Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Shell plans more public meetings on proposed ethane cracker

Shell

AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Shell is planning two more public meetings about its proposed ethane cracker for western Pennsylvania.

Shell Chemicals is planning a pair of public meetings to discuss its proposed ethane cracker plant for western Pennsylvania.

If built, the multi-billion dollar plant would convert natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale into products used by the plastics industry.

Two identical meetings will be held Thursday, November 13th at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Beaver County. Both will last approximately two hours. The first one will begin at 11am; the second begins at 5:30pm.

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Second lawsuit filed to halt drilling in state parks and forests

A drilling convoy heads through the Loyalsock State Forest.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

A drilling convoy heads through the Loyalsock State Forest.

An environmental group has filed a lawsuit challenging the Corbett administration’s plan to lease more state park and forest land for oil and gas development. The Corbett Administration lifted a moratorium on new leases in state parks and forests with an executive order last May to help plug a budget gap. The lawsuit filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is the first to challenge that executive order directly, but is the second suit aimed at preventing more drilling on state lands.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s challenge, filed Thursday in Commonwealth Court, is based on the state’s environmental rights amendment and is a direct result of the Riverkeeper’s successful challenge of Act 13. In that case, the Supreme Court invoked article 1, section 27 of the state constitution, also referred to as the environmental rights amendment, to strike down key aspects of the state’s new drilling law. The Riverkeeper’s latest challenge of Corbett’s executive order could serve as a test case for how the courts continue to interpret the state’s environmental rights amendment.

Riverkeeper Maya Van Rossum said Corbett’s executive order on opening up more state land to natural gas development “invites and encourages the frackers to come right up to the edge of our public parks, destroying the adjacent communities as well as destroying the park lands themselves.”

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Cancer causing air toxins detected at frack sites

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

A peer reviewed study published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health reveals dangerous levels of air toxins near fracking operations. The carcinogen formaldehyde was the most common chemical found to exceed federal safety levels, according to Denny Larson, one of the report’s authors. Larson works with the nonprofit Global Community Monitor.

“The number of [chemicals] that we found near these sites are alarming,” said Larson in a call with reporters. “They are, as the title of our report clearly says, a warning sign.”

The deadly chemical hydrogen sulfide was also found in high levels in Wyoming samples. Hydrogen sulfide is known to kill oil field workers. A recent report by EnergyWire documents the dangers to shale oil production workers from air toxins.

Volunteers in six states, including Pennsylvania, took air samples for the study. Pennsylvania’s samples show high levels of formaldehyde. The research was led by David Carpenter, a physician and director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at New York State University at Albany. Carpenter says he’s most concerned about the high levels of benzene and formaldehyde measured by the volunteers. Continue Reading

Activist won’t face fines, jail time in ongoing fight with gas company

Vera Scroggins

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Vera Scroggins talks with reporters on the steps of the Susquehanna County courthouse in Montrose.

A Susquehanna County judge ruled Wednesday that 63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will not be fined or jailed for violating a court order designed to keep her away from sites operated by Cabot Oil & Gas.

The ongoing feud between the activist and the gas company made international news earlier this year when Cabot got a sweeping court injunction against her– effectively barring her from nearly half the county. In March, the court order was revised to be much less restrictive. She is currently barred from Cabot sites and its access roads and must observe a 100 foot buffer zone.

Scroggins, a self-described “gas tour guide,” frequently brings visitors by Cabot sites and takes photos and videos. The company claims she has repeatedly trespassed on its property, and her activities pose a safety risk.

Judge Kenneth Seamans found Scroggins technically violated the 100 foot buffer zone, but she will not be punished. Much of the hearing focused on whether a road off of State Route 3023 leading to Cabot’s Costello wellpad constitutes a driveway for the Costello family or a Cabot access road– in fact, it is used as both.

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PA Congressman launches frack waste investigation

A truck delivers fracking wastewater to a Susquehanna County recycling center

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A truck delivers fracking wastewater to a Susquehanna County recycling center.

The state’s new acting secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection, Dana Aunkst, has lots of questions to answer regarding how the state oversees frack waste disposal and transportation. On Wednesday, Congressman Matt Cartwright, a democrat from Schuylkill County, sent Aunkst a 3-page letter seeking information as part of an investigation into how states monitor waste generated by shale gas drilling. The states have responsibility for the waste because it’s exempt from federal oversight. The investigation comes on the heels of a report released by the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office in July, which criticizes the DEP’s role in protecting drinking water from contamination by gas drillers.

“The audit concluded that Pennsylvania’s current system for oversight of fracking waste “is not an effective monitoring tool” and “it is not proactive in discouraging improper, even illegal, disposal of waste,” wrote Cartwright in the letter.

