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 signs bills addressing gas transparency issues

Governor Tom Corbett has signed two bills aimed at providing more transparency for people who have leased their property to gas companies.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Governor Tom Corbett has signed two bills aimed at providing more transparency for people who have leased their property to gas companies.

Governor Corbett has signed two bills providing more transparency for people who have leased their property for natural gas drilling.

A landowner advocacy group calls the measures “helpful” but says more action is needed.

One measure would require drillers to submit monthly gas production reports; they are currently required to report every six months. The second bill requires companies to file a document with the county recorder of deeds surrendering a lease once it has expired.

Monthly production reports will bring Pennsylvania in line with other major gas-producing states. Some landowners have complained they are not able to compare the monthly gas production figures on their royalty statements with the bi-annual data collected by the state.

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Corbett approves bills on stream buffers and carbon plan

Governor Corbett signed a pair of bills Wednesday dealing with two hot-button environmental issues. The first would eliminate stream buffer requirements for the state’s cleanest waterways. The second measure gives legislators a role in crafting a federally-mandated carbon reduction plan–a top priority for the state’s coal industry.

The stream bill removes the 150 feet buffer requirement between new developments and Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams. It was supported by the Pennsylvania Builder’s Association. The law only applies projects that need stormwater discharge permits and are adjacent to the state’s “high quality” or “exceptional value” streams – a small percentage of waterways. Supporters have said the buffers amounted to eminent domain that restricted landowners. Environmental groups criticized the measure as a step backwards.

A separate bill approved by Corbett requires legislative approval of a federally-mandated carbon pollution plan. Under proposed rules recently put forth by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania will have to cut its carbon emissions by 32 percent over the next 15 years. The new climate policy will mean major changes for the state’s energy industries.

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Anti-fracking activist and gas company head back to court

Scroggins and her attorneys talk to reporters outside a court hearing in March 2014.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Scroggins and her attorneys talk to reporters outside a court hearing in March.

63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will be back in court next week facing fines and possible jail time in an ongoing fight with one of Pennsylvania’s biggest gas drillers, Cabot Oil & Gas.

Cabot wants Scroggins to be held in contempt of court for allegedly violating an order to stay away at least 100 feet away from its work sites. A hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday in Susquehanna County.

Scroggins maintains her innocence.

“I just hope to be cleared of the charges and be a free person like anyone else in my county,” she says. “I want to be able to move through all the public roads here without having to worry about counting my steps.”

Scroggins has been a thorn in the company’s side for years. She frequently gives unofficial tours of drilling sites and carries a video camera. Cabot says she has repeatedly trespassed on its property, and her activities pose a safety risk to workers and visitors.

In a motion filed last week, Cabot attorney Amy Barrette claims Scroggins came within 10 feet of an access road to a well site.

“Ms. Scroggins’ conduct constitutes a blatant disregard for this Court’s Order,” wrote Barrette. “Such a flagrant violation of the clear terms of this Court’s Order must not go unchecked.”

The company is also seeking to have Scroggins cover its attorneys fees. A Cabot spokesman did not respond to requests to comment.

The feud made international news earlier this year, after Cabot got a judge to agree to bar her from all the land it owns or has leased. The restrictions went beyond blocking her from operational work sites. The prohibited area included large swaths of land the company has leased but not developed– encompassing public spaces like restaurants, grocery stores, and a hospital. It amounted to nearly 40 percent of Susquehanna County. Cabot later said it didn’t intend for the order to be so broad.

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DEP fines pipeline company more than $300,000

Gathering lines in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Natural gas gathering lines in Lycoming County.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has levied a $306,570 fine against a Texas pipeline company for multiple violations involving construction of two gas pipelines in 2012 and 2013.

According to the DEP, the flawed work was performed by PVR Marcellus Gas Gathering LLC of Williamsport. That company was later acquired by Regency Marcellus Gas Gathering of San Antonio, Texas.

“Many of these violations occurred over a significant period of time,” DEP Director of District Oil and Gas Operations John Ryder said in a statement. “We expect that Regency has made operational changes to avoid problems of this nature during future pipeline construction projects.”

DEP oversight of pipelines is limited to matters related to water quality (for example, a stream crossing) and issues with erosion and sedimentation.

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Legislature OKs bill requiring more frequent gas production reports

A natural gas well in Lycoming County. Under current law, companies report gas production figures twice a year. This bill would require monthly reporting.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

A natural gas well in Lycoming County. Under current law, companies report gas production figures twice a year. This bill would require monthly reporting.

A bill approved by the state House and Senate would change the way drillers report gas production figures. The measure now awaits Governor Corbett’s signature.

Under current state law, gas companies have to file reports twice a year with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). House Bill 2278 would require monthly production reports– a common practice among other major gas-producing states.

