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.

In a power shift, natural gas closes in on ‘king coal’

In Pennsylvania when you flip on a light switch, odds are you’re burning coal. But as the fracking boom continues to unlock huge quantities of natural gas, the electric grid is changing. Power plants are increasingly turning to this lower-cost, cleaner-burning fossil fuel.

The shift is being driven by both market forces and new regulations.

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Public health advocates push for Marcellus Shale registry

cabot_drill_site13

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

More than seven years into the drilling boom, health advocates continue to push the state to track drilling-related complaints.

Public health advocates continue to urge the state to do a better job of tracking health complaints related to natural gas development. The state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Protection are discussing ways to work together to better monitor Marcellus Shale related health issues. But so far, there’s no money for those efforts.

Governor Wolf has proposed $100,000 to the health department in his budget plan, but it’s not guaranteed to make it through the legislature. Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley says he takes the issue seriously.

“If that doesn’t pass, we’ll have to look for Plan B. This is an issue that’s not going away,” he says. “There are questions. They need to be dealt with in a transparent way.”

Health advocates say $100,000 is not enough money to fund a health registry, but they’re encouraged the state is taking steps to investigate complaints.

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Wolf urges railroads to adopt oil train safety measures

This Feb. 17, 2015 file photo shows a crew member walking near the scene of a train derailment near Mount Carbon, W.Va.

Chris Tilley / AP Photo

This Feb. 17, 2015 file photo shows a crew member walking near the scene of a train derailment near Mount Carbon, West Virginia.

Governor Wolf is urging rail companies shipping crude oil through Pennsylvania to adopt voluntary safety measures to help prevent the risk of accidents.

It’s estimated that 60-70 trains carrying oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale travel through Pennsylvania each week to East Coast refineries like Philadelphia Energy Solutions. The state has seen four oil train derailments since January 2014, but none have led to the explosions or loss of life seen elsewhere.

On Tuesday, Wolf sent a letter to Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation, urging the companies to adopt the measures, which include slower speeds in highly populated areas. The governor has also hired University of Delaware professor and rail safety expert Dr. Allan Zarembski for a three-month stint to evaluate risks and provide policy recommendations.

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Wolf nominates EQT executive to Public Utility Commission

Governor Wolf has nominated EQT executive Andrew Place to the state Public Utility Commission.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Governor Wolf has nominated EQT executive Andrew Place to the state Public Utility Commission.

Governor Wolf has chosen EQT executive Andrew Place to serve as a commissioner on the state Public Utility Commission.

Place is currently the corporate director for energy and environmental policy at EQT, where he focuses on Marcellus Shale natural gas development. Before joining the gas company in 2011, he worked on environmental issues for Carnegie Mellon University and the state Department of Environmental Protection. He replaces PUC commissioner James Cawley, whose term expired in March.

“Andrew Place brings the knowledge and expertise to help advance my vision for the PUC,” Wolf said in a statement. “We must ensure there is a balance between consumers and utilities. We also have to develop Pennsylvania’s abundance of energy resources to make sure we have the infrastructure to support the natural gas and other energy industries.”

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Fracktivist faces 6 felony charges for recording lawyer

Vera

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Vera Scroggins has been in a high-profile legal battle with a gas driller and now faces felony charges for an unrelated incident.

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins has been charged with six felonies for violating Pennsylvania’s wiretapping laws by recording a Montrose lawyer and his secretary without their permission.

The charges stem from a 2013 incident in which Scroggins was denied an application to have her anti-fracking group participate in the town’s Fourth of July parade.

According to a criminal complaint filed this week, Scroggins and fellow activist Craig Stevens went to the office of the parade chair, attorney Laurence Kelly, in June 2013 seeking an application to participate. Kelly and his secretary said they were unaware they were being recorded until the end of the conversation.

“I have a 3 minute, 20 second video talking to him,” says Scroggins. “He refused to let us in the parade and said we’re too controversial because we’re anti-fracking. He said, ‘You’re recording this without my permission. It’s against the law.’”

