Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Scott Detrow

Reporter (Former)

Scott Detrow was StateImpact’s Harrisburg reporter until February 2013. Prior to that, he was Pennsylvania Public Radio’s State Capitol Bureau Chief from 2009 to 2011, covering the 2010 gubernatorial campaign and 2009 budget impasse, among other stories. Scott has also worked as a reporter and anchor at WITF-FM and WFUV-FM, and won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for covering a Pennsylvania National Guard brigade’s deployment to Iraq. He grew up in New Jersey and Wisconsin.

Moving On

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Bradford County drilling site

This is my 929th StateImpact Pennsylvania blog post. It’s also my last. After five years at witf, I am leaving Harrisburg and headed west. Beginning February 11, I’ll be covering California politics and government as KQED’s Sacramento bureau chief.

I’ve enjoyed every aspect of this job, but three stand out: first, the opportunity to travel through beautiful parts of Pennsylvania I had never visited before, and to learn about the fascinating world of energy policy. I had covered natural gas drilling for several years as Pennsylvania Public Radio’s state Capitol reporter, but it wasn’t until I hit the road and talked to people face-to-face that I really began to understand just how complex Pennsylvania’s drilling boom really is. (Who knew, for example, that fracking and rattlesnakes could overlap?)

Second, I’ve enjoyed the constant feedback from readers and listeners on all sides of energy issues. And finally, I’ve loved working with – and learning from – a great group of co-workers at witf, WHYY and NPR.

I’m confident that Susan Phillips and StateImpact Pennsylvania’s new reporter will continue to turn out the types of compelling stories that recently won the DuPont-Columbia Award. I look forward to reading their work, and hope you do, too.

Mining Deaths Drop In 2012; No Pennsylvania Fatalities

36 American miners died on the job in 2012 – an all-time low, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. As the Tribune-Review reports, none of those deaths occurred in Pennsylvania:

In Pennsylvania, the mining industry ended 2010 without a fatality for the first time and duplicated the feat in 2012.

A surface miner died in an accident in 2011, officials said. No underground miners have died in the state since June 2009, when Robert Maust, 54, of Uniontown died as a falling rock hit him in Consol Energy Inc.’s Bailey Mine in Wind Ridge, Greene County.

Joseph Sbaffoni, the state Bureau of Mine Safety director, said the improved safety record resulted from a commitment by miners, mine operators and state safety officials.

 

McClendon Steps Down From Chesapeake Energy

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon addresses a 2011 natural gas drilling conference

The controversial head of the energy giant operating more Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale wells than any other company is retiring later this year.

StateImpact Oklahoma has more on the scrutiny Chesapeake Energy faced in the months before CEO Aubrey McClendon decided to step down:

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Post-Gazette: DEP Pulls Wastewater Permit

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the Department of Environmental Protection has retracted a permit for a drilling wastewater treatment facility that an environmental group had raised questions about earlier this year. More from the PG:

The DEP pulled the permit, issued in August to Integrated Water Technologies Inc., after admitting the required public notice about the permit did not accurately describe the permitted activity and the department hadn’t fully considered the impact on the environment.

The DEP’s decision to rescind the permit for the as-yet-to-be-built treatment plant in North Fayette was announced Saturday in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

It comes less than four months after Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future filed an appeal with the state Environmental Hearing Board that alleged the department had pulled a “switcheroo” by not accurately describing the permit in its public notice. The environmental advocacy organization also asked the hearing board to rescind the permit.

 

“We Make A Lot Of Money Because There’s A Lot Of Lonely Guys”: Life In A North Dakota Boomtown

Pennsylvania and North Dakota are both experiencing energy booms powered by hydraulic fracturing technology.

And while drillers are extracting oil, not natural gas, in North Dakota, small communities in both states are both dealing with the same challenges. Among them: how to handle the influx of rig workers – many of them young men with a lot of money and free time – temporarily moving into town.

The New York Times visits Williston, North Dakota, to look at some of the more unsavory aspects of a drilling boom:

This has complicated life for women in the region as well.

Many said they felt unsafe. Several said they could not even shop at the local Walmart without men following them through the store. Girls’ night out usually becomes an exercise in fending off obnoxious, overzealous suitors who often flaunt their newfound wealth.

“So many people look at you like you’re a piece of meat,” said Megan Dye, 28, a nearly lifelong Williston resident. “It’s disgusting. It’s gross.”

