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.

Corbett’s top energy adviser hired by gas industry

Patrick Henderson was Governor Corbett's Energy Executive.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Patrick Henderson served as Governor Corbett's Energy Executive. He will now be Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Less than a week after Governor Corbett left office, his top energy adviser has accepted a new job with Pennsylvania’s largest gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Patrick Henderson, who made $145,000 a year as Corbett’s Energy Executive, will now become the MSC’s Director of Regulatory Affairs.

“These are truly exciting times within the energy industry,” Henderson wrote in an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania. “I very much look forward to partnering with the coalition and its members to advance what is a shared commitment to developing our energy resources in a safe and responsible way.”

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Chesapeake Energy to pay $119 million in Oklahoma royalty case

A Chesapeake Energy rig in Oklahoma.

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, file

A Chesapeake Energy rig in Oklahoma.

Chesapeake Energy will pay $119 million to royalty owners in Oklahoma under a preliminary settlement that will go before a judge in April, according to The Oklahoman.

The deal would resolve royalty disputes dating back more than a decade. Landowners accused Chesapeake Operating LLC of improperly withholding royalty money and charging them for the costs of processing and transporting gas. The class action suit affects more than 11,800 wells in Oklahoma.

From NewsOK:

“We are pleased to reach this fair and reasonable agreement and look forward to further strengthening our relationships with our Oklahoma royalty owners,” said Chesapeake spokesman Gordon Pennoyer.

The case started in 2010 when Kansas resident John Fitzgerald sued Chesapeake, claiming the company underpaid oil and natural gas royalties owed to him from its Oklahoma wells.

Fitzgerald sought class-action status, which was granted by a Beaver County district judge in February 2013.

Chesapeake opposed the class-action status and appealed to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. The court reversed the class-action status in February and sent the case back to district court.

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Anti-drilling group settles surveillance litigation with state

"We believe that collecting and disseminating information about groups engaged in lawful activities ... can and does have a chilling effect upon freedom of speech," says Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition vice president Diane Dreier

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

"We believe that collecting and disseminating information about groups engaged in lawful activities can and does have a chilling effect upon freedom of speech," says Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition vice president Diane Dreier.

An anti-gas drilling group from northeastern Pennsylvania has reached a settlement agreement with state law enforcement officials, after it accused them of conducting unconstitutional surveillance on its members.

The litigation stems from 2011 when the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency’s Office of Homeland Security issued intelligence bulletins labeling the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC) as a potential terrorist threat. The agency had contracted with an Israeli-American security firm– the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response– to compile the bulletins.

Then-governor Rendell publicly apologized and cancelled the firm’s state contract.

GDAC vice president, Diane Drier, says the group has always behaved in a lawful and peaceful manner. She describes its mission as educating the public about “the negative consequences of natural gas extraction.”

“This conduct by the Pennsylvania state government was tantamount to trampling on our constitutional rights.” she told reporters at a press conference Thursday in Harrisburg. “Disseminating information about groups engaged in lawful activities can and does have a chilling effect upon freedom of speech.”

While the terms of the settlement agreement are confidential, former PEMA director Glenn Cannon sent a letter to GDAC last month clearing the group of any wrongdoing.

“This agency has no information or reason to believe that GDAC at any time in the past or currently could be fairly characterized a ‘terrorist organization,’” he wrote.

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State senate panel approves oil and gas royalty bills

Oil and gas lease

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A state senate committee has approved two bills that would offer more protections for landowners receiving royalty money from oil and gas companies.

A state senate committee has approved a pair of bills that would provide more protections for people who receive royalty money from oil and gas drilling.

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee unanimously approved SB 147 and SB 148 at a meeting Wednesday. SB 147 would require drillers to disclose more information on royalty check stubs. It would also grant landowners the right to inspect companies’ records to ensure proper payment.

SB 148 would bar oil and gas companies from retaliating against people who raise questions about their royalty payments.

Jackie Root heads the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO-PA), which advocates on behalf of people who have leased their land for drilling. She thinks both bills are helpful.

“Senate Bill 147 covers some important issues for us and lays out some requirements for reporting,” she says. “Especially the right to audit. If you don’t have that in your lease, it’s pretty clear companies won’t grant you the right to audit.”

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8 fracking protesters arrested at Wolf inauguration

An anti-fracking protester was led away by police after he shouted at Governor Wolf during his inauguration speech.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

An anti-fracking protester was led away by police after he shouted at Governor Wolf during his inauguration speech.

Anti-fracking protesters followed through on their promise to disrupt Governor Tom Wolf’s inauguration ceremony Tuesday. Eight people were arrested after they interrupted Wolf’s speech by shouting and whistling from the audience–  urging him to ban fracking.

Six of the people arrested were Pennsylvania citizens. One was from Ohio and another person was from New Jersey. All were charged with disorderly conduct by the Capitol Police. Several hundred more protesters were kept about 100 yards away from the ceremony and loudly chanted “Ban fracking now!” throughout the program.

Wolf addressed the activists directly in his speech, saying that Pennsylvania is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, including gas.

“To the protesters here today, I say: help me develop these opportunities in a way that is clean, safe and sustainable.”

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Feds delay final rules for oil tank cars

A DOT-111 rail tanker travels through Council Bluffs, Iowa. The expanded use of these older freight-rail cars by the oil industry has prompted calls for safety upgrades. Philadelphia is one of busiest crude-by-rail shipment areas in the U.S.

