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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
A proposal to build a plant that would transform Pennsylvania’s cheap, abundant natural gas into more expensive motor fuel is generating controversy in Berks County. If built, the gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant would be one of the first facilities of its kind in the United States.
But industry analysts say there’s a reason these kinds of plants are so rare– the economics often don’t make a lot of sense.
“Homes all around”
Jen Byrne watches and worries as children run around the playground behind the day care she owns. If the plant is built in South Heidelberg Township, it would be—literally–in her backyard.
Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania
Jen Byrne owns SpringRose Childcare in Sinking Spring.
“I thought there’s no way they’d put that right there,” she says, looking out at the empty lot. “We have all these children here. There’s homes all around. My biggest concern is air and water pollution.”
The idea behind the GTL facility is to transform Pennsylvania’s natural gas into expensive liquid motor fuel–it would produce gasoline that can go right into a car.
The facility is projected to cost $800 million to $1 billion and produce about 500,000 gallons per day of gasoline and liquid petroleum. It’s planned for a 63-acre site about 10 miles west of Reading. Although the land is zoned for light industrial uses, it’s currently an empty field surrounded by residential neighborhoods.
Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania
The newly-formed South Heidelberg Township Community Association opposes the GTL plant.
Once word got out about the plans, a concerned citizens group quickly organized. They printed up bright red “Stop the gas refinery” yard signs, t-shirts, and flyers. Nearly 300 people attended a recent meeting hosted by the group.
A Canadian developer, EmberClear, is seeking to develop the GTL plant. Jim Palumbo is a project manager for the company. He says the plant will create about 150 permanent jobs.
“We have an abundance of natural gas in the state. It makes all the sense in the world to use it in some fashion,” he says. “We want to be good neighbors. We don’t want to do something that would be a detriment to the neighborhood.”