Prosecutors and the police note an increase in crimes against women, including domestic and sexual assaults. “There are people arriving in North Dakota every day from other places around the country who do not respect the people or laws of North Dakota,” said Ariston E. Johnson, the deputy state’s attorney in neighboring McKenzie County, in an e-mail.

DePasquale Prepares To Audit PA’s Department of Environmental Protection

Mary Wilson / WITF

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and his family at Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection may want to start getting its ledgers in order.

Following through on a campaign promise, newly-installed Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has already taken the first steps towards conducting a performance audit of DEP’s Marcellus Shale regulation.

Speaking during his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, the Democrat made it clear he’s not against natural gas drilling itself, acknowledging it, “has brought enormous opportunities to small towns and rural communities throughout the state, and [created] new wealth in many of those areas.” But the former DEP staffer and state representative worries Pennsylvania’s shale boom “poses challenges to our environmental regulators, our local communities, and our natural resources.”

DePasquale says he wants to make sure hydraulic fracturing doesn’t leave the same long-term damage that Pennsylvania’s prior energy booms created. “Our Pennsylvania waterways are still suffering, despite billions of dollars spent on cleanup from inadequate oversight of the coal industry in previous generations,” he said.  “And you don’t have to be that old to remember the cost of doing nothing when our steel plants needed additional investments, they become cleaner and more competitive.”

The audit’s goal, says DePasquale, is to “make sure the department has all the appropriate resources they can to do their job to protect our water and our land.” Performance audits typically measure whether or not state agencies or programs are achieving their stated goals, or utilizing money or resources effectively.

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Tonight: Hear The StateImpact Story

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drilling pad near a Wyoming County home

Interested in the economic and environmental impact of Pennsylvania’s natural gas drilling boom? Want to know more about how StateImpact Pennsylvania puts together the radio and web reports that you read or listen to every day?

Then come to WHYY at 7 o’clock tonight to hear “The StateImpact Story.” Susan Phillips and I will talk about the project with WHYY’s Executive Director of News and Civic Dialogue, Chris Satullo. We’ll discuss the reports that recently won the DuPont-Columbia Award, and answer your questions.

RSVP for the event here. It’s free for WHYY members, and costs $5 for non-members.

For a preview of the event, listen to this recent Radio Times, where Susan and I discussed StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Energy Entrepreneurs Market Sand Alternative To Fracking Companies

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Wyoming County drilling site, as seen from above.

FuelFix takes a look at the latest group of businesses trying to make money off of the domestic shale drilling boom: companies producing ceramic beads that can be used instead of sand in hydraulic fracturing mixes.

Sand plays an important role in the fracking process: the grains help maintain the cracks in the shale rock that the drillers create by blasting chemical-laden fluid deep underground.

Fracking’s rise has made sand much more valuable, but health administrators have also warned that rig workers are putting themselves at risk, if they come into contact with too much of it on drilling sites.

More from FuelFix:

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Philadelphia Heat Supplier Shifts From Oil To Natural Gas

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Chairman Rob Powelson cut the ribbon today on a $60 million upgrade to the power plant that runs the Center City steam loop.

The century-old facility, which provides steam heat to 300 Philadelphia customers, has converted from fuel oil to natural gas. The Inquirer has more on the upgrade:

By installing new natural gas boilers and expanding the pipeline that delivers gas to the plant, Veolia will virtually eliminate the plant’s use of high-sulfur fuel oil to produce steam for the system’s 300 customers, including some of the city’s most prominent buildings.

Natural gas costs less than fuel oil, so the bills for Veolia’s customers should decrease. And natural gas burns more cleanly than oil, so the plant will emit 93 percent less sulfur dioxide, 20 percent less nitrogen oxide, and 70,000 fewer metric tons of greenhouse gases a year.

Veolia is marketing the improvements to property owners who face increasing pressure to be more environmentally conscious. Under a new city law, large commercial buildings must report their energy consumption to government, which will “benchmark” properties for efficiency. Veolia customers will be able to take credit for a share of the efficiency improvements.

The Birds-Eye View Of Marcellus

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drilling pad near a Wyoming County home

Thanks to Bill Foster and Arianne Sellers, I recently got a chance to fly over Bradford and Wyoming Counties in a Cessna, to take a look at what Marcellus Shale operations look like from above.

Here’s the bird’s-eye view of the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process, as well as completed well pads.

 

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