Pennsylvania

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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

Pennsylvania cuts funding to Delaware River commission

Wildlife along the Delaware River at Washington Avenue Green Park in Philadelphia.

WHYY Photo

Wildlife along the Delaware River at Washington Avenue Green Park in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania is cutting its share of funding to the agency that oversees issues from water quality to flood management in the Delaware River watershed, the Scranton Times-Tribune reports.

The Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC, is run by the federal government and the governors of the four states that share the watershed – New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Under an agreement, Pennsylvania is responsible for 25 percent of the funding for the commission’s work.

Governor Tom Corbett proposed a $500,000 cut in February, which remained in the final budget passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by the governor on July 10.

However, state funding levels to four other interstate groups – including the Susquehanna River Basin Commission – have remained flat. That has led some critics to believe that the cut to the DRBC is retaliation for the ongoing stalemate over natural gas development in the Delaware watershed.

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Commonwealth Court throws out several challenges to Act 13, including ‘doctor gag rule’ [UPDATED]

The Commonwealth Court has upheld several sections of the state's oil and gas law,  including a provision dealing with doctors' access to the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court has upheld several sections of the state's oil and gas law, including a provision dealing with doctors' access to the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

This post has been updated to include additional comments on the ruling.

Pennsylvania doctors have nothing to worry about when it comes to the so-called “gag order” on chemical exposures from oil and gas drilling. That’s the message from the Commonwealth Court today in a much-anticipated ruling on provisions of the state’s two-year-old oil and gas law. The court issued the ruling after the Supreme Court passed on the controversy, sending it back to the lower court.

The “gag rule” stems from a section of Act 13, which requires nondisclosure agreements from healthcare providers who seek information on chemical exposures, which may be deemed “confidential” by industry. The law, which was drafted without the knowledge or consultation of healthcare providers, forces doctors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, thereby agreeing not to share any ingredients in the industry’s secret sauce used to frack and drill for natural gas.

Writing for the Commonwealth Court, President Judge Dan Pellegrini says the law is not unconstitutional, and it neither prevents healthcare providers from obtaining the necessary information or sharing it with other health practitioners.

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Environmental groups call for investigation into Pa. Department of Health

Two former employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people complaining about natural gas operations.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Two former employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people complaining about natural gas operations.

Five Pennsylvania environmental groups are calling for an investigation into the state Department of Health, in the wake of allegations it deliberately ignored public complaints about natural gas operations.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported in June, two former state health workers claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people who complained about gas drilling. Employees also needed high-level permission to attend meetings and forums about Marcellus Shale topics.

Representatives from five environmental groups– PennFuture, PennEnvironment, Clean Water Action-Pennsylvania, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, and the Clean Air Council– issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for an investigation into the Department of Health’s handling of the issue.

“As it stands right now, the citizens of Pennsylvania will be left in the dark of the impacts of gas development,” says PennFuture CEO Cindy Dunn. “They may be local and individualized, but the sooner we know the sooner they can be addressed.”

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