Energy. Environment. Economy.

Poll shows support for Obama’s Clean Power Plan among Pa voters

A new post-election poll shows a majority of Pennsylvanians who voted in the November election support limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Sierra Club commissioned the multi-state survey, which included about 100 Pennsylvania voters. Those polled included an equal mix of Democrats and Republicans. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed nationwide limits on climate change causing emissions. Pennsylvania’s goal is to reduce the state’s power plant carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

Sixty-six percent of Pennsylvanians polled say they support reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, while 28 percent oppose limiting emissions at power plants. Those results mirrored the concerns over climate change itself. About two-thirds surveyed said climate change is a serious problem, while 35 percent disagreed.

Casey tells Obama administration: climate plan an unfair burden for Pa.

Sen. Bob Casey is criticizing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Emma Lee/NewsWorks/WHYY

Sen. Bob Casey is criticizing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey says the Obama administration’s plan to tackle climate change by cutting carbon emissions from power plants would place an unfair burden on Pennsylvania.

The overall goal is to cut emissions by 30 percent nationwide by the year 2030. States will be directed to craft plans to meet their own specific targets.

Pennsylvania – the nation’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide and fourth-largest coal producer – would be required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 32 percent over the next 15 years.

Casey’s comments were part of a 22-page letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. In the letter, he supports the general mission of the EPA’s proposal to stem the impacts of climate change, which Casey says would negatively effect public health and national security.

“So for all these reasons, we must reject the status quo and look in the other direction, our clean energy future in which we rise to the challenge of climate change…,” he writes.

However, Casey finds fault with how the plan would impact Pennsylvania.

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He said Pennsylvania is being tasked with substantially increasing renewable energy such as wind or solar power, even though federal data show that the state is technically limited compared to other states to do so.

Mr. Casey also said the EPA plan fails to credit Pennsylvania for clean power sources such as existing hydropower and nuclear power. And he said the proposal does not take into account the environmental value of Pennsylvania plants that provide energy by burning coal refuse, which otherwise would litter the state’s landscape.

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Sunoco Logistics moves ahead on plans for natural gas liquids hub near Phila.

Reuters reports Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics is moving ahead on plans to build a natural gas liquids processing and export hub on the site of a former oil refinery in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The newswire obtained records that show the company is seeking a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to build a storage facility that would hold more than 2 million barrels of propane, butane and ethane.

Sunoco Logistics did not comment to Reuters, but announced plans earlier this month to build a pipeline that would bring 275,000 barrels a day of natural gas liquids from Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania to the industrial complex in Marcus Hook.

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“Sunoco is basically trying to capture the international market, particularly in northeast and northwest Europe,” said Vivek Mathur, a senior analyst at ESAI Energy. “If you’re a Marcellus producer and you have an option to move product to the Gulf Coast or through the Mariner East, it makes economic sense to choose Mariner East.”

Mathur said the facility will chill, store and process enough of the NGLs to meet regional demand and to capture an export market that the Energy Information Administration expects to grow dramatically over the next two decades.

Construction of the storage tanks is expected to start after permitting is complete.

Delaware River Basin Commission to review proposed PennEast Pipeline

The proposed route of the PennEast pipeline.

Courtesy of PennEast Pipeline Company

The proposed route of the PennEast pipeline.

A stalemate over regulations at the Delaware River Basin Commission has prevented natural gas development in the watershed since 2010. But the multi-state commission will now play a role in whether a new Marcellus Shale gas pipeline can move forward.

The proposed PennEast pipeline would cut under the Delaware River at Riegelsville, Bucks County to bring natural gas from the Pennsylvania to heat homes and supply power plants in New Jersey.

That does not automatically trigger a DRBC review. However, according to spokesman Clarke Rupert, the commission is required to review projects that pass through reservoirs and state parks that lie within its comprehensive plan.

Rupert said DRBC staff may also examine how much water the pipeline developers may need to draw from or discharge into the river.

Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum is among the environmentalists opposing the pipeline. She is concerned about the roughly 60 creeks and streams that are in the project’s proposed path.

