Energy. Environment. Economy.

Marcellus shale conference moves from Philly to Pittsburgh

This marks the first time the gas industry conference will be held in Pittsburgh.

Sakeeb Sabakka via Flickr

This marks the first time the gas industry conference will be held in Pittsburgh.

More than 2,000 people are expected to descend on Pittsburgh next week for the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s annual Shale Insight conference.

This year will be the first time Pennsylvania’s major gas industry conference will be held in Pittsburgh. For the past three years it was in Philadelphia.

“Pittsburgh is the eastern head of many operators in the Marcellus,” says coalition President Dave Spigelmyer, “It was time for us to bring it to Pittsburgh.”

He says going forward, the group plans to rotate the conference between the two cities. Next year it will shift back east.

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Range Resources to pay $4M for violations at western Pa. impoundments

Range Resources will pay a $4.15 million fine for violations at six wastewater impoundments in Washington County. It is the largest penalty the state has imposed on a shale gas driller, the Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday.

The violations include leaks of flowback fluid – the liquid that comes back out of a well after hydraulic fracturing – into soil and groundwater. The DEP said drinking water supplies were not affected. Residents living near Range’s Yeager impoundment in Amwell Township dispute that claim and have filed suit against the company.

The Yeager impoundment is among the five the company has agreed to close as part of a consent agreement reached with the state. Range will also upgrade two others to meet what the DEP calls “next generation” standards.

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Obama administration extends comment period for climate rules

The Environmental Protection Agency is extending the public comment period for newly proposed rules to combat climate change by cutting carbon emissions from power plants, the agency announced this week.

The Obama administration has come under increased pressure from Republican lawmakers and the energy industry to delay the rules or withdraw them altogether. Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett was among 15 governors who signed a letter to Obama on Sept. 9, arguing the EPA does not have the legal authority to implement the rule.

More from The Guardian: 

Some electricity companies had argued that the rules were extraordinarily complex, clocking in at about 1,600 pages, and they needed extra time to study the full implications.

But a delay puts the EPA on an even tighter deadline to finalise the rule before Obama leaves office in 2016. Even before Tuesday’s extension, the initial comment period for the new EPA rule was already longer than the norm.

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House panel examines how Obama’s climate plan will affect Pennsylvania

The stacks of the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, Pa.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The stacks of the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, Pa.

A state House committee is looking into how newly proposed federal rules to combat climate change will affect Pennsylvania’s energy industries.

The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a hearing today to discuss newly proposed rules from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The overall goal is a 30 percent reduction in emissions nationwide by the year 2030. States will be directed to craft plans to meet their own specific targets.

Pennsylvania will be required to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent over the next 15 years.

The federal climate policies will mean major changes for the state’s energy industries. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for coal production and third for carbon dioxide emissions.

Former state senator and current Pennsylvania Coal Alliance CEO John Pippy testified first, noting that the state currently gets 40 percent of its electricity from coal.

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The curious case of the smallmouth bass

For the last 10 years, a mystery has been unfolding in the Susquehanna River watershed.

Young smallmouth bass have been found with open sores and lesions. Many of the male fish that make it to adulthood have female sexual characteristics. The smallmouth bass population has dropped, threatening the state’s $3.4 billion recreational fishing industry.

What’s causing these strange symptoms? StateImpact Pennsylvania spoke with some of the detectives on the case and some people who are impatient with how long it’s taking to solve it.

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Study: residents closer to gas wells report more health issues

A new study found residents living closer to natural gas wells were more likely to report health problems.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A new study found residents living closer to natural gas wells were more likely to report health problems.

A new study has found that residents in western Pennsylvania living close to Marcellus Shale gas drilling sites were twice as likely to report health problems than those living farther away.

Public health researchers from Yale and the University of Washington went door-to-door and surveyed the health of 492 adults and children living in 180 homes in Washington County, southwest of Pittsburgh. Those living within one kilometer, or just over half a mile of natural gas wells reported more skin and upper respiratory problems, such as rashes and nosebleeds.

Study lead author Dr. Peter Rabinowitz admits the report is limited to residents’ own assessment of their health, which isn’t inherently objective.

“We think that our study really adds to some existing evidence that the public health impact has to be considered, that there has to be more studies and better studies of the potential for chemical contamination… from natural gas drilling,” he said.

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Study finds flawed well casings– not fracking– caused tainted water

Water faucet

Jenn Durfey/ via Flickr

A new study finds water contamination linked to shale gas extraction in Pennsylvania and Texas was caused in some cases by faulty well casings– not hydraulic fracturing.

The study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined 133 water wells with high levels of methane. Researchers found the contamination was either naturally occurring or linked to faulty well construction by gas drillers.

Lead author Thomas Darrah of Ohio State University calls the findings a mix of good and bad news.

The bad news is that drilling activities can contaminate shallow aquifers with methane gas.

“The relatively good news is that the hydraulic fracturing process is not actually releasing the methane,” he says. “Instead, it’s actually problems along the well and well integrity that are allowing the some gas to leak out into the shall aquifer.”

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Gas drillers still ignoring law to include women and minorities

According to a recent survey by the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, 84 percent of workers are white. Men outnumber women three to one.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

According to a recent survey by the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, 84 percent of gas workers are white. Men outnumber women three to one.

In an industry heavily dominated by white men, most gas drilling companies continue to ignore a state law requiring them to make efforts to include minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses in contracting opportunities.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania previously reported, last year marked the first time drillers had to fill out a legally-mandated diversity survey. Most of them didn’t respond.

Dave Spigelmyer, who heads the industry group the Marcellus Shale Coalition, says gas companies are committed to hiring locally.

“We will continue to make collaborative efforts – working with a diverse set of stakeholders – as shale development matures aimed at creating even more opportunities and partnerships with local businesses,” he wrote in an email.

Pennsylvania’s 2012 oil and gas law –known as Act 13– directs drillers to provide “maximum practicable contracting opportunities” to small diverse businesses. It doesn’t set quotas, but it does require gas companies to respond to an annual survey and use the state Department of General Services’ (DGS) database to identify certified small diverse businesses.

The response rate to this latest survey was better. Forty percent of companies replied this time, compared to 27 percent last year. Among those who responded, most said they did not employ any small diverse businesses, nor did they use the DGS database. Many companies reported that they already had their contractors selected.

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Environmental groups sue to halt delivery of crude oil in old rail cars

A CSX unit train delivers a load of crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to a refinery in South Philadelphia.


A CSX unit train delivers a load of crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to a refinery in South Philadelphia.

Two environmental groups have filed suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation in attempts to halt the delivery of crude oil in old rail tank cars that are prone to puncture.

More from the Associated Press:

The lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and ForestEthics says the agency failed to respond to a legal petition the groups filed in July. That petition sought an emergency order to prohibit crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana and elsewhere from being carried in older tank cars, known as DOT-111s.

A spokesman with the Department of Transportation, Kevin Thompson, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

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Climate controversy pushing scientists to become better communicators

Explaining science is something reporters, especially science reporters, must do. But most of us are not scientists. Instead, we rely on the type of scientist who is good at telling stories, good at translating what happens in the lab to people who may not have been around an Erlenmeyer flask since high school.

So what makes a scientist a good communicator? It turns out the scientific community has become more interested in figuring that out.

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