Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Marie Cusick

Reporter

Marie Cusick is StateImpact Pennsylvania's Harrisburg reporter at WITF. Her work regularly takes her throughout the state covering Marcellus Shale natural gas production. Marie first began reporting on the gas boom in 2011 at WMHT (PBS/NPR) in Albany, New York. A native Pennsylvanian, she was born and raised in Lancaster and holds a degree in political science and French from Lebanon Valley College. In 2014 Marie was honored with a national Edward R. Murrow award for her coverage of Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.

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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Pew survey finds declining support for fracking

A drill rig in Tioga County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Fewer Americans now say they support the expanded use of fracking.

A new poll from the Pew Research Center shows public support for fracking has declined since last year.

In a survey conducted last week, 41 percent of respondents said they favor the increased use of fracking, while 47 percent say they are opposed.

Enthusiasm has dwindled since Pew surveyed people in March 2013. Back then, there was more support (48 percent) than opposition (38 percent). In a 2012 survey most Americans said they had heard little or nothing at all about fracking.

There is still a strong partisan and gender divide over the issue. More Republicans (62 percent) favor increased fracking, compared to 29 percent of Democrats. Women are far more likely to oppose it than men are.

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Pipeline conference planned for State College next week

Natural gas gathering lines in Bradford County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Natural gas gathering lines in Bradford County.

A one-day conference next week will focus exclusively on the midstream side of the natural gas business.

The first annual Midstream PA conference is co-hosted by Penn State and Shale Directories. It will be held next Tuesday at the Penn Stater in State College and bring together some of the biggest midstream companies and drillers in the state– including Williams, UGI Energy Services, Cabot Oil & Gas, and Range Resources.

The term “midstream” covers everything from gathering lines, to compressor stations, and interstate pipelines– basically the infrastructure needed to move gas from the well to end users.

You can think of pipelines as “part two” of the drilling boom.

“We have all this gas and liquids,” says Matt Henderson, of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research. “Now the issue is getting it to market. The midstream is the bottleneck.”

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Court permanently bars activist from gas sites

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins says she wants to appeal a court ruling that permanently bars her from Cabot Oil & Gas sites.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins says she wants to appeal a court ruling that permanently bars her from Cabot Oil & Gas sites.

A Susquehanna County judge has ruled that 63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will be permanently barred from setting foot on Cabot Oil & Gas sites.

Scroggins has been a thorn in the company’s side for years. She hosts a lot of citizen gas tours around Susquehanna County where Cabot has most of its operations. The company says she has repeatedly trespassed on its property and poses a safety risk.

“I’d like to appeal it,” Scroggins says of the ruling. “I consider it an unfair decision that is further restricting me– to keep me from exposing Cabot and the gas industry.”

Cabot spokesman George Stark says the company is pleased with the outcome.

“We hope that Ms. Scroggins is now able to respect the judge’s parameters, which have been reestablished unequivocally,” he wrote in an email. “We are hopeful that this finally marks an end to these events.”

The feud made international news earlier this year when Cabot got a sweeping (yet temporary) court injunction against her– effectively barring her from nearly half the county. In March the order was revised to be much less restrictive. It blocked her from Cabot sites and required she maintain a 100 foot buffer zone. However, that revised order was still temporary and the two sides were negotiating a permanent deal about where she can and can’t go.

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Feds subpoena Chesapeake Energy over royalty complaints

Chesapeake Energy's offices in Athens, Bradford County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Chesapeake Energy's offices in Athens, Bradford County.

Chesapeake Energy has been subpoenaed by the federal Department of Justice, seeking information on its royalty payment practices to mineral owners.

The company has been the subject of widespread complaints in Pennsylvania and other areas of the country where it operates. Landowners have accused Chesapeake of violating lease agreements and underpaying royalties.

In a regulatory filing today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company disclosed it has received subpoenas from the DOJ and other states. Chesapeake says it has “engaged in discussions with the DOJ and state representatives” and continues to respond to demands for information.