“We’re going to want the Delware River Basin Commission to look at the cumulative impacts to all of the waterways that are going to be crossed,” she said.

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Bought by Halliburton, future unclear for Baker Hughes’ fracking disclosure policy

Pennsylvania's former health secretary says he believes the state has failed to address public concerns about fracking, "What are you so afraid that we're going to uncover?" he told the Associated Press.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pa.

The drilling industry awoke Monday morning to the news that two major oil field services firms would become one. Halliburton will buy Baker Hughes for $34.6 billion, a union that EnergyWire reports will “create a powerhouse in the hydraulic fracturing business.”

Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger are the three biggest suppliers of oil and gas development tools and technology, including the chemicals used to frack wells.

That’s why it made headlines last spring when Baker Hughes announced it would adopt a new policy of disclosing “100 percent” of its fracking fluid recipes and phasing out the use of “trade secret” claims. Drillers that are Baker Hughes’ clients have begun posting the information to the website as of Oct. 1.

However, it’s unclear whether Halliburton will follow suit when the merger is final.

Baker Hughes Vice President Iain McIntosh told StateImpact Pennsylvania last June the company’s decision was a reflection of the industry’s maturation.

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Pennsylvania gets no property tax from expanding pipelines

Workers prepare to lay a new Marcellus Shale gas pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Kim Paynter / WHYY/

Workers prepare to lay a new Marcellus Shale gas pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

While Pennsylvania gains no tax revenue from expanding pipelines, that’s not the case across the river in New Jersey. The Allentown Morning-Call reports on how the proposed Penn East pipeline is expected to generate $54,000 for Delaware Township, New Jersey, and $329,000 each year to the local county and school district. But on the Pennsylvania side of the river, the towns, counties and school districts hosting new pipelines get zero tax dollars from the project. That’s because Pennsylvania charges no property tax on oil and gas operations, which includes an exemption for pipelines.

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Tax policy differs from state to state, but in states that tax pipelines as property, they can produce significant revenue.

Some 10,775 miles of pipeline in Iowa generate $50 million to $60 million a year in property tax revenue for local municipalities, counties and school districts, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.

Iowa towns could get an additional $27 million and North Dakota and South Dakota may see $13 million in new property tax revenue from a planned 1,100-mile crude oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, according to a study released last week by Dakota Access LLC, which plans to build the pipeline.

With the severance tax debate, opponents of taxing Marcellus Shale oil and gas operations point to Pennsylvania’s high corporate income tax. Pennsylvania corporations pay 9.9%, while New Jersey is close behind at 9%. Texas, the country’s largest oil and gas producer, charges a severance tax as well as property taxes on oil and gas operations. The Penn East pipeline is just one of several new pipelines proposed to transport Marcellus Shale gas to East Coast markets.

EPA boosts rules for methane reporting by oil and gas producers

Workers at a frack site in Harford Township, Pa. Under new EPA rules, gas drillers will have to step up their measurements and reporting of methane leaks.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Workers at a frack site in Harford Township, Pa. Under new EPA rules, gas drillers will have to step up their measurements and reporting of methane leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency has moved to require oil and gas operators to improve how they measure methane leaks. Climate scientists and environmentalists increasingly worry about the warming aspects of methane. Although carbon dioxide has been the focus in the fight against global warming, methane is actually more potent in the short run. And as drilling for oil and gas continues in places like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, more methane escapes. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told a room full of Wharton students on Friday that fracking operations don’t have to exacerbate global warming.

“And it’s about using some tremendously creative new technologies that actually allow us remotely to look at all this work that is going on across the U.S.,” said McCarthy, “And figure out where those leaks are, where those releases are, and how best to change our operations to get at a significant source of carbon pollution.”

McCarthy spoke at the Wharton Energy Conference at the Union League in Center City Philadelphia, where she urged support for Obama’s climate change action plan. The new rules would allow EPA to gauge how much methane escapes from oil and gas drill sites.

