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.

Butter Today, Energy Tomorrow: How The Farm Show Butter Sculpture Is Turned Into Power

Mary Wilson / witf

The 2013 butter sculpture

It’s that time of year again – the Pennsylvania Farm Show has unveiled the 2013 butter sculpture.

This year’s creation is quite elaborate, as sculptor Jim Victor told witf’s Mary Wilson. “There’s Pennsylvania Christmas trees in there and there’s maple syrup and there’s wine and there’s poultry and there’s you know all the stuff, the hard woods,” he said. “There’s even a bee on the back, there’s a honeycomb around the back of the thing.”

After the show, the thousand-pound sculpture will be converted into electricity. How does that work? StateImpact Pennsylvania explained the process last year: 

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Jackson’s Replacement Will Have To Focus On Fracking

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testifies at a Congressional hearing in May, 2011. Jackson is stepping down from her job next month.

Natural gas drilling will no doubt play a major role in the life of whoever President Obama nominates to succeed Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator.

Jackson announced last week that she’ll step down in January.

Among other things, the EPA is currently conducting a major study into the risks hydraulic fracturing poses to drinking water.  Bloomberg has more on the challenges Jackson’s replacement will face:

“The top issue on everyone’s radar right now is fracking,” Don Elliott, a former EPA official who is a lawyer and professor at Yale Law School, said in an interview. “How EPA weighs in on it is very important.”

On the one hand, the glut of natural gas has allowed power plants to shift away from dirtier coal-fueled production; on the other, local activists and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club complain that gas production is fouling the water, triggering earthquakes, and even causing global warming from the methane emissions that escape during production and transport.

EPA’s study on the impact of fracking on drinking water is scheduled for release in 2014. Analysts say it could lead Congress to rewrite federal rules for the oversight of the practice or the agency to issue further regulations. Fracking is now primarily overseen by state regulators.

New Environmental Law Will Change Trash Collection Rules

Among the  new state laws going into effect tomorrow: an environmental measure barring people from throwing electronics out with the trash. The Tribune-Review explains:

Trash haulers will be prohibited from picking up discarded electronics such as computers and televisions.

Residents will have to return the used item to retailers such as Best Buy and RadioShack, which must accept them free of charge, said Bill Klimovich, assistant director of Pittsburgh Public Works Bureau of Environmental Services.

Trash haulers, including the city and private firms such as Waste Management and BFI, must notify customers of the change.

Klimovich said his crews will leave the waste at the curb and a foreman will double-back to let residents know about the law. Residents could face a citation if the trash is not removed after 48 hours.

 

AP: 2012 A Big Year For Marcellus Shale

An AP analysis concludes that despite low natural gas prices, the Marcellus Shale established itself as a major energy source in 2012:

According to the federal energy reports Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia now produce 7 billion cubic feet of gas per day. That’s about 25 percent of all shale gas production nationwide, and nearly double the Marcellus production of the previous year.

The Marcellus could contain “almost half of the current proven natural gas reserves in the U.S,” a report from Standard & Poor’s said, while other experts noted the powerful combination of resource, cost and location is altering natural gas prices and market trends across the nation. In other words, natural gas that used to come all the way from the Gulf Coast or Canada to feed the power-hungry Northeast is now coming from Marcellus producers.

The article also recaps the major regulatory changes that occurred in 2012, including Pennsylvania’s Act 13.

Lisa Jackson Will Leave Environmental Protection Agency In 2013

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson speaks to reporters in Philadelphia

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson says she’ll step down early next year, after President Obama’s State of the Union address.

As the New York Times reports, Jackson leaves at a time where the Obama Administration’s environmental policy is at a crossroads:

After his re-election, and a campaign in which global warming was barely mentioned by either candidate, Mr. Obama said that his first priority would be jobs and the economy and that he intended only to foster a “conversation” on climate change in the coming months.

That ambivalence is a far cry from the hopes that accompanied his early months in office, when he identified climate change as one of humanity’s defining challenges. Mr. Obama put the White House’s full lobbying power behind a House cap-and-trade bill that would have limited climate-altering emissions and brought profound changes in how the nation produces and consumes energy.

