Energy. Environment. Economy.

Marie Cusick


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.

Study finds flawed well casings– not fracking– caused tainted water

Water faucet

Jenn Durfey/ via Flickr

A new study finds water contamination linked to shale gas extraction in Pennsylvania and Texas was caused in some cases by faulty well casings– not hydraulic fracturing.

The study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined 133 water wells with high levels of methane. Researchers found the contamination was either naturally occurring or linked to faulty well construction by gas drillers.

Lead author Thomas Darrah of Ohio State University calls the findings a mix of good and bad news.

The bad news is that drilling activities can contaminate shallow aquifers with methane gas.

“The relatively good news is that the hydraulic fracturing process is not actually releasing the methane,” he says. “Instead, it’s actually problems along the well and well integrity that are allowing the some gas to leak out into the shall aquifer.”

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Gas drillers still ignoring law to include women and minorities

According to a recent survey by the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, 84 percent of workers are white. Men outnumber women three to one.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

According to a recent survey by the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, 84 percent of gas workers are white. Men outnumber women three to one.

In an industry heavily dominated by white men, most gas drilling companies continue to ignore a state law requiring them to make efforts to include minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses in contracting opportunities.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania previously reported, last year marked the first time drillers had to fill out a legally-mandated diversity survey. Most of them didn’t respond.

Dave Spigelmyer, who heads the industry group the Marcellus Shale Coalition, says gas companies are committed to hiring locally.

“We will continue to make collaborative efforts – working with a diverse set of stakeholders – as shale development matures aimed at creating even more opportunities and partnerships with local businesses,” he wrote in an email.

Pennsylvania’s 2012 oil and gas law –known as Act 13– directs drillers to provide “maximum practicable contracting opportunities” to small diverse businesses. It doesn’t set quotas, but it does require gas companies to respond to an annual survey and use the state Department of General Services’ (DGS) database to identify certified small diverse businesses.

The response rate to this latest survey was better. Forty percent of companies replied this time, compared to 27 percent last year. Among those who responded, most said they did not employ any small diverse businesses, nor did they use the DGS database. Many companies reported that they already had their contractors selected.

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Survey: Pennsylvanians like fracking more than New Yorkers

Most Pennsylvanians (54 percent) support the development of shale gas, while only 29 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of it.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Most Pennsylvanians (54 percent) support the development of shale gas, while only 29 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of it.

Pennsylvanians have a much more favorable view of shale gas development compared to their counterparts in New York, according to a new public opinion survey.

The two states have taken vastly different approaches to the boom in Marcellus Shale drilling. The formation lies under large swaths of Pennsylvania and stretches into southern New York. While Pennsylvania welcomed the industry, New York has had a moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing since 2008.

The survey looked at how citizens in each state view the gas boom. It was a joint effort by Muhlenberg College’s Institute of Public Opinion, the University of Michigan, and the University of Montreal. The three schools provided all of the funding. Researchers conducted telephone surveys via land-lines and cell phones in the spring of 2014.

Most Pennsylvanians (54 percent) support the development of shale gas, while only 29 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of it.

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Shell seeks to build docks for barges near proposed petrochemical plant

The Beaver County Times reports Shell Chemicals has filed a permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build two docks and 24 smaller structures to moor barges near the site of its proposed ethane cracker in western Pennsylvania.

From the article:

When asked whether the application signaled a new level of commitment from Shell, [spokesman Michael Marr] responded, “As we have previously communicated, acquisition of the necessary permits is a prerequisite for Shell reaching a stage where a final investment decision could be considered.”

At this point, [Army Corps regulatory specialist Josh Shaffer] said, Army Corps reviewers are “diving into the technical aspects” of the application, which was submitted in February. Shaffer said the Army Corps will review the application’s compliance with provisions under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act.

“Things are moving along pretty efficiently,” Shaffer said of the process, which also involves other regulatory agencies, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Shell first proposed the multi-billion dollar plant in July 2011, but has not fully committed to the project yet. The facility would rely on natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale to create compounds used in the manufacturing of plastics.

At a public meeting last spring, the company said it may spend another one to two years deciding whether to move forward.

State plans to give industry group $150K grant to study effects of gas drilling


Joe Ulrich/WITF

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved a $150,000 grant for "independent research" to an industry-backed nonprofit organization.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved a $150,000 grant earmarked in the state budget for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling” to an industry-backed nonprofit organization.

The funding was approved on a non-competitive basis– other groups were not able to apply for the money.

The Pittsburgh-based Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA) was formed as a partnership between industry and academia. Its board includes two representatives from Pennsylvania universities and five members from the oil and gas industry. SAFER PA’s president, Patrick Findle, heads the Pittsburgh office of the Gas Technology Institute– an Illinois nonprofit that conducts research for gas companies. In 2012 Findle also served as the research committee vice chair of the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Reached by phone, Findle declined to comment and refused to even confirm that SAFER PA was working with DEP. He asked that all questions for this story be emailed to him and did not respond to the email.

