Energy. Environment. Economy.

Supreme Court agrees to hear arguments over Obama’s “war on coal”

The Homer City Generating Station, Homer City, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

The Homer City Generating Station, Homer City, Pa.

The Supreme Court will consider a challenge to the Obama Administration’s new rules on mercury emissions from power plants. Tuesday’s decision by the high court came just a day before the EPA announced new rules to control smog. The mercury rules were first imposed by the Clinton Administration, and then reversed under President Bush. The rules were revived by Obama in 2012. The coal industry has pointed to the limits on mercury, along with other regulations aimed at reducing smog, ozone and other air pollutants as a “war on coal.” Industry, utilities and 21 states, including Pennsylvania, have sued to stop the mercury rules, which will cause some coal burning plants to shut down. The issue is over costs. More from USA Today:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld that action last year, ruling that the government did not have to consider costs until it sets specific emission levels, and that it did not have to decide on each air pollutant separately. The regulation sweeps in other pollutants, such as acid gases, that are not considered as dangerous as mercury.

But that 2-1 ruling came with a dissent from Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who said the EPA should have considered the estimated $9.6 billion annual cost. Industry briefs claim the potential benefit from reduced pollution is roughly half that amount.

“The extraordinary costs of EPA’s rule will be borne by consumers of electricity – i.e. everyone in the nation – causing a significant nationwide economic impact in exchange for relatively little public health benefit,” the states wrote in their appeal. The EPA had estimated that the regulations would raise the average consumer’s monthly electricity bill by $3 to $4.

Thanksgiving gas prices fall to lowest levels in five years

Courtesy via Flickr

Courtesy via Flickr

Nationwide, gas prices will be at their lowest levels going into a Thanksgiving week since 2009.

Good news for the estimated 41 million Americans who plan travel more than 50 miles by car this Thanksgiving week–gasoline prices are continuing to decline, averaging $2.82 per gallon. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it’s the lowest price heading into Thanksgiving since 2009.

What’s behind the price drop? Part of the reason is the fracking oil boom in other parts of the country, like North Dakota, which has lead to a surge in U.S. oil production.

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Maryland Governor proposes stringent fracking regulations

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. The term-limited governor has proposed strict regulations on fracking. But it's unclear what will become of them once he leaves office in January.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. After three years of research, the term-limited governor has proposed strict regulations on fracking. But it's unclear what will become of them once he leaves office in January.

Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits lie beneath just a tiny sliver of western Maryland. But with three years worth of review, the state issued a 104 page report Tuesday detailing the pros and cons of fracking, along with recommendations for some of the most stringent rules in the country. Maryland’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Study was conducted by the state’s Department of Environment, and Department of Natural Resources at the behest of the outgoing governor, Martin O’Malley. It’s unclear what will come of the proposal because the newly elected incoming governor-elect, Republican Larry Hogan, has criticized the lack of drilling in the state’s two shale gas counties.

The hold up to Maryland’s shale gas boom has been the state’s extensive analysis of current research into the economic, public health and environmental impacts of fracking. Today’s report includes a long list of proposed recommendations that it says would allow gas drilling to occur with minimal risks.

“…provided all the recommended best practices are followed and the State is able to rigorously monitor and enforce compliance, the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level.”

The proposed regulations include a five-year plan on each well, a 2000 foot vertical buffer between an aquifer and the targeted gas deposit, a setback of at least 1000 feet from the edge of a well pad to an occupied building, school or church and 2000 feet from a private drinking water well.

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Gov’t Data Sharpens Focus on Crude-Oil Train Routes

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.

The oil boom underway in North Dakota has delivered jobs to local economies and helped bring the United States to the brink of being a net energy exporter for the first time in generations.

But moving that oil to the few refineries with the capacity to process it is presenting a new danger to towns and cities nationwide — a danger many appear only dimly aware of and are ill-equipped to handle.

Much of North Dakota’s oil is being transported by rail, rather than through pipelines, which are the safest way to move crude. Tank carloads of crude are up 50 percent this year from last. Using rail networks has saved the oil and gas industry the time and capital it takes to build new pipelines, but the trade-off is greater risk: Researchers estimate that trains are three and a half times as likely as pipelines to suffer safety lapses.

Indeed, since 2012, when petroleum crude oil first began moving by rail in large quantities, there have been eight major accidents involving trains carrying crude in North America. In the worst of these incidents, in July, 2013, a train derailed at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec and exploded, killing 47 and burning down a quarter of the town. Six months later, another crude-bearing train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, prompting the evacuation of most of the town’s 2,300 residents.

See our interactive map of the crude-oil train data.

In those and other cases, local emergency responders were overwhelmed by the conflagrations resulting from these accidents. Residents often had no idea that such a dangerous cargo, and in such volume, was being transported through their towns.

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Much of nation’s natural gas now comes from shale

Much of the natural gas in the United States now comes from shale gas wells, according to information released today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Seven years ago, shale made up just 8 percent of the overall gas production for the United States, but last year it accounted for 40 percent of production– it’s now the largest single source of gas in the country.