Kelly did not respond to requests to comment. Scroggins says her video camera was visible during the entire exchange.

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New LNG plant planned for Northeast Pennsylvania

UGI Energy Services has announced plans to build a new $60 million liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Meshoppen, Wyoming County. It will help meet peak demand for gas during cold days, and service emerging markets for LNG, like truck fleets, drill rigs, and industrial sites.

The plant will take locally produced natural gas– in its gaseous form– and cool it down to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, converting it into a liquid that can be stored and used as a transportation fuel.

“This is really more geared towards those growing markets,” says UGI spokesman Matt Dutzman. “That’s the reason why we’re building it. You’ll see heavy-duty trucks convert from diesel to natural gas. We currently serve UPS in Harrisburg and Mechanicsburg.”

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As gas boom cuts into forests, scientists study how to put it back together

 

In the seven years since Marcellus Shale gas companies began working in Pennsylvania’s state forests, none of the nearly 1,700 affected acres has been fully restored and put back the way it was before drilling began.

Now state foresters and Penn State scientists are trying to plan for the future and help gas companies figure out the best ways to clean up after themselves.

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Industry warns of negative impacts from Wolf’s gas tax

Gov. Wolf made taxing the natural gas industry a central campaign pledge and a key part of his budget proposal.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Wolf made taxing the natural gas industry a central campaign pledge and a key part of his budget proposal.

Governor Wolf’s proposed severance tax on natural gas drilling will cost Pennsylvania thousands of jobs and billions of dollars, according to a report released Thursday by the American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas trade group.

API projects the governor’s tax will result in 1,364 fewer wells over the next decade, resulting in a cumulative drilling investment loss of $11.5 billion to the state.

“When Pennsylvanians see what this tax could do to a vibrant industry, they’ll have to think twice about it,” says Stephanie Catarino Wissman, head of API’s Pennsylvania division in Harrisburg.

Wolf’s tax proposal is part of his broader budget package. It calls for a five percent tax on the value of the gas, plus 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet. It would also set a minimum value of $2.97 per thousand cubic feet, regardless of its actual sale price.

“He is setting an artificial price,” says Wissman. “What I equate that to, is someone earning $40,000 a year having to pay the same in income taxes as someone earning $100,000 per year.”

Wolf expects his tax to raise $1 billion in the first year and says he wants to spend much of the money to increase funding to public education.

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Fracking activist permanently barred from Cabot gas sites

Fracking activist Vera Scroggins speaks with a reporter outside the courthouse in Montrose after her most recent hearing in April.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Fracking activist Vera Scroggins speaks with a reporter outside the courthouse in Montrose after her most recent hearing in April.

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will be permanently barred from sites operated by Cabot Oil and Gas, according to a recent court order.

Scroggins is already facing a $1,000 fine and possible jail time for getting too close to a Cabot site in January. Since 2013, she has been subject to a temporary injunction, requiring her to stay away from the company’s gas sites. This new court order means the restrictions will be permanent. It requires her to stay off Cabot sites and adhere to 25 to 100 foot buffer zones. She intends to challenge the order.

“They have invaded our county,” Scroggins says of Cabot. “Why should I let them tell me where to park, where to walk, and where to stand?”

Scroggins initially agreed to the restrictions last fall, but she later changed her mind and refused to sign the final document. She objects to the fact that the buffer zones extend out onto public roads and other people’s private property.

Cabot successfully argued her signature on the deal didn’t matter. The judge sided with the company and found that she had authorized her attorneys to agree to it on her behalf.

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Fish with cancerous tumor worries state official

A smallmouth bass was found in the Susquehanna River with a rare, cancerous tumor last fall.

Courtesy Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission

A smallmouth bass was found in the Susquehanna River with a rare, cancerous tumor last fall.

A smallmouth bass caught in the Susquehanna River last fall was found to have a rare, cancerous tumor, and it has the head of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission worried.

John Arway tells WITF this should be a wake-up call to researchers studying the health of the river.

He has publicly clashed with the state Department of Environmental Protection over whether or not to list the main stem of the Susquehanna as officially impaired.

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