Jackson’s EPA occasionally clashed with Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection on natural gas policy and other issues, as StateImpact Pennsylvania reported in May: 

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Shell Extends Cracker Decision Window Into 2013

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

An antique Shell gasoline pump at an Ohio oil and gas museum

Royal Dutch Shell won’t be making a decision any time soon on whether or not to proceed with plans to build a major petrochemical plant in Beaver County. The energy giant’s agreement with Horsehead Corp, which owns the potential site outside Monaca, required Shell to make a determination of whether or not to proceed with its project by the end of 2012.

But as the Post-Gazette reports, the company has extended its deal for another six months. 

That means Shell has until June to decide whether or not to move forward with plans to build a western Pennsylvania ethane cracker. The Tribune-Review has more details on the extension:

The chemical arm of Royal Dutch Shell plc had a Dec. 31 deadline to buy land in Center and Potter, but the company and landowner Horse­head Corp. signed a six-month extension, officials from both companies said. Shell may build a multibillion-dollar ethane processing plant on the site but needs more time to assess its suitability, Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Windon said in an email.

The facility would convert the ethane found in shale deposits into ethylene, which is used to produce plastics.

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Major EPA Fracking Study Will Tap Into Pennsylvania Data

A major Environmental Protection Agency report on natural gas drilling will include a lot of information from Pennsylvania.

The federal study won’t be released until 2014, but the agency recently published a progress report. The EPA is examining five stages of hydraulic fracturing, and assessing each step’s risk of contaminating drinking water. That includes everything from where drillers withdraw their water, to what chemicals they mix in, to how fracking fluid is stored on drilling sites. The study will also probe well construction standards and waste disposal methods.

The study includes an extensive look at drilling in Bradford and Washington Counties. The EPA is also looking at spill data from Pennsylvania drilling sites, and using computer models to predict how much water will be withdrawn from the Susquehanna River Basin in the future.

Keep reading for a look inside the EPA’s progress report. We’ve annotated the document to flag the highlights, as well as the Pennsylvania-specific information.

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Young Workers Flock To Drilling Fields, Searching For Jobs

StateImpact Pennsylvania's recent project, BoomTown, examines a similar trend in northeastern Pennsylvania. Click on the above image to view our report.

The New York Times profiles the men and women – many of them just out of high school – who are migrating to oil boom towns in Montana and North Dakota in search of drilling jobs. Just like in Pennsylvania, communities in the mountain west are rapidly expanding to accommodate drilling rushes powered by hydraulic fracturing.

Less than a year after proms and homecoming games, teenagers like Mr. Sivertson now wake at 4 a.m. to make the three-hour trek to remote oil rigs. They fish busted machinery out of two-mile-deep hydraulic fracturing wells and repair safety devices that keep the wells from rupturing, often working alongside men old enough to be their fathers. Some live at home; others drive back on weekends to eat their mothers’ food, do loads of laundry and go to high school basketball games, still straddling the blurred border between childhood and adulthood.

Just as gold rushes and silver booms once brought opera houses and armies of prospectors to rugged corners of the West, today’s headlong race for oil and gas is reshaping staid communities in the northern Plains, bringing once untold floods of cash and job prospects, but also deep anxieties about crime, growth and a future newly vulnerable to cycles of boom and bust.

How is this boom pattern playing out in Pennsylvania? Our recent multimedia project, BoomTown, tried to answer that question. 

StateImpact Pennsylvania Wins duPont-Columbia Award

Columbia University

StateImpact Pennsylvania’s coverage of natural gas drilling has won the DuPont-Columbia Award. In its citation, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism says the project, “showed the significant impact of natural gas drilling on Pennsylvania residents, and is an important model for reporting on local issues.”

Columbia awards the DuPont to about a dozen broadcast news organizations each year, and regards the honor as, “the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes,” which the school also administers.

Here are the reports StateImpact Pennsylvania won for:

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