Energy. Environment. Economy.

What New York’s fracking ban means for drilling along the Delaware river

A drilling protest sign sits on the lawn of a home along the Delaware River.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drilling protest sign sits on the lawn of a home along the Delaware River.

The surprise decision by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking and prevent the development of Marcellus Shale gas in that state could have ripple effects in eastern Pennsylvania. New York issued a lengthy scientific report on potential health and environmental impacts Wednesday. And Cuomo’s subsequent decision could mean a permanent ban on drilling in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, where the Delaware River Basin Commission has authority to regulate shale gas drilling.

The current de facto moratorium on drilling for gas along the Delaware river in both New York and Pennsylvania exists because the four states and a federal representative who comprise the Delaware River Basin Commission could not agree on how to do it. In 2010 the DRBC instructed staff members to propose new regulations. After receiving thousands of comments, the DRBC revised its proposals and scheduled a vote in the fall of 2011. But the lack of consensus among the commissioners prompted them to cancel the meeting, and they have not taken up the issue in a public forum since. At the time, Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Corbett was the strongest advocate for drilling. Delaware’s governor opposed it. New Jersey and the Obama Administration kept silent. And New York was on the fence.

But this week’s decision by Governor Cuomo has taken New York off the fence. And when combined with the promise by Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Wolf not to open the Delaware watershed to drilling, New York’s decision to ban fracking altogether changes the picture. This is good news to activists like Maya van Rossum, from the Delaware Riverkeeper. Van Rossum has been fighting to keep gas rigs out of eastern Pennsylvania since 2008. She says New York’s health and environmental study, along with Cuomo’s subsequent decision, means her work has paid off.

“It was an arms-length process really designed to secure a fair and earnest scientific analysis,” said van Rossum. “It was not a political process, which is what you had in Pennsylvania, a political process that tries to use faux-science as a shield for bad decision-making.” Continue Reading

Wolf: New York’s fracking ban is “unfortunate”

At a press conference in Kingston, Pa., governor-elect  Tom Wolf called New York's ban on fracking "unfortunate."

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

At a press conference in Kingston, Pa., governor-elect Tom Wolf called New York's ban on fracking "unfortunate."

Democratic Governor-elect Tom Wolf says New York made the wrong move by banning fracking.

New York State health officials say there isn’t enough evidence to show whether or not gas development has an impact on public health. Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker wrote in a report released Wednesday that “absolute scientific certainty” is “unlikely to ever be attained,” which is why his department said it could not recommend allowing natural gas development in the Empire State.

At a press conference Wednesday in Northeast Pennsylvania, which is home to some of the most lucrative gas wells in the state, Wolf called New York’s decision “unfortunate.” He says he believes fracking can be done safely.

“I want to have my cake and eat it, too. I don’t want to do what New York did,” he said. “I want to do what I think we can do here in Pennsylvania and that is have this industry, but do it right from an environmental point of view, from a health point of view.”

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New York State bans fracking

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration will prohibit fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique.

AP Photo/Mike Groll

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration will prohibit fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas extraction technique.

New York state officials have decided to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders, citing health concerns.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo made the announcement at an end-of-year press conference in Albany Wednesday afternoon.

From the New York Times:

The state has had a de facto ban on the procedure for more than five years, predating Mr. Cuomo’s first term. The decision also came as oil and gas prices continued to fall in many places around the country, in part because of surging American oil production, as fracking boosted output.

The decision has been fraught for Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat.

In June 2012, he flirted with approving a limited program in several struggling Southern Tier counties along New York’s border with Pennsylvania. But later that year, Mr. Cuomo bowed to entreaties from environmental advocates, announcing instead that his administration would start the regulatory process over by beginning a new study to evaluate the health risks.

New York’s acting health commissioner Howard Zucker acknowledged there are gaps in the data but said there are many “red flags” and questions about the risks of fracking.

