Energy. Environment. Economy.

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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Most natural gas now comes from shale

Most 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 79 percent of production.

The record-breaking production in the Marcellus Shale made Pennsylvania the second-largest gas producing state in 2013.

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.

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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Bought by Halliburton, future unclear for Baker Hughes’ fracking disclosure policy

Pennsylvania's former health secretary says he believes the state has failed to address public concerns about fracking, "What are you so afraid that we're going to uncover?" he told the Associated Press.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pa.

The drilling industry awoke Monday morning to the news that two major oil field services firms would become one. Halliburton will buy Baker Hughes for $34.6 billion, a union that EnergyWire reports will “create a powerhouse in the hydraulic fracturing business.”

Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger are the three biggest suppliers of oil and gas development tools and technology, including the chemicals used to frack wells.

That’s why it made headlines last spring when Baker Hughes announced it would adopt a new policy of disclosing “100 percent” of its fracking fluid recipes and phasing out the use of “trade secret” claims. Drillers that are Baker Hughes’ clients have begun posting the information to the website as of Oct. 1.

However, it’s unclear whether Halliburton will follow suit when the merger is final.

Baker Hughes Vice President Iain McIntosh told StateImpact Pennsylvania last June the company’s decision was a reflection of the industry’s maturation.

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Pennsylvania gets no property tax from expanding pipelines

Workers prepare to lay a new Marcellus Shale gas pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Kim Paynter / WHYY/

Workers prepare to lay a new Marcellus Shale gas pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

While Pennsylvania gains no tax revenue from expanding pipelines, that’s not the case across the river in New Jersey. The Allentown Morning-Call reports on how the proposed Penn East pipeline is expected to generate $54,000 for Delaware Township, New Jersey, and $329,000 each year to the local county and school district. But on the Pennsylvania side of the river, the towns, counties and school districts hosting new pipelines get zero tax dollars from the project. That’s because Pennsylvania charges no property tax on oil and gas operations, which includes an exemption for pipelines.

More from the Morning-Call:

Tax policy differs from state to state, but in states that tax pipelines as property, they can produce significant revenue.

Some 10,775 miles of pipeline in Iowa generate $50 million to $60 million a year in property tax revenue for local municipalities, counties and school districts, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.

Iowa towns could get an additional $27 million and North Dakota and South Dakota may see $13 million in new property tax revenue from a planned 1,100-mile crude oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, according to a study released last week by Dakota Access LLC, which plans to build the pipeline.

With the severance tax debate, opponents of taxing Marcellus Shale oil and gas operations point to Pennsylvania’s high corporate income tax. Pennsylvania corporations pay 9.9%, while New Jersey is close behind at 9%. Texas, the country’s largest oil and gas producer, charges a severance tax as well as property taxes on oil and gas operations. The Penn East pipeline is just one of several new pipelines proposed to transport Marcellus Shale gas to East Coast markets.

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