankruptcy protection Tuesday,” CNN’s article said.

Manchin’s tweet glossed over a phrase repeated in both articles — “privately held.”

So where does Murray rank among all coal companies?

Murray Energy pointed us to data from the Energy Information Administration, a division of the federal Department of Energy. Here’s a table drawn from the agency’s statistics.

This shows that Murray Energy ranks fourth, behind Peabody Energy Corp.Arch Coal Inc., and Cloud Peak Energy. We confirmed that each of the three companies ahead of Murray are publicly held, making Murray the largest private coal company but not the largest coal company overall.

Our ruling

Manchin tweeted that Murray Energy is “the largest coal company in the United States.”

He flubbed the description — Murray Energy is the largest privately held coal company, but not the largest coal company overall. If you include both private and public coal companies. Murray ranks fourth in the country. That makes it one of the largest, but not the largest.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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