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.
The groups managing the national fracking chemical disclosure website, FracFocus, say they are planning improvements to make information more transparent.
EnergyWire reports the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission are responding to criticism from environmental groups and open government groups. Pennsylvania is one of 14 states that requires gas drillers to use the website as part of its chemical disclosure laws.
As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the way the data is reported makes it difficult for researchers to analyze.
The report finds the annual effective tax rate on drillers has dropped from 5.3 percent in 2011 to 2.1 percent in 2014.
Even though revenue from Pennsylvania’s gas impact fee has generally ticked upward over the years, the annual effective tax rate on Marcellus Shale drillers has steadily gone down– that’s according to a new analysis released by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office.
The IFO is modeled on the U.S. Congressional Budget Office and provides nonpartisan analysis for budgetary purposes. In a brief released Thursday, the IFO found the effective tax rate on natural gas drillers has declined steadily over the past four years– from 5.3 percent in 2011 to 2.1 percent in 2014.
“Over time the effective tax rate of the impact fee has declined,” says IFO director Matthew Knittel. “That is mainly due to the large increase in the production of natural gas.”
The IFO brief comes in the wake of new data from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which shows Marcellus Shale drillers recently broke another production record– approaching nearly 4 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2014.
Under the state’s 2012 oil and gas law, known as Act 13, gas companies have to pay a flat impact fee for each well they drill. The fees have brought in an average of $210 million per year. The IFO estimates the fees will generate about $220 million this year.
Cabot has waged an aggressive legal battle against an anti-fracking activist who brings visitors to its sites and points out environmental violations. The company says Vera Scroggins frequently trespasses and poses a safety risk.
A Susquehanna County judge has found anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins in contempt of court for getting too close to a Cabot Oil & Gas site last month. She now faces a fine and possible jail time.
This latest ruling was a win for Cabot in its protracted legal battle against the self-described “gas tour guide.” She frequently brings visitors to Cabot sites and points out its environmental violations. The company says she has repeatedly trespassed on its property and poses a safety risk.
Cabot spokesman George Stark says the company is pleased with the contempt ruling.
Contempt of court
The case drew international attention after Cabot got a sweeping court injunction against her in 2013– which effectively barred her from half the county. Last March, the injunction was modified to be much less restrictive. But she still has to stay 100 feet from Cabot wellpads and access roads.
“After repeatedly telling this individual that her actions were illegal and dangerous, Cabot was forced to seek an injunction to prevent harm to her or others,” Stark wrote in an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania.
Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania
Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins was found to be in contempt of court for getting too close to a Cabot site.
At an October 2014 hearing, Scroggins was found to have come too close to an access road, but she was not punished, since there was some confusion about whether the road was a family’s driveway.
This time, she will likely face a fine of $300 to $1,000. She says she’s innocent and won’t pay– which could mean jail time.
At a hearing in Montrose Wednesday, Cabot contractor Jordan Huffman testified that on January 16th he saw Scroggins and three other people parked on the access road to the Gesford 2 wellpad in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County.
Testimony from two of her friends contradicted that– they said her car was parked on a private driveway nearby, and she never approached the access road. Huffman showed the courtroom a photo he’d taken of Scroggins on the private driveway.
He had not taken a photo of her Cabot’s access road. He said she moved her car after he initially spotted her. She says he was lying.
“I’m shocked and disturbed an individual would fabricate a story to get me held in contempt,” she said.
More than 50 landowners have filed a federal lawsuit against Chesapeake Energy, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It’s the latest in a slew of lawsuits directed at the Oklahoma City-based driller, alleging it fraudulently withholds gas royalty money.
From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Chesapeake, which has more than 700 producing shale wells in the state, declined to comment. The other defendants, which include Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum — the ninth-biggest shale gas producer in the state — and Tulsa-based pipeline company Williams Partners, which last year acquired Access Midstream, did not return a call for comment.
Similar accusations have prompted federal and state investigations, Chesapeake has acknowledged, and led to several other lawsuits. The company agreed to pay $11 million to settle a class-action claim filed by thousands of leaseholders over deductions that state lawmakers are seeking to limit.
