Susan Phillips tells stories about the consequences of political decisions on people's every day lives. A native Philadelphian with roots in central Pennsylvania, Susan travels extensively around the state as both a reporter, and a hiker. She has worked as a reporter for WHYY since 2004. Susan's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election resulted in a story on the front page of the New York Times. In 2010 she travelled to Haiti to cover the earthquake. That same year she produced an award-winning series on Pennsylvania's natural gas rush called "The Shale Game." Along with her reporting partner Scott Detrow, she won the prestigious 2013 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Journalism Award for her work covering natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. A graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, she earned her Bachelor's degree in International Relations from George Washington University.
Workers at a hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County.
A new report out today reveals natural gas drillers could be using diesel to frack wells without the mandated federal permits. Unlike other chemicals used in gas drilling, Congress requires extensive oversight if diesel is present.
The so-called Halliburton Loophole in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing from federal oversight. But diesel is an exception. That’s because it moves quickly through water, and even small amounts of the neurotoxins within the liquid fuel cause liver and kidney damage.
But a public records request to the Environmental Protection Agency by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project shows no permit applications or approvals to frack with diesel. This despite the group’s finding that since 2010, 33 separate companies publicly reported a total of 351 wells fracked with diesel in 12 states. Mary Green is the group’s senior attorney.
“It seems that EPA was convinced this problem was largely if not completely eliminated,” Green told StateImpact.
A back and forth between the EPA and industry over fracking with diesel began back in 2011 when House Democrats, led by California Congressman Henry Waxman, sent a letter to the EPA with evidence that companies continued to use diesel to frack without obtaining the required permits under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Continue Reading →
Southwestern Energy Production company will have to pay $128,031 for drilling five unpermitted Marcellus Shale gas wells in Bradford County. The state Department of Environmental Protection announced the fine today after the Houston, Texas company continued to drill even after the DEP issued a “notice of violation” in January 2013.
A DEP investigation revealed that Southwestern had drilled at the Reeve Sutton 4H well pad in Herrick Township, Bradford County for nine days in October 2012, about 18 months past the permit’s expiration date. The department issued notice of violation (NOV) letters for this unpermitted drilling to Southwestern in January 2013.
Southwestern committed the same violations at four other wells in Bradford County in October 2012 and February 2013, conducting drilling four to 16 months after permits had expired. Two of the four wells were drilled after the company received the NOVs from the department in January 2013.
A gas drilling permit lasts for one year. If drilling does not begin within that year, the company has to apply for a new permit.
Steve Tambini began his job as executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission this week. He replaces Carol Collier who ran the organization for more than 15 years.
The Delaware River Basin Commission, the agency that oversees the water supply for more than 15 million people in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware has a new director. In recent years the DRBC has found itself in the eye of the storm over natural gas drilling in eastern Pennsylvania.
The new executive director, Steve Tambini, is an environmental engineer who comes from the water utility sector. His recent gig was with Pennsylvania American Water, and he says he’s spent his 30-year career as a water supply engineer primarily in New York and New Jersey. Tambini says his role at the DRBC is to focus on planning to insure supply meets demand.
“To make sure that those in the basin are using the water efficiently, so it’s not just a matter of building new supplies but it’s also a matter of taking a hard look at how water is being used throughout the basin,” said Tambini. “Conservation is also a critical part of our planning.”
Tambini says water quality is also a matter of planning. “Planning comes first,” he said. “Making sure we have good strong standards for water quality and making sure we do adequate planning is first and foremost.
But that planning may be more difficult with less money. Tambini begins the job with a budget that’s $500,000 less than expected. That’s because Pennsylvania recently slashed their payment to the multi-state agency in half. Continue Reading →
As coal is poured into a waiting barge, smoke billows from a coal powered electric plant August 26, 2001 in western, PA.
Global warming and climate change will be what everyone is talking about at a hearing today in Pittsburgh. The public forum is one of four meetings taking place across the country this week as the Environmental Protection Agency seeks input on their newly proposed rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants. But these hearings are just the first step in a controversial move by the EPA that will likely end up being challenged in the courts. Here’s what you need to know about how it may impact Pennsylvania.
For those seeking to stem the tide of climate change, these proposals are a long time coming. In 2007, the Supreme Court gave the EPA the green light to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Three years later, in 2010, a comprehensive climate change bill died in Congress. But Obama is committed to doing something about global warming before he leaves office in 2016. So last month the President proposed his Clean Power Plan with the goal of reducing carbon emissions from the country’s power plants by 30 percent by 2030.
The Obama Administration says tackling carbon dioxide emissions at power plants is important because these electrical generating facilities account for more than a third of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA used a complicated formula designed to take each state’s energy mix into account, along with their CO2 emission rates using 2012 as a baseline.