Cartwright is leading the investigation through the Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Aunkst was just recently appointed acting secretary after former secretary Chris Abruzzo resigned in the wake of the porngate scandal. Aunkst has until November 12 to respond. Read the letter and Cartwright’s questions below. Continue Reading

Energy companies donate more than $1 million to Corbett’s campaign coffers

Governor Corbett speaks to the Shale Gas Insight conference in September 2011.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Governor Corbett speaks to the Shale Gas Insight conference in September 2011.

With the election less than a week away, Tom Corbett is way ahead when it comes to support from energy interests including coal, natural gas and power companies operating in the state. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has tallied up campaign contributions for the governor’s race and Tom Corbett’s campaign took in $1,148,351 in energy donations. That’s almost ten times the amount of energy dollars going to his opponent Democrat Tom Wolf. The Post-Gazette reports Wolf raised $192,985 from energy companies, including coal, wind and pipeline operators. Three of Wolf’s top individual energy contributors seem to have hedged their bets by also donating to Corbett.

Corbett’s highest individual donors are shale executives. Terrance Pegula from East Resources donated $250,000 to the governor, while John Monk of Energy Corporation of America gave $100,000. Third in line is Kelsey Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Group, which has plans to build a pipeline to transport Marcellus Shale gas.

Wolf and Corbett differ when it comes to taxing the natural gas industry. Corbett wants to maintain the status quo by charging $50,000 a well. But Wolf wants to impose a five percent tax on the market value of the gas produced. Even as the race tightens, it’s unclear what this money will mean to Corbett. Today’s Franklin and Marshall survey has Tom Wolf still leading in the polls.

Election 2014: Corbett and Wolf differ on approach to Obama’s carbon rules

The Homer City Generating Station, Homer City, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

The Homer City Generating Station, Homer City, Pa.

Election day is just a week away. And whoever ends up winning the race for Pennsylvania’s governor will have climate change on their agenda. That’s because states now have to implement new EPA rules decreasing carbon emissions at power plants. But the two candidates are far apart on their approach to reducing the state’s carbon footprint.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules would make Pennsylvania reduce its carbon emissions by 32 percent. And that means burning less coal.

Governor Corbett has criticized the EPA’s proposed rules.

“Those are aimed directly at the coal industry,” Corbett told StateImpact. “Right now [the rules are] going to cost Pennsylvanians 6200 miners jobs, tens of thousands of jobs beyond that, but also [they're] going to cause energy costs to go up because right now in Pennsylvania 40 percent of our electricity today is obtained through coal.” Continue Reading

Philadelphia City Council kills deal to sell gas utility

Philadelphia Gas Works offices on Broad Street in South Philadelphia.

Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks

Philadelphia Gas Works offices on Broad Street in South Philadelphia.

The $1.86 billion deal to sell Philadelphia’s natural gas utility to a private company is off, the City Council announced on Monday.

More from NewsWorks:

When the Nutter administration chose UIL Holdings as the winning bidder for PGW, City Council hired a consultant to review the entire process. Council President Darrell Clarke says after the extensive evaluation, council has decided not to move forward with a bill to sell the gas utility.

“As a result of those documents, the City Council through it’s process met with and talked to members and decided we could not endorse the deal as proposed,” he said.

Clarke says council will hold hearings in December to figure out what to do next with PGW, the largest city-owned utility in the country.

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Constitution pipeline clears major regulatory hurdle

A proposed interstate gas pipeline designed to bring Marcellus Shale gas to markets in New York and New England has cleared a major regulatory hurdle.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which oversees interstate pipelines, concluded in an Environmental Impact Statement Friday that the project would have “some adverse environmental impacts” but that they would be limited.

The proposal now goes to FERC’s Commissioners for final approval, which could come as early as the end of November.

The Constitution project involves construction of 124 miles of new 30-inch-diameter pipeline, connecting gas production in Susquehanna County to the existing Iroquois and Tennessee transmission lines. It would be jointly operated by subsidiaries of Williams Partners, Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas, and WGL Holdings.

Red

Courtesy: FERC

The dotted black circle shows the gas supply area in Susquehanna County. The red line is the proposed path of the Constitution Pipeline. It could be approved by federal regulators by the end of November.

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DEP extends comment period on policy to address oil and gas violations

IMG_4573

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is extending the public comment period on a draft policy to update how it responds to and tracks oil and gas violations.

The previous six-page policy was last updated in 2005. The new draft document is more than three times longer and includes a new section related to documenting and resolving water supply investigations. In August the DEP released its accounting of how many water supplies had been adversely impacted since the shale gas boom began. The list includes 243 incidents.

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