Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania DEP revamps effort to map abandoned oil and gas wells

An abandoned, unplugged well near the Allegheny National Forest

SCOTT DETROW / STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA

An abandoned, unplugged well near the Allegheny National Forest

Pennsylvania environmental regulators are embarking on a project to map about 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells that are currently unaccounted for in state records, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.  

Abandoned wells provide pathways for methane gas to seep to the surface, where it can, under the right settings, trigger explosions. However, as StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported, finding and plugging them has been a difficult task for the state’s underfunded Abandoned and Orphaned Well Program.

The current mapping effort is being spurred by proposed state regulations for modern oil and gas drilling that would require companies to locate any old wells before fracking their new well.

More from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: 

While some companies have submitted historical maps to DEP, including valuable archives kept by EQT Corp. and Peoples Natural Gas, other companies have been reluctant to participate in the effort, citing cost, time and a host of thorny legal issues.

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Report: drilling waste records don’t add up

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Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Drilling waste at a site in Tioga County.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers have under-reported the amount of waste they send to landfills.

The paper analyzed records of nine landfills in the southwestern part of the state and found they reported three to four times the amount of waste that drillers claimed to have dropped off.

The paper found EQT Corp. reported 21 tons of drill cuttings in 2013, while six landfills in southwestern Pennsylvania reported receiving 95,000 tons.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is looking into the discrepancies.

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DEP publishes details on 248 cases of water damage from gas development

Ray Kemble of Dimock, displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pa. displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo.

For the first time, Pennsylvania environmental regulators are publicly releasing documents about cases when natural gas operations have damaged private water supplies.

A list of 248 incidents is now available on the Department of Environmental Protection’s website with links to the letters sent to homeowners when the agency determined their water well was impacted by gas development.

The DEP provided an early copy of the list to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in July, which showed 209 cases. The updated tally is the result of a more thorough search of paper records in regional offices, said spokesman Eric Shirk.

“As we do get more information, we will keep this list updated,” he said.

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New study shows gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene

Workers keep an eye on well heads during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. oil well, near Mead, Colo.

AP

Workers keep an eye on well heads during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. oil well, near Mead, Colo.

A new study out this month reveals unconventional oil and natural gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene, putting them at a higher risk for blood cancers like leukemia. Benzene is a known carcinogen that is present in fracking flowback water. It’s also found in gasoline, cigarette smoke and in chemical manufacturing. As a known carcinogen, benzene exposures in the workplace are limited by federal regulations under OSHA. But some oil and gas production activities are exempt from those standards.

The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) worked with industry to measure chemical exposures of workers who monitor flowback fluid at well sites in Colorado and Wyoming. A summary of the peer-reviewed article was published online this month on a CDC website. In several cases benzene exposures were found to be above safe levels.

The study is unusual in that it did not simply rely on air samples. The researchers also took urine samples from workers, linking the exposure to absorption of the toxin in their bodies. One of the limits of the study includes the small sample size, only six sites in two states. Continue Reading

Report: Pa. attorney general widens investigation into gas royalty complaints

In this 2014 file photo, Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa

AP Photo/Marc Levy, file

In this 2014 file photo, Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is reportedly widening her investigation into complaints of fraud from gas royalty owners.

So far, the allegations have centered on the state’s biggest gas driller, Chesapeake Energy. Now sources tell Capotolwire that Kane’s office has issued subpoenas “throughout the energy industry” in Pennsylvania.

It could suggest investigators are looking for background information or that the probe also includes complaints about the payment practices of other companies.

Kane spokesman J.J. Abbott and a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the state’s top drilling trade group, declined to comment.

Jackie Root, President of the National Association of Royalty Owners’ Pennsylvania chapter, welcomed the news.

“We know that the issues that are out there were not solely Chesapeake,” said Root, who noted the organization has heard from numerous members who have been interviewed by state investigators.

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State regulators take a closer listen to gas compressor stations

Most of the noise created by natural gas development is temporary. After drilling and fracking, the workers and equipment are gone. A gas well in production is pretty quiet; it’s basically just a bunch of pipes in the ground.

But compressor stations can stay noisy for years– even decades. The facilities are necessary to process and transport gas through pipelines. When it comes to noise regulations, they’re governed by a patchwork of local, state, and federal rules.

This summer the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), which manages public forest land, is trying to get a handle on how these persistently noisy places affect both people and wildlife.

The agency launched a pilot study to analyze the components of compressor station sound. It’s aimed at figuring out which parts of the noise are the most irritating.

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Drilling underway at Pittsburgh International Airport

A major plan to drill for natural gas under Pittsburgh International Airport is underway.

Politicians, including Gov. Tom Corbett, and officials from Consol Energy kicked off the project in a ceremony at the airport today.