The emergence of fracking has also dramatically changed where the gas is coming from. In 2013, 79 percent of shale gas production came from Texas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

The record-breaking production in the Marcellus Shale made Pennsylvania the second-largest gas producing state last year.

Over the same time period, gas production from nonshale wells declined by 25 percent.


Courtesy EIA

If Pennsylvania’s 2014 production continues at the same pace, the state is track to produce 4 trillion cubic feet this year– or about 16 percent of what the entire United States consumes annually.

This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that shale gas accounts for 79 percent of U.S. production. It is 40 percent.

As fraud allegations mount against Chesapeake Energy, so does frustration

Landowners who have been accusing natural gas driller Chesapeake Energy of stealing their money say Harrisburg is doing little to stop it.

Most of the company’s Pennsylvania operations are in Bradford County. It’s a rural area stretching along the New York border; it has more Marcellus shale gas wells than any other part of the state. StateImpact Pennsylvania first talked with landowners there in June 2013.

A year-and-a-half later, they say Chesapeake is still cheating them:

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Poll shows support for Obama’s Clean Power Plan among Pa voters

A new post-election poll shows a majority of Pennsylvanians who voted in the November election support limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Sierra Club commissioned the multi-state survey, which included about 100 Pennsylvania voters. Those polled included an equal mix of Democrats and Republicans. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed nationwide limits on climate change causing emissions. Pennsylvania’s goal is to reduce the state’s power plant carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

Sixty-six percent of Pennsylvanians polled say they support reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, while 28 percent oppose limiting emissions at power plants. Those results mirrored the concerns over climate change itself. About two-thirds surveyed said climate change is a serious problem, while 35 percent disagreed.

Casey tells Obama administration: climate plan an unfair burden for Pa.

Sen. Bob Casey is criticizing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Emma Lee/NewsWorks/WHYY

Sen. Bob Casey is criticizing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey says the Obama administration’s plan to tackle climate change by cutting carbon emissions from power plants would place an unfair burden on Pennsylvania.

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

Pennsylvania – the nation’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide and fourth-largest coal producer – would be required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 32 percent over the next 15 years.

Casey’s comments were part of a 22-page letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. In the letter, he supports the general mission of the EPA’s proposal to stem the impacts of climate change, which Casey says would negatively effect public health and national security.

“So for all these reasons, we must reject the status quo and look in the other direction, our clean energy future in which we rise to the challenge of climate change…,” he writes.

However, Casey finds fault with how the plan would impact Pennsylvania.

More from the Associated Press:

He said Pennsylvania is being tasked with substantially increasing renewable energy such as wind or solar power, even though federal data show that the state is technically limited compared to other states to do so.

Mr. Casey also said the EPA plan fails to credit Pennsylvania for clean power sources such as existing hydropower and nuclear power. And he said the proposal does not take into account the environmental value of Pennsylvania plants that provide energy by burning coal refuse, which otherwise would litter the state’s landscape.

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Sunoco Logistics moves ahead on plans for natural gas liquids hub near Phila.

Reuters reports Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics is moving ahead on plans to build a natural gas liquids processing and export hub on the site of a former oil refinery in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The newswire obtained records that show the company is seeking a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to build a storage facility that would hold more than 2 million barrels of propane, butane and ethane.

Sunoco Logistics did not comment to Reuters, but announced plans earlier this month to build a pipeline that would bring 275,000 barrels a day of natural gas liquids from Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania to the industrial complex in Marcus Hook.

More from Reuters:

“Sunoco is basically trying to capture the international market, particularly in northeast and northwest Europe,” said Vivek Mathur, a senior analyst at ESAI Energy. “If you’re a Marcellus producer and you have an option to move product to the Gulf Coast or through the Mariner East, it makes economic sense to choose Mariner East.”

Mathur said the facility will chill, store and process enough of the NGLs to meet regional demand and to capture an export market that the Energy Information Administration expects to grow dramatically over the next two decades.

Construction of the storage tanks is expected to start after permitting is complete.

Delaware River Basin Commission to review proposed PennEast Pipeline

The proposed route of the PennEast pipeline.

Courtesy of PennEast Pipeline Company

The proposed route of the PennEast pipeline.

A stalemate over regulations at the Delaware River Basin Commission has prevented natural gas development in the watershed since 2010. But the multi-state commission will now play a role in whether a new Marcellus Shale gas pipeline can move forward.

The proposed PennEast pipeline would cut under the Delaware River at Riegelsville, Bucks County to bring natural gas from the Pennsylvania to heat homes and supply power plants in New Jersey.

That does not automatically trigger a DRBC review. However, according to spokesman Clarke Rupert, the commission is required to review projects that pass through reservoirs and state parks that lie within its comprehensive plan.

Rupert said DRBC staff may also examine how much water the pipeline developers may need to draw from or discharge into the river.

Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum is among the environmentalists opposing the pipeline. She is concerned about the roughly 60 creeks and streams that are in the project’s proposed path.

“We’re going to want the Delware River Basin Commission to look at the cumulative impacts to all of the waterways that are going to be crossed,” she said.

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