The DEP did not respond to repeated requests to comment.

“We frequently see this in the budget– line-items designed so only one entity is able to acquire it.” says Barry Kauffman of the government reform group, Common Cause PA. “Hopefully that’s not the situation here because we need unbiased research. One would hope this group was not selected because it would produce a predetermined outcome.”

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Shell taps Utica shale in northern Pennsylvania

Shell logo

AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Shell says it's demonstrated the Utica's "sweet spot" extends into northern Pennsylvania.

Royal Dutch Shell announced today it has successfully drilled two new discovery gas wells in the Utica shale in Tioga county, signaling  the formation could be bigger than previously thought.

The company has drilling rights to about 430,000 acres in the discovery area and says the wells show the Utica’s “sweet spot” extends into Northern Pennsylvania–  beyond southeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

“This successful discovery is the result of solid technical work in our onshore business” said Shell’s Upstream Americas Director Marvin Odum in a statement. “Last year, we refocused our resources plays strategy to select fewer plays with specific scale and economic characteristics to best suit our portfolio. The Appalachian basin is one of those areas, and these two high-pressure wells both exhibit exceptional reservoir quality.”

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Report: drilling waste records don’t add up


Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Drilling waste at a site in Tioga County.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers have under-reported the amount of waste they send to landfills.

The paper analyzed records of nine landfills in the southwestern part of the state and found they reported three to four times the amount of waste that drillers claimed to have dropped off.

The paper found EQT Corp. reported 21 tons of drill cuttings in 2013, while six landfills in southwestern Pennsylvania reported receiving 95,000 tons.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is looking into the discrepancies.

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State regulators take a closer listen to gas compressor stations

Most of the noise created by natural gas development is temporary. After drilling and fracking, the workers and equipment are gone. A gas well in production is pretty quiet; it’s basically just a bunch of pipes in the ground.

But compressor stations can stay noisy for years– even decades. The facilities are necessary to process and transport gas through pipelines. When it comes to noise regulations, they’re governed by a patchwork of local, state, and federal rules.

This summer the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), which manages public forest land, is trying to get a handle on how these persistently noisy places affect both people and wildlife.

The agency launched a pilot study to analyze the components of compressor station sound. It’s aimed at figuring out which parts of the noise are the most irritating.

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Pennsylvania gas production continues to break records

Pennsylvania is on track to produce enough gas this year to satisfy about 16 percent of annual demand for the United States.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is on track to produce enough gas this year to satisfy about 16 percent of annual demand for the United States.

Drillers in Pennsylvania continue to produce record-breaking amounts of natural gas, according to new numbers released this week from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Companies operating in Pennsylvania produced nearly 2 trillion cubic feet of gas in the first half of 2014.

If they continue at this pace, Pennsylvania is on track to produce 4 trillion cubic feet this year– or about 16 percent of what the entire United States consumes annually.

The state’s main gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, touted the fact that the gas output has lead to job growth and a competitive edge for the manufacturing sector.

“These record-shattering numbers, driven principally by operational efficiencies and a maturing infrastructure network, reflect the fact that Pennsylvania is well-positioned to continue playing a leading role in strengthening our nation’s energy security,” said MSC spokesman Travis Windle.

The production figures keep surpassing expectations, even among people who closely watch the industry.

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Heirs to 19th century lumber baron claim gas rights in Loyalsock State Forest

A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Gas drilling is already occurring there, but there are controversial plans to expand it in an ecologically sensitive area known as the Clarence Moore lands.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Gas drilling is already occurring there, but there are controversial plans to expand development into an ecologically sensitive area known as the Clarence Moore tract.

A group representing the descendants of a 19th century lumber baron is claiming most of the mineral rights in an area of the Loyalsock State Forest where there are controversial plans to expand natural gas drilling– it’s a direct challenge to two gas companies who say they own the rights and have already submitted development plans to the state.

Shortly after the Philadelphia Inquirer published an October 2012 story about environmental groups fighting the gas companies’ plans, a Boston-based group called the Thomas E. Proctor Heirs Trust sent a letter to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

“As you may know, the article contains inaccurate information regarding the ownership of the natural gas rights,” wrote trustee Charles Kendall. “These rights were originally reserved in a deed dated October 2, 1894 from Mr. Proctor… Proctor’s heirs have been managing and leasing the property ever since. Any attempts by others to develop the Proctor gas rights under Loyalsock  Forest… will result in appropriate legal action.”

At issue is a 25,000 acre swath of the forest known as the Clarence Moore lands– a treasured area for wildlife and recreation. Two gas companies– Anadarko Petroleum and Southwestern Energy– say they own the mineral rights and are currently working with DCNR on development plans.

DCNR has said the Clarence Moore tract presents a unique case because of the intense public interest and the fact that the state does not own the mineral rights.

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