Pennsylvania

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Environmental group accuses AG’s office of inaction in Health Department probe

A natural gas rig in the Tioga State Forest. Some residents who live near rigs like this say state authorities are not listening to their health concerns.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

A natural gas rig in the Tioga State Forest. Some residents who live near rigs like this say state authorities are not listening to their health concerns.

An environmental advocacy group is accusing the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office of failing to conduct a promised investigation into allegations that the state’s Department of Health neglected complaints from people who said their health had been damaged by fracking.

Food & Water Watch said the AG’s office agreed about a year ago to look into the complaints against the health department but said that had not happened, beyond what it called “a few cursory interviews.”

The Washington, D.C.-based group responded to its concerns over the agency’s alleged inaction by filing a right-to-know request with the AG’s office on Wednesday, seeking all its documents related to fracking-related public health concerns.

“The people of Pennsylvania and the people who have been impacted deserve to know who they can go to and who can look out for them,” said Sam Bernhardt, senior Pennsylvania organizer for Food & Water Watch.

Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said it did investigate the allegations against the Department of Health during the second half of 2014 following a series of reports from StateImpact Pennsylvania.

However, Ardo said Health Department staff “were not cooperative in providing information” at that time.

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Water quality not impacted by drilling, according to new report

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Scott LaMar/ WITF

With continuous monitoring between 2010 and 2013, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission did not find any changes in water quality.

A new report shows no correlation between shale gas development and watershed impairment in the Marcellus region between 2010 and 2013.

This is the third such analysis from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. The multi-state compact is made up of representatives from Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and the U.S. governments. It oversees the water withdrawals gas companies need in order to do hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The commission also coordinates state and federal-level environmental efforts within the river’s 27,500-mile watershed. Nearly 85 percent of the Susquehanna River Basin sits atop shale gas wells.

“We see this as the beginning of keeping an eye on things,” says Tyler Shenk, a supervisor for restoration and protection with the SRBC. “As we gather more data, we’ll know more. But there are no giant red flags at this point.”

Shenk says this analysis will serve as the commission’s baseline reference, despite the fact the monitoring began about two years after the Marcellus Shale boom took off in 2008.

Pre-drilling data would be an ideal baseline, but we didn’t have the network set up yet,” he says.

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Sunoco seeks to calm fears of Mariner East pipeline project in Chester County

A pipeline construction site in Northeast Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A pipeline construction site in northeast Pennsylvania.

Sunoco Logistics took its pipeline-promotion show on the road to Chester County on Monday, seeking to calm residents’ concerns surrounding the construction of a of a major new natural gas liquids pipeline from the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania to a processing plant at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia.

Company officials sought to offset fears over flaring, pumping stations and land contracts in two presentations and an accompanying “open house” at West Chester University where residents were invited to hear about the company’s plans and ask questions, during an evening-long program.

Plans to develop the existing Mariner East 1 pipeline, and to build the planned Mariner East 2 line along the same route were presented to about 50 people by two company officials. Continue Reading

Budget bill would block new rules for conventional drillers

Dead vegetation around a conventional well indicating a possible brine spill.

Courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Dead vegetation around a conventional well site in Warren County indicates a possible brine spill. Conventional drillers say they should not be lumped in with regulations directed at the newer, bigger Marcellus Shale wells.

Environmentalists are raising alarms over language slipped into a budget bill that would prevent the state Department of Environmental Protection from establishing its new draft rules on conventional oil and gas drillers.

“It’s very sneaky. It’s a dangerous pathway to go down,” says Matt Stepp, policy director for the environmental group PennFuture. “This would actually stop the regulatory process from occurring.”

The language was added over the weekend to the fiscal code– a companion piece of legislation necessary to implement the state budget. Lawmakers made a similar move last year, when they inserted language into the fiscal code requiring separate regulations for conventional and unconventional drillers.

Ever since Pennsylvania’s fracking boom began, smaller conventional drillers have complained they get unfairly lumped in with the deeper, unconventional Marcellus Shale wells. Arthur Stewart is secretary for the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Coalition, which has lobbied for separate regulations.

“Our footprint is 35 to 45 times smaller than an unconventional well,” he says. “Would there have been any changes to conventional regulations had it not been for the advent of this enormous Marcellus development? That’s why we’re so frustrated.”

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin says DEP regulators have failed to account for the differences between the two industries, which he compared to cars and trucks.

“You have your tractor trailers and your family sedan. They’re both vehicles, but they’re clearly different,” says Miskin. ”[DEP] basically cut and paste the unconventional rules and put them into the conventional rules.”

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Sunoco to host public forums on Mariner East 2 pipeline in southeast Pa.

Sunoco Logistics' Mariner East 2 project involves constructing two new pipelines from Ohio to southeast Pa.

Courtesy: Sunoco Logistics

Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 project involves constructing two new pipelines parallel to their predecessor, Mariner East 1. The pipelines will carry natural gas liquids such as propane and ethane.

Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics will host two public forums in southeast Pennsylvania this week to discuss its proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline project.

The 350-mile, $2.5 billion pipeline will run parallel to its predecessor, Mariner East 1 and carry natural gas liquids such as ethane and propane from Ohio to the Marcus Hook industrial complex in Delaware County, Pa. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier this month, Sunoco Logistics is also planning to build a second pipeline as part of the Mariner East 2 project.

