Pennsylvania

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With his first budget, Wolf gears up for gas tax fight

Gov. Wolf steps away from the podium at the end of a news conference at Caln Elementary School Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Thorndale, Pa.  Wolf kicked off a statewide "Schools that Teach Tour" and outlined a forthcoming proposal to the Legislature to increase taxes on Pennsylvania's natural gas industry to help boost aid to public schools.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Wolf steps away from the podium at the end of a February news conference after he outlined a plan to increase taxes on the natural gas industry to help boost aid to public schools.

Governor Wolf made taxing natural gas drillers the centerpiece of his campaign. As he prepares to give his first budget address Tuesday, the issue has once again taken center stage in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax, but it does levy many other levy taxes on drillers. A gas tax has been a hot-button political issue for years– but how does Pennsylvania actually stack up against other states?

The answer to that question gives a window into why the debate is so complex and controversial.

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In fracking hot spots, police and gas industry share intelligence on activists

Police monitor an anti-fracking protest at Gov. Wolf's inauguration in January.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Police monitoring an anti-fracking protest outside the state capitol during Gov. Wolf's inauguration in January.

Last month an anti-fracking group settled a lawsuit against Pennsylvania, after it was erroneously labeled a potential terrorist threat. The case dates back to 2010 and was an embarrassment for then-Governor Ed Rendell.

But documents obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania show law enforcement here and in other parts of the country continue to conduct surveillance on anti-fracking activists, leading some to claim their Constitutional rights are being violated.

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Gas companies buy livestock, goodwill at Pennsylvania Farm Show

Gas companies bid on livestock from kids who live in the counties where they drill.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Gas companies stopped by the Farm Show this week to bid on livestock from kids who live in the counties where they drill.

Much of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drilling takes place in rural areas. Over the years, gas companies and farmers have had to learn how to co-exist. Sometimes those relationships are positive. Other times, they can be rocky.

That’s why some drilling companies come to Pennsylvania Farm Show—where they make an effort to buy livestock and a little goodwill.

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Gas drilling draws citizen scientists to the field

Joanne Martin collects a sample of water from Brady Run, a stream in South Beaver Township in western Pennsylvania. She is a citizen scientist monitoring the water for potential pollution from nearby natural gas drilling.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Joanne Martin collects a sample of water from Brady Run, a stream in South Beaver Township in western Pennsylvania. She is a citizen scientist monitoring the water for potential pollution from nearby natural gas drilling.

Joanne Martin stands on the muddy bank of Brady Run, a stream in Beaver County in western Pennsylvania. To get there, she crawled down a steep gravel slope, ducking low tree branches and stepping over dead brush.

Martin has been coming to Brady Run for three years to test the water for signs of pollution from natural gas drilling. There’s a producing well pad just about a half a mile from here.

First, Martin plunks in a wooden measuring stick to check stream depth.

“Then, I go upstream a little bit because I don’t want to take water from where I disturbed the sediment,” she says. “I don’t want any of that in the sample.”

She takes a small cup, the kind you might use at a doctor’s office, and dips it into the stream, bracing herself for the icy water.

Back on the bank, Martin uses a pocket-sized monitor to test her sample. It’s measuring the conductivity of the water. A higher conductivity reading than usual could be a sign that metals are discharging into the stream, possibly as the result of a spill of the salty flowback water that comes up out of a well after it has been hydraulically fractured or fracked.

Martin is not a professional scientist. So why is she standing in the middle of a frigid stream on a December morning?

Across the country, the shale boom has given rise to fears about whether oil and gas development might be polluting the water we drink and the air we breathe. This has led some residents to try doing their own field research, in the mode of “citizen science.” But unlike the annual Christmas Bird Count or a website to help astronomers catalog billions of galaxies, their work is a tricky blend of science and advocacy.


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Leaking city gas pipes pose climate hazard

Kevin McDonald, PGW Senior Pipe Mechanic uses a compressor to back fill soil covering main and service pipelines in North Philadelphia.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Kevin McDonald, PGW Senior Pipe Mechanic uses a compressor to back fill soil covering main and service pipelines in North Philadelphia.

Philadelphia has some of the leakiest natural gas distribution pipes in the nation.

This comes with an environmental cost, because natural gas is primarily made up of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Methane emissions are getting more attention from climate scientists, environmentalists and policy makers because they actually have a much more immediate impact on global warming than the greenhouse gas that gets the most ink, carbon dioxide.

Philadelphia’s recent failure to close a deal to sell the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works to a private company means those leaks will continue to get fixed at a snail’s pace.

At current estimates many of us will be dead before all that leak prone pipe beneath city streets is replaced.