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Following fracking scandal, state Rep. Jesse White loses House seat

State Rep. Jesse White (D- Allegheny) apologized for using fake online personas to bully shale gas supporters.

State Rep. Jesse White (D- Allegheny) apologized for using fake online personas to bully shale gas supporters.

A Pittsburgh area Democrat and vocal fracking critic lost his state House seat last night. Rep. Jesse White (D- Allegheny) was caught last year in an online bullying scandal by Pittsburgh’s local CBS affiliate.

In May 2013 the TV station reported White had been using pseudonyms to bully online commenters who express support for shale gas development. He later apologized.

White was soundly defeated by Republican challenger Jason Ortitay. The Washington Observer-Reporter covered his loss, which he blamed on negative ads.

“This wasn’t a campaign; it was a character assassination. They dragged my name through the mud and it worked, this time,” White said. “We did everything we could have done. I’m proud of my campaign.”

Ortitay did not dispute the nastiness of the campaign, but said he’s ready to work for his new constituents as he learns the nuances of state government.

“From here on out, it’s about bringing people together,” Ortitay said. “If you have disagreements, I’m here to be reasonable and be fair and to help bridge the gap to bring people together to build a better 46th District.”

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Electric rates to spike in New England, despite nearby Marcellus gas

An icy view of Boston. New England electric rates are projected to spike by 30 to 50 percent this winter.

essygle via Flickr

An icy view of Boston. New England electric rates are projected to spike by 30 to 50 percent this winter.

Residents in New England are looking at skyrocketing electricity prices this winter, largely due to an increased reliance on natural gas and pipeline constraints.

Utilities in the region are projecting rate hikes in the range of 30 to 50 percent, which will make the prices some of the highest in the United States.

From NPR news:

Between the years of 2000 and 2013, New England went from getting 15 percent of its energy from natural gas to 46 percent. That’s dozens of power plants getting built.

But the pipelines to supply those power plants? Not so much.

At the same time, with the fracking boom just a few hundred miles west driving down gas prices, more and more homeowners were switching to natural gas for heating.

So now when it gets cold and everyone turns on their heat, the pipelines connecting New England to the Marcellus Shale are maxed out.

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Three new gas-fired power plants planned for Pennsylvania

The Associated Press reports three new natural gas fired power plants are planned for Pennsylvania.

One of the plants will be located in Bradford County and the other two are planned for Tioga County. Construction could begin as early as next year.

From the AP:

Officials said at a Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission meeting Friday that each plant will cost about $20 million.

IMG Midstream, headquartered in Yardley, said nine sites are currently under development, including sites in Susquehanna and Wyoming County.

Company business development manager Matt Tripoli said most companies make power in large centralized plants and transport it long distances to be turned into electricity.

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Report: Veteran lobbyist tells industry to ‘win ugly or lose pretty’

Billboard

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

One of the billboards along the Pennsylvania Turnpike that's part of the Big Green Radicals public relations campaign.

The New York Times reports a veteran lobbyist instructed the oil and gas industry to fight dirty against environmentalists who oppose expanding drilling operations.

According to the Times, the advice came from Richard Berman, who heads a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm that has solicited up to $3 million from the oil and gas industry for a PR campaign called Big Green Radicals.

The campaign includes billboards along the Pennsylvania Turnpike showcasing photos of celebrities who oppose the fossil fuel industry. One sign depicts anti-fracking activist Yoko Ono and reads, “Would you take energy advice from the woman who broke up the Beatles?”

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Shell plans more public meetings on proposed ethane cracker

Shell

AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Shell is planning two more public meetings about its proposed ethane cracker for western Pennsylvania.

Shell Chemicals is planning a pair of public meetings to discuss its proposed ethane cracker plant for western Pennsylvania.

If built, the multi-billion dollar plant would convert natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale into products used by the plastics industry.

Two identical meetings will be held Thursday, November 13th at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Beaver County. Both will last approximately two hours. The first one will begin at 11am; the second begins at 5:30pm.

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