“The science isn’t here,” Zucker said. “But the cumulative concerns based on the information I have read … gives me reason to pause.”

New York State’s Republican chairman, Ed Cox, slammed the health review as a “political charade.” Cuomo says he is expecting “a ton of lawsuits” in the wake of the decision.

Industry representatives in Pennsylvania have pointed out that New York’s decision on fracking will have little bearing here — at least in the near future — since most of New York’s share of the Marcellus Shale contains less economically attractive dry gas.

Christopher Robart, a consultant with IHS Energy, says the decision will have little to no impact on business in Pennsylvania.

“Folks in the industry have put a lot of money into parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania and built infrastructure,” he says. “Once that’s in the ground, there’s a certain amount of stickiness in the market.”

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PA lawmaker floats new severance tax proposal as industry pushes back

Cabot Oil & Gas operations in Susquehanna County include some of the most productive wells in the state.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Cabot Oil & Gas operations in Susquehanna County include some of the most productive wells in the state.

State senator Jim Brewster plans to introduce a bill that would enact a 5 percent tax on Marcellus Shale gas production, and dedicate all of that revenue toward education. The western Pennsylvania lawmaker, from McKeesport, says the tax would generate between $700 million to $1 billion for public schools.

“My ‘Extraction for Education’ proposal is simple, reasonable and credible because it uses the proceeds of an extraction tax to support education,” Brewster said in a release posted today on his website. His plan would maintain the current impact fee, which helps fund local municipalities that bare the brunt of natural gas drilling. Brewster says gas producers would be able to claim a credit for the impact fee, while all of the proposed tax would get funneled to education.

But natural gas industry representatives in Pennsylvania say they are already paying their fair share of taxes. On a call with reporters today, Dave Spigelmyer with the Marcellus Shale Coalition said attempts by the incoming Wolf administration to raise $1 billion in revenue through a severance tax would “damage this play forever in the commonwealth.” Spigelmyer says the state should first get spending under control through pension reform, and have the shale gas boom generate tax revenue indirectly. Continue Reading

Leaking city gas pipes pose climate hazard

Kevin McDonald, PGW Senior Pipe Mechanic uses a compressor to back fill soil covering main and service pipelines in North Philadelphia.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Kevin McDonald, PGW Senior Pipe Mechanic uses a compressor to back fill soil covering main and service pipelines in North Philadelphia.

Philadelphia has some of the leakiest natural gas distribution pipes in the nation.

This comes with an environmental cost, because natural gas is primarily made up of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Methane emissions are getting more attention from climate scientists, environmentalists and policy makers because they actually have a much more immediate impact on global warming than the greenhouse gas that gets the most ink, carbon dioxide.

Philadelphia’s recent failure to close a deal to sell the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works to a private company means those leaks will continue to get fixed at a snail’s pace.

At current estimates many of us will be dead before all that leak prone pipe beneath city streets is replaced.


Miles and miles of leaks

Philadelphia’s natural gas infrastructure resembles that in other older industrial cities on the Eastern Seaboard.

Interstate transmission pipelines feed natural gas from well heads on the Gulf Coast, or Marcellus Shale to nine separate “city gates.” At these city gates, the high pressure gas, which comes in at 800 pounds per square inch, gets transformed into low pressure gas. By the time the gas gets to your stove, it’s about one-quarter pound per square inch. Continue Reading

As pipelines proliferate, Pennsylvania sees next phase of gas boom

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline cuts through the woods in Lycoming County. More than $10 billion in pipeline projects have been announced for Pennsylvania.

The surge in drilling has meant trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are being pumped out of Pennsylvania every year. And now billions of dollars are flooding into the state for new pipeline projects to move that gas to market.

It’s the next phase of the fracking boom: energy companies are building their own sort of interstate highway system—a network of pipelines.

“A sense of urgency”

Matt Henderson, of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, says more than $10 billion in pipeline projects have already been announced for Pennsylvania.

