Workers lay a new interstate pipeline in Northeast Pennsylvania.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved an addition to the interstate Transco pipeline that will help more Marcellus Shale gas get to New Jersey. The Leidy Southeast line is essentially a series of “loops” totaling about 30 miles planned for both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. FERC overruled objections from environmentalists who say the line would damage wetlands and farms. The $738 million project is part of a push to expand pipeline capacity in Pennsylvania in order to transport Marcellus Shale gas to places of high demand. More from NJ Spotlight:
The proliferation of new gas and other pipelines has become a big issue in New Jersey, largely because many of the projects that have been approved go through lands set aside with taxpayer funds for preservation, including the New Jersey Highlands and the Pinelands Preservation Area.
The projects all are aimed at delivering cheap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formations in Pennsylvania to heat homes and power the plants that produce electricity — both at significant savings.
Officials there cited environmental and health risks. The state’s acting health commissioner, Howard Zucker, said there wasn’t enough research to know for sure if fracking poses a health threat, but he wasn’t comfortable recommending it.
“There are many red flags because scientific issues have not yet been comprehensively studied through rigorous scientific research at this time,” Zucker said.
Joanne Martin collects a sample of water from Brady Run, a stream in South Beaver Township in western Pennsylvania. She is a citizen scientist monitoring the water for potential pollution from nearby natural gas drilling.
Joanne Martin stands on the muddy bank of Brady Run, a stream in Beaver County in western Pennsylvania. To get there, she crawled down a steep gravel slope, ducking low tree branches and stepping over dead brush.
Martin has been coming to Brady Run for three years to test the water for signs of pollution from natural gas drilling. There’s a producing well pad just about a half a mile from here.
First, Martin plunks in a wooden measuring stick to check stream depth.
“Then, I go upstream a little bit because I don’t want to take water from where I disturbed the sediment,” she says. “I don’t want any of that in the sample.”
She takes a small cup, the kind you might use at a doctor’s office, and dips it into the stream, bracing herself for the icy water.
Back on the bank, Martin uses a pocket-sized monitor to test her sample. It’s measuring the conductivity of the water. A higher conductivity reading than usual could be a sign that metals are discharging into the stream, possibly as the result of a spill of the salty flowback water that comes up out of a well after it has been hydraulically fractured or fracked.
Martin is not a professional scientist. So why is she standing in the middle of a frigid stream on a December morning?
Across the country, the shale boom has given rise to fears about whether oil and gas development might be polluting the water we drink and the air we breathe. This has led some residents to try doing their own field research, in the mode of “citizen science.” But unlike the annual Christmas Bird Count or a website to help astronomers catalog billions of galaxies, their work is a tricky blend of science and advocacy.
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 →
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.”
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.
“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.”
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 →
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 →
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.
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: