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.
One of eight compressor units at Seneca Resources' Hagerman station in the Loyalsock Forest. State regulators are trying to get a better handle on how the constant noise from the facilities affects people and wildlife.
Seneca spokesman Rob Boulware (left) talks with midstream manager Ian Vranich. There are currently 11 Marcellus-related compressor stations in public forest land. The state predicts between 100 to 200 could eventually be built.
Statewide, there were 374 compressor stations operating last year.
A view inside one of the compressor units. Seneca's Hagerman facility is capable of processing up to 400 million cubic feet of gas per day.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
On any given day Bob Deering doesn’t know how much trouble he’ll have getting to and from his home. He lives on a mountain in Lycoming County and he’s routinely stopped and questioned by security guards. It’s been happening for the past six years– ever since the natural gas boom began.
“I’ve been coming up here with my grandparents since 1953,” he says. “But if I would have known in 2001 what I know now, I’d never have built a house up here.”
Deering expected to enjoy a quiet retirement. In the early 2000′s, he and his wife built a log home from a kit. Their property is surrounded by state forest and game land.
But in recent years their neighborhood has gotten noisy as gas companies drill wells, build pipelines, and move heavy equipment.
Nearly a third of Pennsylvania’s roughly 2 million acres of public forest land is already available for oil and gas development. Governor Corbett wants to lease even more land, but an environmental group is suing to try to stop him.
PPL has not proposed an official route yet, but this graphic shows the rough outlines of where the power line would go.
PPL Electric Utilities is looking to build a new multi-billion dollar transmission line to keep up with natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale and the changing landscape of power generation.
If approved by regulators, the high-voltage power line is still a decade away but PPL has started planning.
The transmission line would start in Western Pennsylvania and run 725 miles through the state’s Northern Tier, into New Jersey and New York, as well as southward into Maryland.
The project would cost between $4 and 6 billion, according to PPL spokesman Paul Wirth.
“The gas industry is one of the impetuses behind it,” he says. “The other is that by starting in Western Pennsylvania we can bring existing supplies of lower-cost power—fueled by renewables and other sources—into this region.”
Alisa Lykens has been with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for 24 years and says she’s never seen such a big response to a project so early on in the process.
Lykens was at Millersville University in Lancaster County Monday night. It was the first in a series of four meetings hosted by FERC to take public comments on a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that would go through ten Pennsylvania counties.
“This is sort of unprecedented, at least in my experience,” Lykens says. “But it’s not surprising. We see there’s a lot of concern and that’s why we’re here.”
More than 300 people showed up, and many spoke out against the pipeline and voiced concerns about how it would affect property values, safety, and the environment.
Mark Clatterbuck was among them. His property could be affected by one of the proposed routes, and he wants FERC to try to quantify the intense public opposition in its analysis of the project.
“I’m just asking them to find a way to measure that,” he says. “Don’t just ignore this issue because it feels slippery.”
The 189 mile pipeline is part of a larger effort –called the Atlantic Sunrise project– from Oklahoma-based Williams Partners to bring Marcellus Shale gas southward to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and southern United States.
The newspaper reviewed records from incidents at wells that led to a fine through the end of 2012:
The Post-Gazette investigation using well permit file documents and other DEP data focused on 425 incidents involving 48 companies that resulted in nearly $4.4 million in fines.
Of those 425 fines, 137 were due to spills at or near a well site. They ranged from relatively small incidents involving a couple of gallons of diesel fuel on a well pad to larger accidents involving thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing flowback fluid that killed vegetation or fish.
Since the first fine of the Marcellus era in 2005, the DEP has made it clear that incidents that potentially impact the environment would be the ones most likely to result in a fine, so it is no surprise that spills make up a significant portion of the fines.
But what is surprising — to politicians, environmental groups, the industry itself and state officials — was the number of spills that were not first spotted by the drillers themselves. About a third were first identified by state inspectors while others, about one-sixth, were discovered by residents, according to the Post-Gazette’s analysis.
State law requires reportable spills to be called into state environmental regulators within two hours.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says it will release drilling plans for the Loyalsock State Forest and take public comments on them for 15 days.
Facing mounting public pressure, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced today it will seek public comments on controversial plans to expand natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest.
“When we met with the stakeholder groups, they asked for some sort of public input,” says Dan Devlin, head of the agency’s Bureau of Forestry. “We’ve struggled with that, and we’ve finally decided on what that process will be.”
He says because negotiations between the agency and two gas companies are ongoing, the public comment period won’t begin until a final development proposal is in place.
Natural gas pipelines in Lycoming County. Natural gas systems are the second-leading cause of methane emissions, after agriculture according to the Obama administration.
The U.S. Department of Energy today announced a series of initiatives aimed a curbing methane emissions from the nation’s natural gas infrastructure. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. It’s released by livestock, landfills, and oil and gas production.
Methane accounts for about 9 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution, but it’s over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapping gas.
Scientists are still working to quantify methane emissions and their sources. A slew of papers has recently been published in academic journals. According to the White House, natural gas systems are the second-leading cause of human-related methane emissions, after agriculture.
Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz called methane both a potent greenhouse gas and a powerful energy resource and says that curbing leaks will be beneficial.
“These benefits include job creation through pipeline and other equipment replacement, cost recovery for infrastructure investments that increase safety and save energy, and opportunities for addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he said in a statement.