Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

U.S. Department of Energy seeks to curb methane emissions from gas infrastructure

Natural gas pipelines in Lycoming County. Natural gas systems are the second-leading cause of methane emissions, after agriculture according to the Obama administration.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Natural gas pipelines in Lycoming County. Natural gas systems are the second-leading cause of methane emissions, after agriculture according to the Obama administration.

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced a series of initiatives aimed a curbing methane emissions from the nation’s natural gas infrastructure. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. It’s released by livestock, landfills, and oil and gas production.

Methane accounts for about 9 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution, but it’s over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapping gas.

Scientists are still working to quantify methane emissions and their sources. A slew of papers has recently been published in academic journals. According to the White House, natural gas systems are the second-leading cause of human-related methane emissions, after agriculture.

As part of its broader effort to fight climate change, the Obama administration hosted a series of round-table discussions on how to limit methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure.

Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz called methane both a potent greenhouse gas and a powerful energy resource and says that curbing leaks will be beneficial.

“These benefits include job creation through pipeline and other equipment replacement, cost recovery for infrastructure investments that increase safety and save energy, and opportunities for addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he said in a statement.

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Gas industry survey shows job growth slowing

Ethan Eckard, 23, a test technician at Schramm, Inc. in West Chester, sits in the control room of the T500XD drill rig.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Ethan Eckard, 23, a test technician at Schramm, Inc. in West Chester, sits in the control room of the T500XD drill rig.

Job growth in the Marcellus Shale industry continues, but it’s slowing down.

That’s according to an annual workforce survey published today by the gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Companies expect to hire 2,000 new workers this year– a 50 percent drop from the 4,000 jobs they projected last year.

Over the past few years, booming business led to overproduction– producing a glut of gas that caused prices to plummet.

“I think it’s pretty clear we’ve been a victim of our own success,” says MSC President Dave Spigelmyer. “Natural gas prices have softened rather dramatically.”

As companies have shifted operations from the dry gas regions of Pennsylvania’s northern tier, toward the more lucrative wet gas in the southwestern part of the state, the survey projects most of the job growth this year will happen there.

The report includes responses from 60 of the coalition’s 288 member companies.

Spigelmyer points out the survey focuses on direct oil and gas jobs and doesn’t capture other employment benefits, like lower natural gas prices making Pennsylvania manufacturing more competitive. He says as drill rigs move elsewhere, job opportunities also shift.

“We’ve seen the job growth occurring primarily in the downstream sector—building out our pipeline infrastructure,” he says.

According to the survey, the share of new jobs going to Pennsylvanians increased slightly last year–up from 57 percent in 2012 to 60 percent in 2013.

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Congressional Watch-Dog Warns Fracking Waste Could Threaten Drinking Water

A sign protesting a proposed deep injection well sits on the lawn of a home in Brady Township, Clearfield County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign protesting a proposed deep injection well sits on the lawn of a home in Brady Township, Clearfield County.

The Government Accountability Office says new risks from underground injections of oil and gas waste could harm drinking water supplies, and the EPA needs to step up both oversight and enforcement. The GAO released a study on Monday detailing the EPA’s role in overseeing the nation’s 172,000 wells, which either dispose of oil and gas waste, use “enhanced” oil and gas production techniques, store fossil fuels for later use, or use diesel fuel to frack for gas or oil. These wells are referred to as “class II” underground injection wells and are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Oversight of these wells vary by state, with some coming under the regulatory authority of the EPA, including the 1,865 class II wells in Pennsylvania. The GAO faults the EPA for inconsistent on-site inspections and guidance that dates back to the 1980′s. Of the more than 1800 class II wells in Pennsylvania, the GAO reports only 33 percent were inspected in 2012. Some states, including California, Colorado and North Dakota, require monthly reporting on injection pressure, volume and content of the fluid.

As more oil and gas wells across the country generate more waste, the GAO highlights three new risks associated with these wells — earthquakes, high pressure in formations that may have reached their disposal limit, and fracking with diesel. Continue Reading

Federal regulators to hold meetings on proposed pipeline

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County. Oklahoma-based Williams Partners is seeking to build 177 miles of new pipeline through 10 Pennsylvania counties in an effort to bring Marcellus Shale gas to markets along the East Coast.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is planning to hold four public meetings throughout Pennsylvania next week to discuss a proposed expansion of the Transco natural gas pipeline system.

FERC regulates interstate pipelines. Last week the agency announced it would conduct an environmental impact statement on the project and is accepting public comments through August 18th.

Oklahoma-based Williams Partners operates the Transco system, which has over 10,000 miles of exisiting pipeline–moving gas to other businesses, like utility companies and power plants.

As part of a $3 billion project called Atlantic Sunrise, Williams is proposing 177 miles through Pennsylvania of new pipeline to connect Marcellus Shale gas to markets along the East Coast– cities like Baltimore, Washington D.C. and as far south as Alabama.

If approved by FERC, the pipeline would run through 10 Pennsylvania counties, including Columbia, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Clinton and Lycoming.

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Drilling plans for Loyalsock State Forest quietly move forward

A drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Forest. Although gas drilling is already occurring in many state forests, including the Loyalsock, environmental groups are opposing a proposed expansion in an area of the Loyalsock known as the Clarence Moore lands.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Forest. Although gas drilling is already occurring in many state forests--including the Loyalsock--environmental groups are fighting a proposed expansion in an ecologically sensitive area of the Loyalsock known as the Clarence Moore lands.

