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.
Nationwide, gas prices will be at their lowest levels going into a Thanksgiving week since 2009.
Good news for the estimated 41 million Americans who plan travel more than 50 miles by car this Thanksgiving week–gasoline prices are continuing to decline, averaging $2.82 per gallon. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it’s the lowest price heading into Thanksgiving since 2009.
What’s behind the price drop? Part of the reason is the fracking oil boom in other parts of the country, like North Dakota, which has lead to a surge in U.S. oil production.
Seven years ago, shale made up just 8 percent of the overall gas production for the United States, but last year it accounted for 40 percent of production– it’s now the largest single source of gas in the country.
The emergence of fracking has also dramatically changed where the gas is coming from. In 2013, 79 percent of shale gas production came from Texas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
Landowners who have been accusing natural gas driller Chesapeake Energy of stealing their money say Harrisburg is doing little to stop it.
Most of the company’s Pennsylvania operations are in Bradford County. It’s a rural area stretching along the New York border; it has more Marcellus shale gas wells than any other part of the state. StateImpact Pennsylvania first talked with landowners there in June 2013.
A year-and-a-half later, they say Chesapeake is still cheating them:
A pair of studies released today by the U.S Geological Survey found low-to-moderate concentrations of naturally occurring methane in private water wells in Wayne and Pike Counties– a region of the state without Marcellus Shale drilling.
“These baseline studies are very important,” says USGS researcher Ronald Sloto. “People are very concerned about the environmental impact of shale gas drilling. In order to assess the impact of something, you need a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. Then you compare the two and see what the changes are.”
The samples were collected between 2012 and 2013. In Wayne County, Sloto examined 34 private water wells and found 65 percent had some level of detectable methane. Ten percent of the wells had relatively elevated levels of methane. In Pike County, 80 percent of the 20 tested wells had detectable methane, and again, only 10 percent had elevated levels.
The researchers note that the existence of naturally occurring methane does not absolve the gas industry of its role in contaminating some water supplies. Methane can be naturally occurring, but it can also migrate into water supplies through faulty well casings.
There is still a strong partisan and gender divide over the issue. More Republicans (62 percent) favor increased fracking, compared to 29 percent of Democrats. Women are far more likely to oppose it than men are.
A one-day conference next week will focus exclusively on the midstream side of the natural gas business.
The first annual Midstream PA conference is co-hosted by Penn State and Shale Directories. It will be held next Tuesday at the Penn Stater in State College and bring together some of the biggest midstream companies and drillers in the state– including Williams, UGI Energy Services, Cabot Oil & Gas, and Range Resources.
The term “midstream” covers everything from gathering lines, to compressor stations, and interstate pipelines– basically the infrastructure needed to move gas from the well to end users.
You can think of pipelines as “part two” of the drilling boom.
“We have all this gas and liquids,” says Matt Henderson, of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research. “Now the issue is getting it to market. The midstream is the bottleneck.”
Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins says she wants to appeal a court ruling that permanently bars her from Cabot Oil & Gas sites.
A Susquehanna County judge has ruled that 63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will be permanently barred from setting foot on Cabot Oil & Gas sites.
Scroggins has been a thorn in the company’s side for years. She hosts a lot of citizen gas tours around Susquehanna County where Cabot has most of its operations. The company says she has repeatedly trespassed on its property and poses a safety risk.
“I’d like to appeal it,” Scroggins says of the ruling. “I consider it an unfair decision that is further restricting me– to keep me from exposing Cabot and the gas industry.”
Cabot spokesman George Stark says the company is pleased with the outcome.
“We hope that Ms. Scroggins is now able to respect the judge’s parameters, which have been reestablished unequivocally,” he wrote in an email. “We are hopeful that this finally marks an end to these events.”
The feud made international news earlier this year when Cabot got a sweeping (yet temporary) court injunction against her– effectively barring her from nearly half the county. In March the order was revised to be much less restrictive. It blocked her from Cabot sites and required she maintain a 100 foot buffer zone. However, that revised order was still temporary and the two sides were negotiating a permanent deal about where she can and can’t go.
Chesapeake Energy's offices in Athens, Bradford County.
Chesapeake Energy has been subpoenaed by the federal Department of Justice, seeking information on its royalty payment practices to mineral owners.
The company has been the subject of widespread complaints in Pennsylvania and other areas of the country where it operates. Landowners have accused Chesapeake of violating lease agreements and underpaying royalties.
In a regulatory filing today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company disclosed it has received subpoenas from the DOJ and other states. Chesapeake says it has “engaged in discussions with the DOJ and state representatives” and continues to respond to demands for information.
State Rep. Jesse White (D- Allegheny) apologized for using fake online personas to bully shale gas supporters.
A Pittsburgh area Democrat and vocal fracking critic lost his state House seat last night. Rep. Jesse White (D- Allegheny) was caught last year in an online bullying scandal by Pittsburgh’s local CBS affiliate.
In May 2013 the TV station reported White had been using pseudonyms to bully online commenters who express support for shale gas development. He later apologized.
“This wasn’t a campaign; it was a character assassination. They dragged my name through the mud and it worked, this time,” White said. “We did everything we could have done. I’m proud of my campaign.”
Ortitay did not dispute the nastiness of the campaign, but said he’s ready to work for his new constituents as he learns the nuances of state government.
“From here on out, it’s about bringing people together,” Ortitay said. “If you have disagreements, I’m here to be reasonable and be fair and to help bridge the gap to bring people together to build a better 46th District.”