AP Photo/Nati Harnik

A DOT-111 rail tanker travels through Iowa. The expanded use of these older rail cars by the oil industry has prompted calls for safety upgrades. Philadelphia has become one of busiest crude-by-rail shipment areas in the U.S.

Federal regulators with the U.S. Department of Transportation are delaying the release of final regulations for older freight-rail tank cars transporting ethanol and crude oil.

The rules will be released May 12 instead of March 31st as originally planned, according to Gannett.

From the Politics on the Hudson blog:

It comes after many railroad industry groups warned in public comments that the proposed phase-out of DOT-111 tankers carrying Class 1 flammable materials by October 2017 and a phase-out of those carrying Class 2 liquids by October 2018 will lead to shortages of tank cars.

In a joint filing, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) contend the tank car industry doesn’t have the capacity to retrofit the estimated 143,000 tank cars that would need to be modernized to meet the new specifications. Nor can manufacturers build new tank cars fast enough, they say.

About 70 percent of crude oil shipped to refineries from the Bakken Shale Formation in North Dakota and Montana — and 70 percent of ethanol shipped to refineries — is transported by rail, according to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade group representing 120 U.S. refineries.

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Range Resources cuts spending, opens Mariner East pipeline

Pennsylvania’s most prolific gas drilling company announced Thursday it’s planning to trim capital spending by nearly half-a-billion dollars in 2015, citing softening energy markets.

Nearly 95 percent of the company’s capital budget is targeted for the Marcellus Shale.

From the Pittsburgh Business Times:

Its 2015 capital plan will be reduced from the $1.3 billion announced in December to about $870 million because of what Range Resources said was “continuing erosion in commodity prices.” Its previous capital-spending plan was already about 18 percent less than 2014, according to a December story in the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Range expects to have 20 percent annual growth in production for the year, down slightly from the 24 percent growth it had in 2014.

The company also announced it has partially opened the Mariner East pipeline, which will carry natural gas liquids like ethane and propane from western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook industrial complex in Philadelphia. The pipeline is not fully operational yet.

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Wolf defends cabinet picks: ‘I want the industry to succeed’

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf says he wants his administration to be a partner with Pennsylvania's gas industry.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf is praising his nominees for the state’s top environmental posts, and says he wants his administration to be a partner with gas drillers. But some members of the industry are worried about his choices.

Wolf chose John Quigley to head the state Department of Environmental Protection and Cindy Dunn to lead the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Quigley ran DCNR during the Rendell administration and backed a moratorium on new gas leasing of public land. Dunn is CEO of the environmental advocacy group, PennFuture, which has been critical of how the state has handled the Marcellus Shale boom.

“I want the industry to succeed,” Wolf told reporters at a press conference today. “[Quigley and Dunn] share with me the understanding that we have to be a partner with the gas industry in making this work.”

But some members of the gas industry worry these nominees will be hostile to drilling.

Wolf called those concerns “nonsense.”

“It’s remarkably unbelievable Mr. Wolf can say with a straight face that these two activists will check their wildly out of the mainstream views at the door,” said one industry source.

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Climate protesters gather at GOP retreat in Hershey

About 50 climate change protesters gathered outside a meeting of national Republican leaders today in Hershey.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

About 50 climate change protesters gathered outside a meeting of national Republican leaders today in Hershey.

Climate change protesters gathered outside a meeting of national Republican leaders in Hershey today. GOP congressional members from the House and Senate are in town for a three-day conference. Typically each caucus meets separately, but for the first time in a decade they’re holding a joint meeting.

About 50 people attended the protest, which was hosted by the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate outside the Hershey Lodge. The rally featured by speakers from various religions, including the Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist faiths.

“We are here to bring attention to the social injustice of all time: inaction on climate change,” says organizer Lise Van Susteren. “While we know there are many Democratic leaders who are not where they need to be on climate, there are a number of climate deniers and skeptics among the Republican leadership, although that’s changing.”

She praised a number of prominent Republicans in congress who have acknowledged the risks of climate change.

“Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska. She’s seeing it,” says Van Susteren. “She knows she can’t deny it anymore.”

The protesters had sent letters to House and Senate Majority Leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell inviting them to attend the rally but didn’t get a response. House and Senate Republican spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the rally.

The Senate is expected to vote on a Keystone XL pipeline bill next week which contains an amendment that will force senators to take a position on climate change. The vast majority of the world’s scientists agree that climate change is caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions and poses serious threats to humans and the natural world, but the issue has become highly politicized.

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Anti-fracking protesters plan to rally at Wolf inauguration

Anti-fracking activist and documentary filmmaker Josh Fox is expected to attend Wolf's inauguration.

AP Photo/Marc Levy

Anti-fracking activist and documentary filmmaker Josh Fox is expected to attend Wolf's inauguration.

Anti-fracking protesters are seeking to “disrupt” Governor-elect Tom Wolf’s inauguration on January 20th, according to PennLive.

The protesters are hoping to pressure Wolf into imposing a statewide ban on fracking, like Governor Andrew Cuomo did recently in New York.

From PennLive:

Pennsylvanians Against Fracking, a coalition made up of dozens of environmental groups, plan to meet at the Grace Methodist Church on State Street then rally at the Capitol.

Sam Bernhardt, with Food & Water Watch, said the coalition expects to bring a couple hundred protesters to the rally. Josh Fox, director of anti-fracking documentary “Gasland,” is scheduled to attend the rally.

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