Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Gov. Wolf bans new drilling in state parks and forests

Gov. Tom Wolf signs an executive order reinstating the moratorium on new leases for oil and gas development in state parks and forests. The event took place at Benjamin Rush State Park in Northeast Philadelphia.

Emma Lee / WHYY/Newsworks

Gov. Tom Wolf signs an executive order reinstating the moratorium on new leases for oil and gas development in state parks and forests. The event took place at Benjamin Rush State Park in Northeast Philadelphia.

Governor Tom Wolf fulfilled a campaign promise today by reversing course from his predecessor Tom Corbett and imposing a moratorium on leasing any more state park and forest land to Marcellus Shale drillers. Standing in a cold and windy meadow at Benjamin Rush state park, in the northeast section of Philadelphia, surrounded by a handful of state lawmakers, Wolf said he wants the gas industry to succeed but state land should be off limits.

“This is a place where, lets agree, that we can suspend the hostilities,” said Wolf. “In these areas we’re not going to be doing anymore drilling and the purpose of these parks is to allow people to enjoy nature at its best.”

Wolf’s executive order overturns Governor Tom Corbett’s executive order, signed last May. Corbett wanted to open up 25,000 new acres of additional state land to drillers in order to raise $95 million to plug a hole in the 2014-2015 fiscal year’s $29.1 billion budget. Corbett’s order lifted a moratorium put in place by former democratic Governor Ed Rendell just before he left office in 2011.

A total of 700,000 acres of state forest land is available to oil and gas drillers. Under the direction of Governor Rendell, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources leased 132,000 acres. (Not all of the mineral rights are under state control. About 315,000 acres of state forest land lies above natural gas deposits owned by private leaseholders.) The leases occurred despite opposition from DCNR’s leadership. John Quigley, who Wolf recently appointed to run the Department of Environmental Protection, had fought Rendell on expanding gas drilling when he served in Rendell’s cabinet as secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Continue Reading

State Senate unanimously approves gas royalty bills

State Senator Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) is the prime sponsor of both measures.

State Senator Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) is the prime sponsor of both measures.

The state Senate unanimously approved two bills Wednesday that aim to give more protections to people who earn royalty money from oil and gas drilling. Both bills were approved by the Senate last year but died in the House.

SB 147 would require drillers to disclose more information on royalty check stubs. It would also grant landowners the right to audit companies’ records to ensure proper payment.  SB 148 would bar oil and gas companies from retaliating against people who raise questions about their royalty payments. Sen. Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) is the prime sponsor of both measures.

“These bills will give landowners more weapons to use in their arguments with the gas drilling companies that pay their royalties,” Yaw said in a statement.  “We’ve tried to provide them with the tools that they can use to determine the accuracy their royalty reports.”

Royalty-owner advocates have praised the measures, while the state’s largest gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, has not taken a position on either bill.

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Natural gas prices drop to lowest levels in over two years

Natural gas stove

tauntingpanda via flickr

After briefly spiking during a cold November, gas prices have dropped to their lowest levels in over two years.

Natural gas prices have dropped to their lowest levels since September 2012, according to an analysis released today by the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Since the end of December, both spot and futures prices at the national benchmark, Henry Hub, have hovered around $3 per million BTU. EIA analyst Katie Teller says this reflects strong domestic production and high inventories.

“We saw prices go up in November, but since then they’ve really fallen down,” she says. “I think last year’s polar vortex was still fresh in people’s minds this November.”

Last winter, sustained cold temperatures caused gas prices to spike. By the end of the season inventories were at their lowest levels in 12 years. This year, forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting normal weather for the rest of the winter.

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Penn State to hold Marcellus Shale classes for adults in Lancaster County

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Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A gas drilling rig in Tioga County.

Researchers from Penn State University are gearing up for a series of informal educational classes for adults who want to learn about natural gas development.

“We use the context of Marcellus Shale to teach about science and energy,” says project coordinator Terry Noll. “We are neither pro nor against gas development, but because that’s creating huge change, we use that to teach about resource extraction.”

The set of 10 free classes begins February 3rd at the Farm and Home Center in Lancaster. Registration is required, and Noll says it’s already nearly full. Participants will receive a $100 stipend at the end.

This will mark the sixth set of workshops the Penn State team has conducted around the state. They’re focusing on rural areas and have already been in Clearfield, Dubois, Sullivan, Clinton, and Indiana counties. The project is part of a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

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Fracking protests grow in North Africa

One of the high-tech natural gas plants at the Algerian showpiece at Tin Fouye Tabankort simmers in the Saharan desert sun, Friday August 11, 2000. Algeria's exports of natural gas gives it real economic clout

Bruce Stanley / AP

A natural gas plant at Tin Fouye Tabankort simmers in the Saharan desert sun, Friday August 11, 2000.

Some of the earliest protests against fracking, and natural gas drilling, began here in Pennsylvania. They spread to New York, and then overseas to Europe. Like New York state, countries like France, Germany, and Bulgaria responded with fracking bans. Others like South Africa, have moratoriums. Now, the oil and gas rich nation of Algeria has grassroots protests bubbling up from the sands of the Sahara Desert. The demonstrations began earlier this month in the small town of In Salah. More from Vice News:

Residents of In Salah, a town of 36,000 that is located 750 miles south of the capital Algiers, have been protesting relentlessly since January 1 against the government’s proposed plans to extract shale gas through the use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, following initial drilling tests in the region.

Last week, the protests spread to other cities across southern Algeria, and also to the northern coastal cities of Algiers and Oran. In a country where 60 percent of the national budget comes from oil revenue, the government has been trying to diversify its income stream by developing unconventional resources such as shale gas, which it says will aid in the country’s energy transition.

