Energy. Environment. Economy.

Royalties bill stalled in state legislature

A bill aimed at guaranteeing minimum royalty payments to landowners who have leased their property for natural gas drilling has hit a snag in the state legislature, according to the Towanda Daily Review:

Speaking at a meeting on Tuesday of the Bradford County Council of Republican Women, Baker, R-Wellsboro, said that the leadership of the Pennsylvania House has not yet allowed the bill to come up for a vote on the floor of the House.

There has been a “pushback by a lot of people” to the bill since it was approved on March 17 by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said Baker, who is one of the prime sponsors of the bill.

The leadership of the House and others have concerns about the bill related to “legality issues and constitutionality issues” and other matters, he said.

“We hope to get a vote on it (on the House floor),” said Baker. “I really believe it will pass” in the House if it is brought up for a vote, he said.

As a result of deductions from royalty checks for post-production costs, many local landowners are receiving royalty payments of 5 percent or less, Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller has said.

House Bill 1684 is an effort to clarify the state’s Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act of 1979, which states an oil and gas lease is not valid unless a landowner receives a one-eighth (12.5 percent) royalty.

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Court denies driller’s request for more information in spill case

A judge in Lycoming County has denied a request by ExxonMobil subsidiary, XTO Energy, seeking more information on criminal charges the company faces over a 2010 spill.

Last summer, the federal Environmental Protection Agency fined XTO $100,000 for the incident, which involved approximately 50,000 gallons of waste water being discharged into the Susquehanna River in Penn Township, Lycoming County.

The waste water contained high levels of strontium, chloride, bromide, barium, and total dissolved solids and flowed continually for more than two months in the fall of 2010, according to the EPA.

XTO originally claimed the spill was an act of vandalism, but later said it was likely caused by a contract worker. Last September, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane filed criminal charges.

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Union groups supporting boom in gas-related jobs


Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Union groups are vocally supporting the jobs gains made by natural gas development, to the frustration of some environmental groups who continue to oppose it.

From the Associated Press:

“The shale became a lifesaver and a lifeline for a lot of working families,” said Dennis Martire, the mid-Atlantic regional manager for the Laborers’ International Union, or LIUNA, which represents workers in numerous construction trades.

Martire said that as huge quantities of natural gas were extracted from the vast shale reserves during the past five years, union work on large pipeline jobs in Pennsylvania and West Virginia has increased significantly. In 2008, LIUNA members worked about 400,000 hours on such jobs; by 2012, that had risen to 5.7 million hours.

Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says total employment in the nation’s oil and gas industry rose from about 120,000 in early 2004 to about 208,000 last month.

Less than 10 percent of full-time oil and gas industry workers are represented by unions.

According to the most recent figures from the state Department of Labor and Industry about 30,000 people are employed directly in oil and gas jobs in Pennsylvania.

Pa. drill rig manufacturer taking the ‘rough’ out of roughnecking

As shale oil and gas production soars in states like Pennsylvania, Texas and North Dakota, the number of drill rigs towering over treetops is on the decline. Operators are becoming more efficient and advances in technology are driving other changes in oil and gas fields.

Several hours away from where drillers are boring down into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, Schramm Inc. is manufacturing new rigs that, in the words of CEO Ed Breiner, “take the ‘rough’ out of roughnecking.” Schramm’s latest model – the T500XD – requires 40 percent fewer workers than a conventional rig.

Last week, StateImpact Pennsylvania visited Schramm’s factory in West Chester, Pennsylvania to learn more about how technology is shaping the future of drilling jobs.

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Shell holds public meetings on proposed cracker plant

Shell construction manager Ken Conly talks about the cracker project at the meeting.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Shell construction manager Ken Conly talks about the cracker project at the meeting.

Shell is still weighing whether to build a multibillion dollar petrochemical plant in Beaver County. A spokesman for the company says it may spend another one or two years deciding.

Although Shell first announced its interest in an industrial site outside Monaca over two years ago, Dan Carlson, who is general manager for new business development at Shell, says the company is still carefully evaluating the proposal.

“We’re not trying to be evasive. We really don’t know,” he says. “Some of this requires input from other parties. For example, the air permit. We’d like to have an air permit before we would fund an investment like this.”