“This is about best management practices, this is about proper construction of a well,” said McCarthy. “I read about that when I was 24. We’ve learned those lessons, we can do this.”  Continue Reading

City Council, PUC debate future of Philadelphia’s gas works

Philadelphia Energy Solutions CEO Phil Rinaldi, PGW CEO Craig White and City Council President Darrell Clarke share a moment before today’s hearings on the future of Philadelphia as an energy hub.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennslylvania

Philadelphia Energy Solutions CEO Phil Rinaldi, PGW CEO Craig White and City Council President Darrell Clarke share a moment before Thursday’s hearing on the future of Philadelphia as an energy hub.

Two days of hearings before Philadelphia City Council on the city’s energy future included talk of public-private partnerships and environmental stewardship. Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Nutter took his case for selling Philadelphia’s natural gas utility to a more sympathetic audience.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions CEO Phil Rinaldi warned the council they could hold the city back from becoming an East Coast energy hub if they don’t act fast on Philadelphia Gas Works.

“There is a famous window of opportunity to make that location Philadelphia, but make no mistake – competition is closing that window,” he said. “The first region that gets in manages to get the gold.”

While several council members say they would consider forming a partnership between the city and a private company, Rinaldi believes that would be a difficult and lengthy process. But he agreed that selling PGW to UIL Holdings Corp. is not the only way to maximize the utility’s potential.

“The development of Philadelphia’s energy future does not depend on whether PGW’s regulated residential gas business becomes privately owned or remains municipally owned,” he said. “The important issue here is how to best get the developable assets of PGW into constructive ownership.”

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Studies show naturally occurring methane in Northeast PA water

A pair of studies released today by the U.S Geological Survey found low-to-moderate concentrations of naturally occurring methane in private water wells in Wayne and Pike Counties– a region of the state without Marcellus Shale drilling.

Those two counties fall under the jurisdiction of the Delaware River Basin Commission, which currently has a moratorium on fracking.

“These baseline studies are very important,” says USGS researcher Ronald Sloto. “People are very concerned about the environmental impact of shale gas drilling. In order to assess the impact of something, you need a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. Then you compare the two and see what the changes are.”

The samples were collected between 2012 and 2013. In Wayne County, Sloto examined 34 private water wells and found 65 percent had some level of detectable methane. Ten percent of the wells had relatively elevated levels of methane. In Pike County, 80 percent of the 20 tested wells had detectable methane, and again, only 10 percent had elevated levels.

The researchers note that the existence of naturally occurring methane does not absolve the gas industry of its role in contaminating some water supplies. Methane can be naturally occurring, but it can also migrate into water supplies through faulty well casings.

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Republicans win big with gas industry donations

A drill rig in Susquehanna County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

A drill rig in Susquehanna County.

The gas industry has spent almost $50 million to lobby state lawmakers, and try to influence elections since 2007. That’s according to a report out Thursday by Common Cause of Pennsylvania. “Marcellus Money” tracks campaign and lobbying dollars that must be reported to Pennsylvania’s Department of State. But Common Cause director Barry Kauffman says the total does not account for donations to the “independent” non-profits, which are not required to disclose donations following recent Supreme Court rulings.

“In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, the gas industry can channel campaign money into other organizations that will hide the industry’s fingerprints,” said Kauffman.

As an example, Kauffman points to donations made by shale executives John Hess, of Hess Corp., and Trevor Rees Jones from Chief Oil and Gas, whose combined contributions total more than $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which subsequently donated more than $5.8 million to Tom Corbett’s failed re-election bid. Governor Corbett has gained the most from industry largess over the years. Natural gas industry interests have given the governor $2,084,241 since 2007. That figure includes industry employees as well as industry political action committees. In contrast, Common Cause calculated industry donations to Governor-elect Tom Wolf as $53,500.

Wolf also received support from billionaire environmentalist Tim Steyer’s Next Gen Climate Action Committee, which spent money nationwide to defeat climate change deniers. Common Cause says the group spent at least $1.1 million on television ads attacking Corbett’s doubts surrounding climate change science. Continue Reading

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