Transparency around gas production figures has become a sore point for some landowners who have questioned the accuracy of their monthly royalty payments. Since royalty checks are typically distributed on a monthly basis, it has been difficult for landowners to verify the information they receive from gas companies with the bi-annual gas data posted on DEP’s website.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (the statistics arm of the federal Department of Energy) has also said monthly reporting in Pennsylvania would make its job easier.

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Attorneys advise landowners to get involved in pipeline plan

Pipeline construction in Butler County.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pipeline construction in Butler County.

More than 200 people turned out for a meeting in Lancaster Thursday night to discuss a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline. The forum was aimed at educating landowners about how to handle a pipeline on their property.

The project has sparked significant controversy. Attorneys were on hand to discuss ways landowners can negotiate with a pipeline company and deal with regulatory agencies.

Oklahoma-based Williams Partners is seeking to build 177 miles of new pipeline through 10 Pennsylvania counties in an effort to bring Marcellus Shale gas southward to markets along the East Coast. Williams needs the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to go forward with the project.

Washington D.C.-based attorney Carolyn Elefant represents landowners in pipeline cases and says it’s important for people to educate themselves and get involved early in the process. She spoke with StateImpact Pennsylvania.

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Senate OKs bill allowing legislators to weigh in on carbon plan

The state Senate has passed a measure that will require legislative approval of a state plan to cut carbon emissions.

Under proposed rules recently put forth by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania will have to cut its carbon emissions by 32 percent over the next 15 years. The federal climate policy will mean major changes for the state’s energy industries. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for coal production and third for carbon dioxide emissions.

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Lancaster groups to hold meeting on proposed pipeline

An interstate pipeline in Susquehanna County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

An interstate pipeline in Susquehanna County.

An informational meeting will be held in Thursday night in Lancaster to discuss a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that would cut through 35 miles of the county.

The proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline would run through 10 Pennsylvania counties, but it’s faced its fierce opposition from people in Lancaster County, who have raised concerns about how it will effect the environment, public safety, and property values.

The pipeline’s initial route would have cut through several of the county’s nature preserves, but in response to public criticism, the Oklahoma-based pipeline company, Williams proposed an alternate route to federal regulators.

The informational public meeting tonight is hosted by the Lancaster County Conservancy and Lancaster Farmland Trust. It’s aimed at helping landowners along the proposed route learn more about the issue.

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Mind ‘the gap’: why more gas means more pipelines

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Pennsylvania is producing more gas than it knows what to do with. Amid a push to export gas to foreign markets, there’s also a shift away from coal toward gas at electric power plants. Right now the state gets about 20 percent of its electricity from gas, but that’s expected to increase significantly.

All these changes are leading to an ongoing expansion of gas-related infrastructure– primarily pipelines.

Anthony Cox, of UGI Energy Services, spoke with StateImpact Pennsylvania Tuesday during Penn State’s Natural Gas Utilization Conference in Cannonsburg.

He describes the need for pipelines as an “infrastructure gap” problem that causes supply to be out of balance with demand.

Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is this infrastructure gap?

A: I’d describe it as a dumbbell. One side of the dumbbell—you have a major source of production and supply. And on the other end you have a major source of demand.

And in the middle you have a thin bar, and that bar is the infrastructure gap. That needs to be built, basically, to bridge the two ends of the dumbbell.

Q: What happened last winter with electricity prices spiking?

A: Last winter, simply, the middle—in between the two [ends of the dumbbell]– was just too small. We saw unprecedented demand, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York. There was certainly enough supply, but it couldn’t get to where it was needed.

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Not so pretty in pink? Drill bits for breast cancer spark controversy

A drill bit at a gas site in Pennsylvania's northern tier. As part of a breast cancer awareness, Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill pits pink.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill bit at a gas site in Pennsylvania’s northern tier.

In an effort to promote breast cancer awareness, oil and gas services company Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill pits pink.

A partnership between global breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen and oil and gas services company Baker Hughes has sparked a backlash. As part of an awareness campaign called Doing our Bit for the Cure Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill bits pink and sending them to its customers across the globe.

Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy organization, is criticizing the partnership as the “most ludicrous piece of pink sh*t we’ve seen all year.”

“This has taken this whole issue of ‘pinkwashing’ to new depths– quite literally.” says Angela Wall, a spokeswoman for the group.

Komen’s Facebook page is filled with similarly angry comments from the public.

“Absolutely absurd,” writes a user named Eric Ryan. “I regret every dollar I ever gave to the Susan G. Komen foundation.”

Baker Hughes did not respond to requests to comment. The drilling services company also plans to donate $100,000 to Komen at the Pittsburgh Steelers game at Heinz field on October 26th.

“There’s not an ounce in this that says [Komen cares] about women’s health,” says Wall. “Because if they did care they’d be going after fracking corporations, not getting into bed with them.”

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