Algeria is the top natural gas producer in Africa, but has yet to tap it’s shale gas reserves through fracking.  Continue Reading

Federal regulators postpone two scoping meetings on PennEast pipeline

The proposed alternate route of the PennEast pipeline. Click to enlarge the image.

Courtesy of PennEast Pipeline Company

The proposed alternate route of the PennEast pipeline. Click to enlarge the image.

Update at 2:15 pm: Wednesday’s scoping meeting in Bucks County has also been postponed. This story has been updated to reflect this new information.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has postponed its first two scoping meetings on the PennEast pipeline “due to unforeseen circumstances,” the agency wrote in a public notice.

The hearings were originally scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday in Ewing, New Jersey and Newtown, Pennsylvania respectively. New dates and venues have not yet been scheduled. The meetings are part of what FERC calls the “scoping process” and are billed as a way to give the public a forum to comment as regulators prepare an environmental impact statement.

The PennEast project involves constructing 108 miles of 36-inch diameter pipeline to transport about 1 billion cubic feet a day of Marcellus Shale natural gas. The line would start in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania and end in Mercer County, New Jersey.

FERC’s postponement has rankled some landowners and environmental advocates who have criticized the agency for not scheduling a scoping meeting in Hunterdon County where the majority of properties in New Jersey would be affected.

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Corbett’s top energy adviser hired by gas industry

Patrick Henderson was Governor Corbett's Energy Executive.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Patrick Henderson served as Governor Corbett's Energy Executive. He will now be Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Less than a week after Governor Corbett left office, his top energy adviser has accepted a new job with Pennsylvania’s largest gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Patrick Henderson, who made $145,000 a year as Corbett’s Energy Executive, will now become the MSC’s Director of Regulatory Affairs.

“These are truly exciting times within the energy industry,” Henderson wrote in an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania. “I very much look forward to partnering with the coalition and its members to advance what is a shared commitment to developing our energy resources in a safe and responsible way.”

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Chesapeake Energy to pay $119 million in Oklahoma royalty case

A Chesapeake Energy rig in Oklahoma.

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, file

A Chesapeake Energy rig in Oklahoma.

Chesapeake Energy will pay $119 million to royalty owners in Oklahoma under a preliminary settlement that will go before a judge in April, according to The Oklahoman.

The deal would resolve royalty disputes dating back more than a decade. Landowners accused Chesapeake Operating LLC of improperly withholding royalty money and charging them for the costs of processing and transporting gas. The class action suit affects more than 11,800 wells in Oklahoma.

From NewsOK:

“We are pleased to reach this fair and reasonable agreement and look forward to further strengthening our relationships with our Oklahoma royalty owners,” said Chesapeake spokesman Gordon Pennoyer.

The case started in 2010 when Kansas resident John Fitzgerald sued Chesapeake, claiming the company underpaid oil and natural gas royalties owed to him from its Oklahoma wells.

Fitzgerald sought class-action status, which was granted by a Beaver County district judge in February 2013.

Chesapeake opposed the class-action status and appealed to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. The court reversed the class-action status in February and sent the case back to district court.

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Anti-drilling group settles surveillance litigation with state

"We believe that collecting and disseminating information about groups engaged in lawful activities ... can and does have a chilling effect upon freedom of speech," says Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition vice president Diane Dreier

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

"We believe that collecting and disseminating information about groups engaged in lawful activities can and does have a chilling effect upon freedom of speech," says Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition vice president Diane Dreier.

An anti-gas drilling group from northeastern Pennsylvania has reached a settlement agreement with state law enforcement officials, after it accused them of conducting unconstitutional surveillance on its members.

The litigation stems from 2011 when the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency’s Office of Homeland Security issued intelligence bulletins labeling the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC) as a potential terrorist threat. The agency had contracted with an Israeli-American security firm– the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response– to compile the bulletins.

Then-governor Rendell publicly apologized and cancelled the firm’s state contract.

GDAC vice president, Diane Drier, says the group has always behaved in a lawful and peaceful manner. She describes its mission as educating the public about “the negative consequences of natural gas extraction.”

“This conduct by the Pennsylvania state government was tantamount to trampling on our constitutional rights.” she told reporters at a press conference Thursday in Harrisburg. “Disseminating information about groups engaged in lawful activities can and does have a chilling effect upon freedom of speech.”

While the terms of the settlement agreement are confidential, former PEMA director Glenn Cannon sent a letter to GDAC last month clearing the group of any wrongdoing.

“This agency has no information or reason to believe that GDAC at any time in the past or currently could be fairly characterized a ‘terrorist organization,’” he wrote.

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State senate panel approves oil and gas royalty bills

Oil and gas lease

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A state senate committee has approved two bills that would offer more protections for landowners receiving royalty money from oil and gas companies.

A state senate committee has approved a pair of bills that would provide more protections for people who receive royalty money from oil and gas drilling.

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee unanimously approved SB 147 and SB 148 at a meeting Wednesday. SB 147 would require drillers to disclose more information on royalty check stubs. It would also grant landowners the right to inspect companies’ records to ensure proper payment.

SB 148 would bar oil and gas companies from retaliating against people who raise questions about their royalty payments.

Jackie Root heads the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO-PA), which advocates on behalf of people who have leased their land for drilling. She thinks both bills are helpful.

“Senate Bill 147 covers some important issues for us and lays out some requirements for reporting,” she says. “Especially the right to audit. If you don’t have that in your lease, it’s pretty clear companies won’t grant you the right to audit.”

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