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.
Officials there cited environmental and health risks. The state’s acting health commissioner, Howard Zucker, said there wasn’t enough research to know for sure if fracking poses a health threat, but he wasn’t comfortable recommending it.
“There are many red flags because scientific issues have not yet been comprehensively studied through rigorous scientific research at this time,” Zucker said.
The state has had a de facto ban on the procedure for more than five years, predating Mr. Cuomo’s first term. The decision also came as oil and gas prices continued to fall in many places around the country, in part because of surging American oil production, as fracking boosted output.
The decision has been fraught for Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat.
In June 2012, he flirted with approving a limited program in several struggling Southern Tier counties along New York’s border with Pennsylvania. But later that year, Mr. Cuomo bowed to entreaties from environmental advocates, announcing instead that his administration would start the regulatory process over by beginning a new study to evaluate the health risks.
“The science isn’t here,” Zucker said. “But the cumulative concerns based on the information I have read … gives me reason to pause.”
New York State’s Republican chairman, Ed Cox, slammed the health review as a “political charade.” Cuomo says he is expecting “a ton of lawsuits” in the wake of the decision.
Industry representatives in Pennsylvania have pointed out that New York’s decision on fracking will have little bearing here — at least in the near future — since most of New York’s share of the Marcellus Shale contains less economically attractive dry gas.
Christopher Robart, a consultant with IHS Energy, says the decision will have little to no impact on business in Pennsylvania.
“Folks in the industry have put a lot of money into parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania and built infrastructure,” he says. “Once that’s in the ground, there’s a certain amount of stickiness in the market.”
A natural gas pipeline cuts through the woods in Lycoming County. More than $10 billion in pipeline projects have been announced for Pennsylvania.
The surge in drilling has meant trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are being pumped out of Pennsylvania every year. And now billions of dollars are flooding into the state for new pipeline projects to move that gas to market.
It’s the next phase of the fracking boom: energy companies are building their own sort of interstate highway system—a network of pipelines.
“A sense of urgency”
Matt Henderson, of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, says more than $10 billion in pipeline projects have already been announced for Pennsylvania.
“Production has outpaced anybody’s wildest expectations,” he says. “The operators were found in a position where, ‘We need to get this out.’ So there’s a sense of urgency.”
Industry representatives say undoubtedly not all of the proposed pipelines will get built. But there’s still a race to get gas to customers.
Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas has been able to ship its gas out of northeastern Pennsylvania on three existing interstate pipelines. Company spokesman Bill DeRosiers says Cabot is partnering with other companies on new projects to ease bottlenecks in the system, like the $700 million Constitution pipeline. It was recently approved by federal regulators to carry Marcellus gas to New York and New England.
Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has announced more members to his transition team.
Governor-elect Tom Wolf has announced more members to his transition team. They will work with the committee heads he named last week and the outgoing Corbett administration to identify issues and challenges at state agencies.
You can read the full list of transition team members here.
Here are the names at the state agencies most involved with gas drilling:
“Sadly, politicians from both sides of the aisle—Democrats and Republicans alike– have used their positions of power to press for opening up these public lands,” says Lina Blount, a field associate with PennEnvironment.
In a telephone conference call with reporters, John Norbeck, Vice President of the environmental group PennFuture, said the lands should be preserved for future generations. He previously served as the director of Parks and Forestry for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
“The industrialization of our parks is simply contrary to that notion,” he said. “Land disturbance including noise, air, and water pollution is not conducive to good public land management.”
A worker at a drilling site in northeastern Pennsylvania.
The United States Department of Labor is cracking down on energy companies operating in the Marcellus Shale, requiring them to pay nearly $4.5 million in back pay to workers.
The enforcement is part of a multiyear initiative conducted by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division in Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh. It involved 5,300 workers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The agency says it found significant violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Most of the problems were related to improper payment of overtime.
The Scranton Times-Tribune reports state environmental regulators are looking at using a site in northeastern Pennsylvania to study how the sand used in hydraulic fracturing affects air quality.
A company called D&I Silica LLC is planning to build a transfer facility for frack sand in Tunkhannock Township, Wyoming County. Sand is an important ingredient in most fracking fluid recipes. It’s mixed with chemicals and water and blasted deep underground where the tiny grains help keep cracks in the shale rock open allowing the natural gas to seep out.
Breathing in silica dust can lead to silicosis, which has long been a hazard for workers in construction and manufacturing. But concerns have shifted in recent years to workers in the oil and gas industry. Local residents are also worried about the risks the transfer facility could pose.
The dotted black circle shows the gas supply area in Susquehanna County. The red line is the path of the Constitution Pipeline.
The Albany Times Union reports the developers of an interstate gas pipeline have sent letters to landowners along the route threatening to use eminent domain.
Last week, federal regulators gave final approval to the Constitution pipeline. The 124 mile, 30-inch line will connect gas in Susquehanna County to existing transmission lines in New York. It will be operated by subsidiaries of Williams Partners, Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas, and WGL Holdings.
A copy of the letter, obtained by the Times Union, tells property owners who have refused to sell rights-of-way for the Constitution Pipeline that they have until Wednesday to accept offered prices before developers take them to court to force such sales for possibly less money.
Sent from the Philadelphia office of the national law firm Saul Ewing, the letter also warned that Constitution Pipeline Co.crews can show up on private property, whether owners agree, starting Thursday to conduct surveys or other tests. The company wants pipeline construction to begin early next year so gas can start flowing by winter 2015 or 2016.