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Clean Air Council challenges state panel to adopt new building codes

Pennsylvania's air quality has been hurt by the state's failure to adopt new building codes, a lawsuit says

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pennsylvania's air quality has been hurt by the state's failure to adopt new building codes, a lawsuit says

Environmentalists are suing Pennsylvania in an effort to force the adoption of updated building codes that would result in significant energy savings and help the state meet new federal standards on CO2 emissions.

The suit by the Clean Air Council against the Department of Labor and Industry says a department-administered panel that reviews national building codes violated state law by summarily rejecting 2015 standards from the International Code Council, whose codes are used throughout the U.S.

The plaintiffs are asking the Commonwealth Court to direct the panel, the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (RAC), to adopt the new codes, reversing its rejection of nearly all of them on May 20. Continue Reading

Fracking health complaints received little follow-up from the Department of Health

Jeanie Moten with her sister on their mother's porch in Rea, Pa. She holds a stack of medical records. The Motens say they received no help from DOH regarding their fracking health complaints. A case file released by the DOH through a Right-To-Know request confirmed that.

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Jeanie Moten with her sister on their mother's porch in Rea, Pa. She holds a stack of medical records. The Motens say they received no help from DOH regarding their fracking health complaints. A case file released by the DOH through a Right-To-Know request confirmed that.

Newly released documents from the Pennsylvania Department of Health on fracking-related health complaints reveal a lack of follow-through and inaccurate record-keeping. The telephone logs, which span four years from 2011 to 2015, were gained through a Right-to-Know request by the environmental group Food and Water Watch.

The documents include about 87 separate complaints from residents and workers who feared exposure to fracking chemicals and were looking for advice from the Department of Health. But notes taken by agency workers show little information is collected from patients.  And at least in one case, important details were inaccurate. In some cases, doctors were looking for help.

The bulk of the complaints came from northeast and southwest Pennsylvania. They often included similar complaints of skin rashes, respiratory problems and nose bleeds.

The names of the patients, physicians and their addresses are blacked out. But Fayette county resident Linda Headley confirms that case number 59 is a complaint she made last August. Although Headley doesn’t own the mineral rights to a property she bought in 2005, she says she has five gas wells on her property, including one Marcellus Shale gas well. She says one of those wells is “problematic” and gas company workers regularly release toxic fumes from what she says is a condensate tank. She says a white misty cloud gets released, some of it gaseous and some of it liquid.

Headley says last July she went out to pick berries with her 6-year-old son. She noticed a gas worker on site.

“We were walking down the driveway and the well-tender kind of looked behind us and he just pushed the button and [waste from the condensate tank went] all over us,” she said. “You could feel the brine all over us and you could taste it. It has a salty bitter taste.”

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GOP preps a no-tax budget, daring Wolf to veto

A natural gas rig in the Tioga State Forest. Critics of a zoning change in Middlesex Township fear more rigs like this will be built in previously residential areas.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Republicans legislative leaders say Gov. Wolf's gas tax proposal is dead.

The centerpiece of Governor Tom Wolf’s state budget died its umpteenth death around a negotiating table this week.

Republican legislative leaders emerged from closed-door negotiations with the Democratic Wolf administration to announce that the governor’s proposed severance tax on natural gas drillers is a non-negotiable no-go.

“Our counter-proposal was nothing,” said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati. “Yeah, nothing.”

Wolf adviser John Hanger said the administration offered major concessions on a Marcellus Shale tax: there would be no minimum price on gas, and drillers wouldn’t have someone looking over their shoulder to double-check how much they make off the gas. The governor’s team also offered to guarantee that the state’s existing impact fee levied on drillers would remain, addressing a concern of communities that receive funding from the fee to address the effects of gas extraction and the industry that has sprung up around it.

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House lawmakers revive controversial gas royalties bill

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Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Rep. Garth Everett blames leaders of his own party for blocking his attempt to ensure landowners are paid properly from gas drilling, "It's being held up in strategic places, by strategic people-- the leadership of the Republican caucus," he says.

State Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) is giving it another try.

Last year, his bill aimed at ensuring Pennsylvania landowners are fairly paid royalties from fracking died an unceremonious death in Harrisburg. Although the measure was approved by a House committee, it never came to the floor for a vote, where Everett believes it has the votes to succeed.

“It’s being held up in strategic places by strategic people– the leadership in the Republican caucus,” he says. “We just need to convince them. There are so many of us in favor of the bill, they’re obligated to allow us to take it to the floor.”

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Industry, education advocates face off over gas tax

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Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Iraq war veteran Tony Caldarelli began arguing with education advocates who interrupted him at a pro-gas rally in Harrisburg Tuesday.

Dueling rallies between the natural gas industry and public education advocates sparked some heated exchanges at the state Capitol Tuesday. Education advocates disrupted a pro-gas rally and drowned out speakers by shouting, “Tax the shale!”

Iraq war veteran Tony Caldarelli fired back, saying that the United States has sought more energy security since the 1970s.

“Are you afraid of my message? You can’t listen to me?” he asked them.

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