Shell hosted a pair of public meetings today to answer questions from the public about the proposed ethane cracker, which would convert natural gas liquids into products used in the plastics industry.

According to the company, more than 1,000 people turned out for today’s two meetings, which were held at a country club in Aliquippa, not far from the proposed site.

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DCNR releases first Marcellus monitoring report

A drill rig rises above the trees in the Tioga State Forest.

Scott Detrow/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drill rig rises above the trees in the Tioga State Forest.

How is Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling affecting Pennsylvania’s state forests? A new report released Wednesday by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources offers mixed results.

“First and foremost is that shale-gas production on state forest lands is neither benign nor catastrophic,” Dan Devlin, acting deputy secretary for Parks and Forestry, wrote in the preface. “There are clearly impacts and tradeoffs associated with this activity. The question is what tradeoffs are acceptable.”

DCNR officials presented the 265-page report at a meeting of the agency’s natural gas advisory committee Wednesday in State College.

Chairman Jim Grace said the report was well received by the committee, which includes academics, as well as representatives from the industry and environmental groups.

“Overall, there was less surface disturbance than I thought there might be,” said Grace, a Penn State Professor of Forestry.

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Study: small fraction of Pa. wells contribute large portion of methane emissions

Researchers used the Purdue Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, a specially equipped airplane, to measure plumes of methane gas above shale gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Photo courtesy of Paul Shepson

Researchers used the Purdue Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, a specially equipped airplane, to measure plumes of methane gas above shale gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania.

In a new study on methane emissions from natural gas development, researchers found that a significant portion of the emissions they measured came from just a small fraction of Marcellus Shale wells. Those wells were in the drilling phase and had not yet been hydraulically fractured to release natural gas.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, comes as the Obama administration pursues a plan to curb methane emissions that contribute to climate change. On Tuesday, the EPA released five white papers on emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds in the oil and gas sector.

Scientists from Purdue and Cornell Universities gathered emissions data using a special research plane that flew above natural gas well sites in southwest Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They found that seven well pads, representing about 1 percent of all the wells in the research area, accounted for 4 to 30 percent of the emissions they recorded.

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Pa. DEP is ‘monitoring’ Ohio earthquake situation

Although Ohio recently changed its drilling permit rules over concerns hydraulic fracturing caused recent earthquake activity there, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is not planning on changing its rules at this time, according to the New Castle News.

The DEP did not respond to a request by StateImpact Pennsylvania to comment, but a spokeswoman told the New Castle News the department is monitoring the situation in Ohio:

James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said, “While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment.

But in Pennsylvania, Morgan Wagner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said Monday that because the state “has no history of seismic events related to drilling, fracking or disposal wells,” the DEP “does not believe that there is enough information about the Ohio incident to relate hydraulic fracturing to an increased potential for earthquakes in Pennsylvania.”

Wagner added, “We are, however, monitoring Ohio’s situation and have the authority to shut down any well at any time if concerns were to develop.”

Links between oil and gas production and increased earthquake activity have usually been related to disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells–not the fracking process itself.

Shell to hold public meetings on ethane cracker plant

Shell plans to host two public meetings tomorrow about its proposed ethane cracker plant in Beaver County.

From the Associated Press:

Two public meetings are scheduled for Wednesday at the Shadow Lakes club in Hopewell, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. That’s near the proposed plant site. One will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and another from 4 to 7 p.m.

Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Windon says the company wants to seek community input and share insights about where the project stands.

In early 2012 Shell chose the site for a possible ethane cracking plant, but cautioned a final decision would take years. It would convert ethane from bountiful shale natural gas into more profitable chemicals which are then used to produce plastics, tires and other products.

Fracking forum will focus on the economic impact of drilling in Pennsylvania

A natural gas well being readied for fracking in Harford Township, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A natural gas well being readied for fracking in Harford Township, Pa.

There’s still time to register for a discussion forum –  ”A Frank Conversation about Fracking” - coming up this week on Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. in Montgomery County.

Co-hosted by StateImpact Pennsylvania partner station WHYY and the Bernard Wolfman Civil Discourse Project in Elkins Park, the conversation will focus on the economic impact of Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom.

Speakers include Deborah Lawrence Rogers, founder of consulting firm EnergyPolicyForum, and William Freeman, a former committee chairman of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the state’s biggest gas industry trade group.

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