“Production has outpaced anybody’s wildest expectations,” he says. “The operators were found in a position where, ‘We need to get this out.’ So there’s a sense of urgency.”

Industry representatives say undoubtedly not all of the proposed pipelines will get built. But there’s still a race to get gas to customers.

Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas has been able to ship its gas out of northeastern Pennsylvania on three existing interstate pipelines. Company spokesman Bill DeRosiers says Cabot is partnering with other companies on new projects to ease bottlenecks in the system, like the $700 million Constitution pipeline. It was recently approved by federal regulators to carry Marcellus gas to New York and New England.

And there’s an even bigger one on the horizon.

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Wolf names more members to transition team

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has announced more members to his transition team.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has announced more members to his transition team.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf has announced more members to his transition team. They will work with the committee heads he named last week and the outgoing Corbett administration to identify issues and challenges at state agencies.

You can read the full list of transition team members here.

Here are the names at the state agencies most involved with gas drilling:

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Wolf appoints reviewers for DEP, DCNR, DOH and PUC

Democrat Tom Wolf talks to reporters at the WHYY studio in Philadelphia.

Lindsay Lazarsky / Newsworks/WHYY

Democrat Tom Wolf talks to reporters at the WHYY studio in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Wolf has appointed a number of people to review departments and issues ahead of the January 20 inauguration. The reviewers will work with the current Corbett administration to “better understand the issues and challenges that face the executive branch,” according to a release.

Wolf’s spokesperson Jeff Sheridan said the goal would be to find out what works and what doesn’t work before Wolf takes office next month.

Christina Simeone and Robb Fox have been appointed to report back about the Department of Environmental Protection. Simeone used to work for the environmental group PennFuture, and is now at the Kleinman Energy Policy Center at University of Pennsylvania. Robb Fox is an environmental lawyer and partner at Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox.

Wolf has chosen Caren Glotfelty to review the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Glotfelty worked for the Department of Environmental Resources, a precursor to DEP and DCNR, under Governor Casey. She now runs the Allegheny County Parks Foundation. Continue Reading

Report criticizes expanded drilling on public land

A drilling site in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drilling site in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

A report out today from the environmental advocacy group, PennEnvironment, outlines the threats posed to public parks and forests by expanding natural gas development.

“Sadly, politicians from both sides of the aisle—Democrats and Republicans alike– have used their positions of power to press for opening up these public lands,” says Lina Blount, a field associate with PennEnvironment.

In a telephone conference call with reporters, John Norbeck, Vice President of the environmental group PennFuture, said the lands should be preserved for future generations. He previously served as the director of Parks and Forestry for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

“The industrialization of our parks is simply contrary to that notion,” he said. “Land disturbance including noise, air, and water pollution is not conducive to good public land management.”

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Study: Abandoned wells could be significant source of greenhouse gas

An abandoned oil well in the Tamarack Swamp, Warren County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

An unplugged oil well in the Tamarack Swamp, Warren County.

A new study out this week shows that Pennsylvania’s abandoned oil and gas wells could be a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Pennsylvania is littered with old oil and gas wells that date back to the 1860’s. Unmapped and unmonitored, these wells can turn into pollution pathways for oil, gas and brine. About 12,000 of an estimated 300,000 wells have been found and plugged. But the peer reviewed report out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows even the plugged wells are leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Mary Kang is the lead author on the study.

“Surprisingly all the plugged wells that we measured emitted methane. We found that emissions varied by order of magnitude,” said Kang.

Kang’s research shows that both plugged and unplugged wells could be contributing significantly to global warming. Although she only tested 19 wells, her results showed that the abandoned wells could be spewing just as much fugitive methane as current oil and gas production in the state. Yet neither the federal Environmental Protection Agency, or the state keeps track of these emissions. And data and history about these wells was hard to come by. Only one of the 19 wells she found and tested was recorded in the state’s database on abandoned and orphaned wells.


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