Activist Vera Scroggins speaks with reporters after an October 2014 court hearing in Montrose.
Houston, Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas is headed back to court again next week in an ongoing legal battle with an anti-fracking activist.
The year-and-a-half long feud between Cabot and 64-year-old Vera Scroggins appeared to be over last fall, when Susquehanna County judge Kenneth Seamans ruled she would be permanently barred from Cabot sites and must observe buffer zones ranging from 25 to 100 feet.
But Cabot is continuing to challenge her movements and wants her to be punished for allegedly coming too close to a wellpad access road last month. The two sides will meet again in a Susquehanna County courtroom on February 25th.
DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowtiz says the necessary pump stations for the pipeline will create low-level air emissions.
The state Department of Environmental Protection held a public hearing Tuesday night in Lebanon to discuss infrastructure related to a interstate natural gas liquids pipeline.
Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics is re-purposing an existing line to ship natural gas liquids, such as propane and ethane, from western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook refinery in Philadelphia.
The so-called Mariner East 1 pipeline is already partially operational, and Sunoco is seeking DEP permits to operate necessary pump stations to help move the liquids.
At Tuesday’s hearing the DEP took public comments on a pending operating permit for one of the pump stations, in Cornwall Township, Lebanon County. It’s one of 16 such facilities needed along the route. The DEP estimates the air emissions from the pump station– including emissions from equipment leaks and operation of an enclosed flare– will be 0.25 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, 0.01 tons per year of nitrogen oxide and 0.2 tons per year of carbon monoxide.
“Those are low-level,” says department spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz. ”Nonetheless, we still have to know their emissions and make sure they adhere to the limits.”
The pump stations and the pipeline have sparked controversy in some communities. Kasianowitz said the department received nearly 400 requests to hold the Lebanon hearing.
Drilling companies in Pennsylvania have broken yet another record, as shale gas production jumped 30 percent last year, according to new data released by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Marcellus Shale drillers produced more than 2 trillion cubic feet of gas in the second half of 2014. Throughout all of last year, they produced 3.7 trillion cubic feet– or about 16 percent of what the entire United States consumes on an annual basis.
“Economic growth from natural gas production has translated into increased disposable income for families and more profitable businesses,” said Frank Macchiarola, of the industry trade group, America’s Natural Gas Alliance. “Pennsylvania also is supplying the rest of the country with abundant natural gas helping to power America.”
Once again, the Susquehanna County operations of Cabot Oil and Gas are the most productive wells in the state. On a county-level basis, Bradford produces the most gas, followed by Washington, Susquehanna, Lycoming, and Greene counties.
Houston, Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas has offered to pay a $50,000 settlement to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission for violating its consumptive water use regulations late last year.
Every gas well pad needs commission approval before drilling operations can commence. Cabot submitted an application to the SRBC in November 2014 for its Stellitano AP1 pad in Gibson Township, Susquehanna County. However, the commission noticed the company began some pre-drilling work on December 5th, before it had received permission.
“They got a little eager and started drilling pilot holes before they got approval,” says SRBC compliance director, Eric Roof. “It’s a very rare occurrence. In general, Cabot and most of the gas industry is very compliant. This was unintentional as far as we determined.”
The SRBC sent a cease-and-desist order to Cabot, but later approved the application and lifted the order. A Cabot spokesman could not be reached for comment Friday.
A Sunoco Logistics employee discusses the Mariner East 2 pipeline with residents in Lebanon.
Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics hosted a public forum in Lebanon Thursday night to discuss a proposed $2.5 billion pipeline that would carry natural gas liquids from Ohio to the Marcus Hook industrial complex in Philadelphia.
The 350-mile Mariner East 2 is a new pipeline that would traverse southern Pennsylvania. It would run parallel to its predecessor, the Mariner East 1– an existing line which Sunoco recently retrofitted.
Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields says the entire project is designed to make use of the abundant natural gas liquids– ethane, propane, and butane– found in the so-called “wet gas” regions of the Marcellus Shale, including parts of Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.