 

Miles and miles of leaks

Philadelphia’s natural gas infrastructure resembles that in other older industrial cities on the Eastern Seaboard.

Interstate transmission pipelines feed natural gas from well heads on the Gulf Coast, or Marcellus Shale to nine separate “city gates.” At these city gates, the high pressure gas, which comes in at 800 pounds per square inch, gets transformed into low pressure gas. By the time the gas gets to your stove, it’s about one-quarter pound per square inch. Continue Reading

As pipelines proliferate, Pennsylvania sees next phase of gas boom

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline cuts through the woods in Lycoming County. More than $10 billion in pipeline projects have been announced for Pennsylvania.

The surge in drilling has meant trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are being pumped out of Pennsylvania every year. And now billions of dollars are flooding into the state for new pipeline projects to move that gas to market.

It’s the next phase of the fracking boom: energy companies are building their own sort of interstate highway system—a network of pipelines.

“A sense of urgency”

Matt Henderson, of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, says more than $10 billion in pipeline projects have already been announced for Pennsylvania.

“Production has outpaced anybody’s wildest expectations,” he says. “The operators were found in a position where, ‘We need to get this out.’ So there’s a sense of urgency.”

Industry representatives say undoubtedly not all of the proposed pipelines will get built. But there’s still a race to get gas to customers.

Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas has been able to ship its gas out of northeastern Pennsylvania on three existing interstate pipelines. Company spokesman Bill DeRosiers says Cabot is partnering with other companies on new projects to ease bottlenecks in the system, like the $700 million Constitution pipeline. It was recently approved by federal regulators to carry Marcellus gas to New York and New England.

And there’s an even bigger one on the horizon.

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Changing climate changing forests: How best to help Pennsylvania’s woods

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?”

 


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Activist won’t face fines, jail time in ongoing fight with gas company

Vera Scroggins

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Vera Scroggins talks with reporters on the steps of the Susquehanna County courthouse in Montrose.

A Susquehanna County judge ruled Wednesday that 63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will not be fined or jailed for violating a court order designed to keep her away from sites operated by Cabot Oil & Gas.

The ongoing feud between the activist and the gas company made international news earlier this year when Cabot got a sweeping court injunction against her– effectively barring her from nearly half the county. In March, the court order was revised to be much less restrictive. She is currently barred from Cabot sites and its access roads and must observe a 100 foot buffer zone.

Scroggins, a self-described “gas tour guide,” frequently brings visitors by Cabot sites and takes photos and videos. The company claims she has repeatedly trespassed on its property, and her activities pose a safety risk.

Judge Kenneth Seamans found Scroggins technically violated the 100 foot buffer zone, but she will not be punished. Much of the hearing focused on whether a road off of State Route 3023 leading to Cabot’s Costello wellpad constitutes a driveway for the Costello family or a Cabot access road– in fact, it is used as both.

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Governor Tom Corbett says the impact fee is still the best deal for Pennsylvanians

Governor Tom Corbett speaks about taxing the Marcellus Shale in an interview at WHYY in Philadelphia

Emma Lee / WHYY

Governor Tom Corbett speaks about taxing the Marcellus Shale in an interview at WHYY in Philadelphia

StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Susan Phillips sat down with both candidates for governor and pressed them on energy issues. The candidates visited WHYY in Philadelphia, where several reporters interviewed them for about ten minutes each. Wolf has proposed taxing the Marcellus Shale gas differently than Governor Corbett. Wolf wants to charge a 5 percent tax on the market value of the gas at the wellhead. This is called a “severance tax” or some call it an “extraction tax.” Corbett wants to stick with the current impact fee, which charges a flat fee of $50,000 a well. The following is the transcript and audio of StateImpact’s interview with Governor Tom Corbett, edited for time and clarity.

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Democrat Tom Wolf talks extraction tax and protecting the environment

Democrat Tom Wolf talks to reporters at the WHYY studio in Philadelphia.

Lindsay Lazarsky / Newsworks/WHYY

Democrat Tom Wolf talks to reporters at the WHYY studio in Philadelphia.

StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Susan Phillips sat down with both candidates for governor and pressed them on energy issues. The candidates visited WHYY in Philadelphia, where several reporters interviewed them for about ten minutes each. Wolf has proposed taxing the Marcellus Shale gas differently than Governor Corbett. Wolf wants to charge a 5 percent tax on the market value of the gas at the wellhead. This is called a “severance tax” or some call it an “extraction tax.” The following is the transcript and audio of StateImpact’s interview with Democrat Tom Wolf, edited for time and clarity.

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