More from the Associated Press:

The Monday morning ceremony featured remarks by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, Democratic County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Republican Congressman Tim Murphy, and local leaders.

Fitzgerald says the vast majority of people he talks to support the Consol Energy project, which could ultimately bring more than $500 million in royalties to the Allegheny County Airport Authority. Consol, which is based in nearby Cecil, plans to drill 47 wells from six pads over the next few years. The wells will tap into the gas-rich Marcellus Shale about 7,000 feet underground.

Consol says drilling began about 10 days ago.

The Federal Aviation Administration reviewed the project and approved the plan, along with state and local authorities.

Consol plans to drill 47 wells on more than 9,000 acres of land owned by the county.

FEMA: no flood assistance for property owners with natural gas leases

In this Sept. 15, 2011 photo, Paula Fenstermacher shows pictures in front of a FEMA office in Montoursville, Pa., of her parents' flood-damaged home along the Loyalsock Creek in Lycoming County.

AP Photo/Genaro C. Armas

In this Sept. 15, 2011 photo, Paula Fenstermacher shows pictures in front of a FEMA office in Montoursville, Pa., of her parents' home along the Loyalsock Creek in Lycoming County. The home was damaged by flooding during Tropical Storm Lee.

The Scranton Times-Tribune reports that property owners with natural gas leases are no longer eligible for federal hazard mitigation assistance after a flood. The new policy, enacted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on May 5, has affected eight households in Pennsylvania in Wyoming and Lycoming Counties.

It means that FEMA will not buy out flood-prone properties or pay to assist raising or relocating homes and other structures if the owner has signed a lease with a developer.

More from the Times-Tribune:

The new policy was the subject of a Wednesday roundtable discussion at Wyoming County 911 Center in Tunkhannock, organized by U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton. FEMA deputy associate director for mitigation Roy Wright attended, along with state and local emergency managers and gas industry representatives.

“We, right now, need to have some direction on what to do, how to get these mitigated,” Wyoming County emergency director Gene Dziak told Mr. Wright. “Next month is three years (since the flood). We need to get these people out of these properties.”

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Maryland takes a public health approach on fracking that Pa. hasn’t tried

Trucks drive down Towanda's main drag. Click on the image to view StateImpact Pennsylvania's new multimedia project, called "Boomtown."

Becky Lettenberger / NPR

Trucks drive down Towanda's main drag. Truck traffic is one driver of increased air pollution from unconventional natural gas drilling.

Air pollution is among one of the greatest public health concerns related to Marcellus Shale drilling, according to a new health impact assessment released this week by the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Commissioned by the Maryland Department of Public Health through an executive order by Gov. Martin O’Malley, the study assesses potential environmental health impacts should Maryland open up its western edge to Marcellus Shale drillers. The report comes at a time when healthcare workers and environmental groups are calling for an investigation into the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s handling of Marcellus Shale-related complaints. And it stands in contrast to how Pennsylvania has addressed health concerns related to Marcellus Shale.

A health impact assessment starts with what is called “scoping,” reaching out into the community to find out what concerns and questions already exist. Then it gathers baseline public health information on the community. This takes a snapshot of residents’ current health status, which then provides a method for future comparisons should drilling occur in the area. The report does not predict future health impacts from natural gas development. Rather it looks at all the available epidemiological studies that form the basis of potential health concerns. In this case, the researchers then rated these concerns, with air pollution topping the list. Pennsylvania never did a similar health impact assessment for Marcellus Shale drilling. It would be impossible to do one now because the drilling boom began almost 10 years ago.

It’s important to note that the report was limited by the available research. The researchers did not rank water pollution as a high public health concern simply because they say there’s not enough data available to draw strong conclusions. Continue Reading

Pennsylvania ranks 3rd in statewide CO2 emissions for 2011

The Homer City Generating Station, Homer City, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

The Homer City Generating Station, Homer City, Pa.

Overall, carbon dioxide emissions are decreasing nationally, down 12 percent in 2012 from a pre-recession peak of 6023 million metric tons in 2007. Pennsylvania is following that trend, not leading it, not lagging behind, but landing somewhere in the middle at 10.9 percent CO2 reductions between 2000 and 2011. Still the state ranks third in energy related CO2 emissions for 2011, behind California and Texas, according to a report out this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The term “energy-related” refers to the energy produced in the state. Some states, including Pennsylvania, produce more than they consume, exporting electricity to other states. But when it comes to per capita energy-related CO2 emissions, the rankings can look very different. Instead of Texas at the top of the list, Wyoming produced the highest per capita CO2 emissions, while Pennsylvania ranks 21st. Coal remains the state’s largest source of carbon dioxide pollution. Under newly proposed rules by the EPA, Pennsylvania needs to develop a plan to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent by 2030.

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