Pennsylvania’s CO2 Target
Pennsylvania’s CO2 emission rates from power plants in 2012 was about 106 million metric tons. The amount of energy produced from these plants was about 151 terawatt hours. So the state’s baseline emission rate based on 2012 data is 1,540 pounds/megawatt hour. Under EPA’s proposal, Pennsylvania needs to develop a plan to cut its carbon dioxide emissions to 1,052 pounds per megawatt hour in 2030. That comes out to a 32 percent reduction. Some states are lower and some are higher.
A sign protesting a proposed deep injection well sits on the lawn of a home in Brady Township, Clearfield County.
The Government Accountability Office says new risks from underground injections of oil and gas waste could harm drinking water supplies, and the EPA needs to step up both oversight and enforcement. The GAO released a study on Monday detailing the EPA’s role in overseeing the nation’s 172,000 wells, which either dispose of oil and gas waste, use “enhanced” oil and gas production techniques, store fossil fuels for later use, or use diesel fuel to frack for gas or oil. These wells are referred to as “class II” underground injection wells and are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Oversight of these wells vary by state, with some coming under the regulatory authority of the EPA, including the 1,865 class II wells in Pennsylvania. The GAO faults the EPA for inconsistent on-site inspections and guidance that dates back to the 1980′s. Of the more than 1800 class II wells in Pennsylvania, the GAO reports only 33 percent were inspected in 2012. Some states, including California, Colorado and North Dakota, require monthly reporting on injection pressure, volume and content of the fluid.
As more oil and gas wells across the country generate more waste, the GAO highlights three new risks associated with these wells — earthquakes, high pressure in formations that may have reached their disposal limit, and fracking with diesel. Continue Reading →
Workers build the Laser pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.
Federal regulators announced this week that a controversial pipeline expansion project will undergo an extensive environmental review. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate pipelines, will do an environmental impact statement on the $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise Expansion Project.
Oklahoma-based Williams has proposed an expansion to their Transco natural gas pipeline, which would run through parts of north and central Pennsylvania. The pipeline has garnered intense opposition in Lancaster County. As a result, the company has changed part of its original route to avoid nature preserves.
The Transco pipeline system moves natural gas through more than 10,000 miles of existing pipes. The expansion project is part of a larger effort to get Marcellus Shale gas to end users like power plants.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation filed suit to halt all drilling in state forests back in 2012. But when Governor Tom Corbett announced earlier this year his plans to lift a moratorium on new forest leases to fill a budget gap, the Environmental Defense Foundation sought an injunction to halt any new drilling.
The group also asked the courts to prevent the Corbett administration from channeling funds from the state’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the general fund, or cover the budget of DCNR.
Leasing the state’s forests to Marcellus Shale drillers began under the Rendell administration, much to the chagrin of DCNR’s leadership and staff. In 2010, just before Rendell left office, he imposed a moratorium on any new forest leases. Continue Reading →
Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court has upheld several sections of the state's oil and gas law, including a provision dealing with doctors' access to the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
This post has been updated to include additional comments on the ruling.
Pennsylvania doctors have nothing to worry about when it comes to the so-called “gag order” on chemical exposures from oil and gas drilling. That’s the message from the Commonwealth Court today in a much-anticipated ruling on provisions of the state’s two-year-old oil and gas law. The court issued the ruling after the Supreme Court passed on the controversy, sending it back to the lower court.
The “gag rule” stems from a section of Act 13, which requires nondisclosure agreements from healthcare providers who seek information on chemical exposures, which may be deemed “confidential” by industry. The law, which was drafted without the knowledge or consultation of healthcare providers, forces doctors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, thereby agreeing not to share any ingredients in the industry’s secret sauce used to frack and drill for natural gas.
Writing for the Commonwealth Court, President Judge Dan Pellegrini says the law is not unconstitutional, and it neither prevents healthcare providers from obtaining the necessary information or sharing it with other health practitioners.
Mark Schmerling / Courtesy of Protecting Our Waters
Stephanie Hallowich with her two children. A court order forbids the children from speaking about fracking or Marcellus Shale for the rest of their lives.
Two young children are forbidden from speaking about Marcellus Shale or fracking for the rest of their lives. The court action stems from a settlement in a high-profile Marcellus Shale lawsuit in western Pennsylvania.
The two children were 7 and 10 years old at the time the Hallowich family settled a nuisance case against driller Range Resources in August 2011. The parents, Chris and Stephanie, had been outspoken critics of fracking, saying the family became sick from the gas drilling activity surrounding their Washington County home.
According to court testimony released Wednesday, the parents were desperate to move and reluctantly agreed to a gag order that not only prevents them from speaking of Marcellus Shale and fracking, but also extends to their children.
Stephanie Hallowich told Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Pozonsky that she agreed to the gag order in order to get enough funds to move out of the house. But she said she didn’t fully understand the lifelong gag order on her children. Continue Reading →
A just-released Washington County Court transcript of an August 2011 settlement hearing in a high-profile Marcellus Shale damage case shows the case records should have included a missing confidential settlement agreement, and reveals details of an unusual lifetime “gag order” that covers two minor children involved in the case.