In a 19th-century farmhouse deep in northern Pennsylvania’s Bradford County, Nancy Baker is looking at family photos dating back four generations.
One shows her grandfather with a team of horses on clear cut land. Another shows her mother and aunt on the same farm as a small child. Baker also has a series of aerial photos going back to 1939, which show how the forest cover has evolved in the past 70 years.
Her home was built by her great grandfather, Joseph Morrow Gamble, a Scots-Irish immigrant who cut timber from the virgin forest and shipped it down the Susquehanna River.
The story of how Baker’s family used its land to make a living was replayed up and down the East Coast after European settlers arrived. Her great grandfather cut down woods for timber. Then he turned to farming, yanking rocks from the stony soil to mark out cow pastures. His children inherited the land. But in the 20th century, their children left for better jobs in town. Baker’s own parents became teachers.
With the land left to itself, the forests returned. So Baker grew up playing in the woods and learning how to fell a tree ambidextrously with an axe.
“When we inherited this land from my mother I said, ‘OK, it’s our turn to steward the land,’” said Baker. “But how are we going to do this?”
Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pa
Governor-elect Tom Wolf on the campaign trail.
Now we know. Democrat Tom Wolf will indeed be taking the reins from Gov. Corbett in just over two months.
For the first time since 1954, an incumbent Pennsylvania governor did not either win re-election or cede power to someone from their own party.
That’s an historic loss for Pennsylvania’s GOP, which has been supportive of the gas industry, so reaction to Wolf over Corbett broke down along predictable lines.
Lou D’Amico of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association says Wolf’s policies could lead to job loss.
Cindy Dunn, director of PennFuture said, “For the environmental voters, it was a referendum of Gov. Corbett’s handling of the gas industry.”
Let’s take a look at what Wolf’s win might mean for energy and environment.
Marcellus Shale tax battle lines
Wolf’s plan to replace the current impact fee with a 5 percent tax on the market value of natural gas may run up against more opposition than he seems to expect.
He says at current production levels this tax could bring in $1 billion, which is about $800,000 more each year than the current impact fee. He says he’ll use that money to help boost funding for the state’s failing public school systems.
But he’s got to contend with a Republican legislature. And ideas that poll well with voters during a campaign pre-election does not always translate well to momentum in Harrisburg post-election. Still, drillers are worried, and not so sure they’ve got the support in Harrisburg they need to head off a tax hike.
D’Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, says some drillers are talking about leaving the state if Wolf succeeds in imposing a new severance tax. And although he says the industry does enjoy bipartisan support in Harrisburg, D’Amico worries about lawmakers from non-drilling areas like Philadelphia.
“If you’re not seeing your hotels full, if you’re not seeing the local Ford dealer selling trucks to drillers, then you’re not concerned as much in Philadelphia [with the potential slow-down of gas drilling] as you are in Bradford, Tioga, or Susquehanna counties where they are benefiting from us being here.” Continue Reading
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks
A drilling convoy heads through the Loyalsock State Forest.
An environmental group has filed a lawsuit challenging the Corbett administration’s plan to lease more state park and forest land for oil and gas development. The Corbett Administration lifted a moratorium on new leases in state parks and forests with an executive order last May to help plug a budget gap. The lawsuit filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is the first to challenge that executive order directly, but is the second suit aimed at preventing more drilling on state lands.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s challenge, filed Thursday in Commonwealth Court, is based on the state’s environmental rights amendment and is a direct result of the Riverkeeper’s successful challenge of Act 13. In that case, the Supreme Court invoked article 1, section 27 of the state constitution, also referred to as the environmental rights amendment, to strike down key aspects of the state’s new drilling law. The Riverkeeper’s latest challenge of Corbett’s executive order could serve as a test case for how the courts continue to interpret the state’s environmental rights amendment.
Riverkeeper Maya Van Rossum said Corbett’s executive order on opening up more state land to natural gas development “invites and encourages the frackers to come right up to the edge of our public parks, destroying the adjacent communities as well as destroying the park lands themselves.”
Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania
A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.
A peer reviewed study published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health reveals dangerous levels of air toxins near fracking operations. The carcinogen formaldehyde was the most common chemical found to exceed federal safety levels, according to Denny Larson, one of the report’s authors. Larson works with the nonprofit Global Community Monitor.
“The number of [chemicals] that we found near these sites are alarming,” said Larson in a call with reporters. “They are, as the title of our report clearly says, a warning sign.”
The deadly chemical hydrogen sulfide was also found in high levels in Wyoming samples. Hydrogen sulfide is known to kill oil field workers. A recent report by EnergyWire documents the dangers to shale oil production workers from air toxins.
Volunteers in six states, including Pennsylvania, took air samples for the study. Pennsylvania’s samples show high levels of formaldehyde near compressor stations. The research was led by David Carpenter, a physician and director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at New York State University at Albany. Carpenter says he’s most concerned about the high levels of benzene and formaldehyde measured by the volunteers. Continue Reading
Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania
A truck delivers fracking wastewater to a Susquehanna County recycling center.
The state’s new acting secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection, Dana Aunkst, has lots of questions to answer regarding how the state oversees frack waste disposal and transportation. On Wednesday, Congressman Matt Cartwright, a democrat from Schuylkill County, sent Aunkst a 3-page letter seeking information as part of an investigation into how states monitor waste generated by shale gas drilling. The states have responsibility for the waste because it’s exempt from federal oversight. The investigation comes on the heels of a report released by the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office in July, which criticizes the DEP’s role in protecting drinking water from contamination by gas drillers.
“The audit concluded that Pennsylvania’s current system for oversight of fracking waste “is not an effective monitoring tool” and “it is not proactive in discouraging improper, even illegal, disposal of waste,” wrote Cartwright in the letter.
Cartwright is leading the investigation through the Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Aunkst was just recently appointed acting secretary after former secretary Chris Abruzzo resigned in the wake of the porngate scandal. Aunkst has until November 12 to respond. Read the letter and Cartwright’s questions below. Continue Reading