Controversial plans to expand natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest are quietly moving forward. Last month the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages drilling on public lands, met with two gas companies who own mineral rights there.

More than a year has passed since DCNR held a contentious public meeting on the issue in Williamsport. Since then, the agency has released very little information publicly.

Nearly 500 people attended that meeting, and everyone who spoke over a three-hour period expressed either opposition or concern. In a response to an open records request from the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition, DCNR said it did not keep a record of the comments.

A DCNR spokeswoman did not respond to multiple requests to comment for this story.

The plans unveiled last summer involve 26 well pads and four compressor stations on a 25,000 acre swath of the Loyalsock forest known as the Clarence Moore lands– a popular area for wildlife enthusiasts and hikers.

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Audit questions whether Pa. lawmakers understand fracking

Fracking site.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a fracking) site in Susquehanna County. Fracking is only one phase of shale gas extraction, but the word is often used as a catchall term for the entire process.

A key question during Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom centers on how much damage it’s done to water resources.

According to new information released this week by the state Department of Environmental Protection, water supplies around the commonwealth have been damaged by oil and gas operations 209 times since the end of 2007. This is the first time the agency has released such a tally.

Why did it wait so long?

According to state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, it’s because the agency has been following the letter of the law, but not “the spirit of the law.”

As part of a highly-critical audit of the DEP unveiled Tuesday, DePasquale says he believes state legislators may not have understood the implications of some of the public disclosure language they approved in Act 13– Pennsylvania’s 2012 update of its oil and gas law.

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Proposed Pipeline Project to Get Federal Scrutiny

Workers build the Laser pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Kim Paynter / Newsworks/WHYY

Workers build the Laser pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Federal regulators announced this week that a controversial pipeline expansion project will undergo an extensive environmental review. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate pipelines, will do an environmental impact statement on the $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise Expansion Project.

Oklahoma-based Williams has proposed an expansion to their Transco natural gas pipeline, which would run through parts of north and central Pennsylvania. The pipeline has garnered intense opposition in Lancaster County. As a result, the company has changed part of its original route to avoid nature preserves.

The Transco pipeline system moves natural gas through more than 10,000 miles of existing pipes. The expansion project is part of a larger effort to get Marcellus Shale gas to end users like power plants.

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Pa. regulators document 209 cases of water damage from oil and gas operations

Empty water jugs used to haul clean water hang from a house in Washington County. Residents suspected nearby gas drilling as the culprit. The DEP investigation concluded drilling was not to blame.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Empty water jugs used to haul clean water hang from a house in Washington County. Residents suspected nearby gas drilling as the culprit. The DEP investigation concluded drilling was not to blame.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators have documented 209 cases where oil and gas operations negatively impacted water supplies since late 2007, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

The new tally from the state Department of Environmental Protection comes as Pennsylvania’s Auditor General’s Office releases a much-anticipated report faulting the agency for its response to drilling-related water complaints.

The DEP plans to post information about the incidents in a spreadsheet on its website by the end of the month – a first for the department.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obtained an early copy of the document:

The spreadsheet lists the 209 affected water supplies by county, municipality and the date regulators concluded that activities related to oil or gas extraction were to blame for contaminating or diminishing the flow to a water source.

The document does not disclose property owners’ names or addresses and it does not detail which companies that were deemed responsible for the damage, what caused the disruptions or what pollutants were found in the water.

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Audit faults DEP response to gas drilling water complaints

Protesters outside the DEP's Harrisburg headquarters in April 2013.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters outside the DEP's Harrisburg headquarters in April 2013. Auditors criticize the department for communicating poorly with citizens who complained about water issues related to gas development.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection failed to adequately track and respond to public complaints about water quality related to natural gas development, according to a report released today by the state Auditor General’s Office.

Auditors found the department lacking in eight key areas — citing it for sloppy record-keeping, lax oversight of drilling waste and gas well inspections, and poor communication with people who complained gas drilling contaminated their water. In some cases, auditors say it took months or even years for the DEP to log complaints into its internal tracking system.

The report covers DEP operations in the first few years of the gas boom — from January 2009 through December 2012. It’s the result of a campaign pledge by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat and former DEP staffer, who vowed to look into how the department handles water complaints related to gas drilling.

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Corbett agrees to hold off on new gas leases on state lands pending lawsuit

A caravan of trucks travel through the Loyalsock State Forest to a natural gas drilling site.  Fossil fuel production itself utilizes a lot of energy.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A caravan of trucks travel through the Loyalsock State Forest to a natural gas drilling site. Fossil fuel production itself utilizes a lot of energy.

The Corbett administration has agreed to hold off on leasing any more state land for natural gas drilling until a case challenging the practice is settled.

In exchange, the environmental group suing the stateagreed not to challenge the use of state conservation money to fund the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation filed suit to halt all drilling in state forests back in 2012. But when Governor Tom Corbett announced earlier this year his plans to lift a moratorium on new forest leases to fill a budget gap, the Environmental Defense Foundation sought an injunction to halt any new drilling.

The group also asked the courts to prevent the Corbett administration from channeling funds from the state’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the general fund, or cover the budget of DCNR.

Leasing the state’s forests to Marcellus Shale drillers began under the Rendell administration, much to the chagrin of DCNR’s leadership and staff. In 2010, just before Rendell left office, he imposed a moratorium on any new forest leases. Continue Reading

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