Energy. Environment. Economy.


Economics may hinder Berks County gas-to-liquids plant

A proposal to build a plant that would transform Pennsylvania’s cheap, abundant natural gas into more expensive motor fuel is generating controversy in Berks County. If built, the gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant would be one of the first facilities of its kind in the United States.

But industry analysts say there’s a reason these kinds of plants are so rare– the economics often don’t make a lot of sense.

“Homes all around”

Jen Byrne watches and worries as children run around the playground behind the day care she owns. If the plant is built in South Heidelberg Township, it would be—literally–in her backyard.

Jen Byrne

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Jen Byrne owns SpringRose Childcare in Sinking Spring.

“I thought there’s no way they’d put that right there,” she says, looking out at the empty lot. “We have all these children here. There’s homes all around. My biggest concern is air and water pollution.”

The idea behind the GTL facility is to transform Pennsylvania’s natural gas into expensive liquid motor fuel–it would produce gasoline that can go right into a car.

The facility is projected to cost $800 million to $1 billion and produce about 500,000 gallons per day of gasoline and liquid petroleum. It’s planned for a 63-acre site about 10 miles west of Reading. Although the land is zoned for light industrial uses, it’s currently an empty field surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

The newly-formed South Heidelberg Township Community Association opposes the GTL plant.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

The newly-formed South Heidelberg Township Community Association opposes the GTL plant.

Once word got out about the plans, a concerned citizens group quickly organized. They printed up bright red “Stop the gas refinery” yard signs, t-shirts, and flyers. Nearly 300 people attended a recent meeting hosted by the group.

A Canadian developer, EmberClear, is seeking to develop the GTL plant. Jim Palumbo is a project manager for the company. He says the plant will create about 150 permanent jobs.

“We have an abundance of natural gas in the state. It makes all the sense in the world to use it in some fashion,” he says. “We want to be good neighbors. We don’t want to do something that would be a detriment to the neighborhood.”

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Chevron pizza controversy puts southwest Pa. coal town in the spotlight

Bobtown is having its 15 minutes of fame. The small town in southwest Pennsylvania has been on the lips of late-night comedians, Twitter wits and anti-fracking activists. First, in February, a Chevron natural gas well near Bobtown exploded, killing a young worker. Then, the company responded by giving community residents free coupons to Bobtown Pizza.

This struck Chevron’s critics as outrageous. More than 12,000 people from the Netherlands to San Francisco have signed a petition demanding Chevron apologize for insulting the people of Bobtown.

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Court bars anti-fracking activist from more than 300 square miles of Pa.

Scroggins has to research where Cabot holds leases in Susquehanna County to figure out where she can and can't go.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Scroggins has to research where Cabot holds leases at the Susquehanna County courthouse, to figure out where she can and can't go.

A judge has signed off on an order which bars an anti-fracking activist from setting foot on more than 300 square miles–or nearly 40 percent–of Susquehanna county. It’s all the land owned or leased by the area’s biggest driller, Cabot Oil and Gas.

Although Cabot asked for the court order, a spokesman for the company says it didn’t mean for it to be so broad.

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Lawmakers focus on rail safety as more oil trains to move through Pa.

As many as 500 people have been working around the clock to turn an old coal-fired power plant in Eddystone, Delaware County into a terminal for crude oil. Starting in April, trains pulling 120 tanker cars of crude will come to Eddystone where the oil will be pumped out and put on barges for delivery to nearby refineries.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

The former Exelon Generating Station in Eddystone, Delaware County is being converted to a rail terminal for crude oil.

As many as 500 people have been working around the clock to turn an old coal-fired power plant in Eddystone, Delaware County into a terminal for crude oil. By the end of April, trains hauling 80,000 barrels of crude will arrive every day from North Dakota to help feed refineries along the Delaware River.

“That was the opportunity… to see if we could be part of the solution to save the refineries in the Philadelphia area,” says Jack Galloway, CEO of Canopy Prospecting Inc.

Galloway’s company has teamed up with North American energy distributor Enbridge to form the new Eddystone Rail Company.

Most elected officials in river towns like Eddystone are happy to see people going back to work at the old plant, but they worry it comes with some risk.

“We welcome the industrial businesses coming in, we understand the benefits of the economic growth,” says William Stewart, President of the Eddystone Borough Council. “However, we want to make sure we’re educated so in the event something was to happen, our first responders are prepared to do what they need to do.”

Two trains carrying crude oil derailed recently in Pennsylvania. They join a string of similar accidents across North America, including one last summer that killed 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

At a packed legislative committee hearing this week in Delaware County, former Congressman Curt Weldon – a former mayor and fire chief in Marcus Hook – warned state lawmakers that state and local first responders may not be prepared for accidents.

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Lt. Governor Cawley: Chesapeake Energy royalty practices are ‘egregious’

Lt. Governor Jim Cawley.

Scott Detrow/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Lt. Governor Jim Cawley.

Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley sat down with StateImpact Pennsylvania recently to talk about how the Corbett administration is handling allegations of fraud against the state’s biggest natural gas driller– Chesapeake Energy.

Corbett recently reached out to state Attorney General Kathleen Kane and asked her to investigate complaints the company is cheating Pennsylvania landowners out of royalty money.

For an overview of the issue, listen to our audio report:

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Pa. towns with no zoning rules unlikely to limit gas drilling

It seemed like a game-changer late last year when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court restored the power of local communities to limit natural gas development within their borders. After all, three out of every five municipalities on the Marcellus Shale have zoning laws to that would apply. However, in the state’s rural Northern Tier, where drilling has flourished, some towns aren’t eager to wield this new clout.

In most of Pennsylvania, industrial activities are controlled by local governments using zoning. They have community plans that tell businesses how loud they can get or how high they can build, or how close they can be to your house. But in the northeast, many communities don’t have these kinds of rules and most people like it that way.

In Susquehanna County, Planning Director Bob Templeton says the idea of zoning has never gone over well.

“People are not rich in Susquehanna County, but what they do own is their land and they’re very proud of that,” he says. “It’s been passed down for generations, so don’t mess with my land.”

After the natural gas industry moved in, the county passed an ordinance to deal with noisy compressor stations that move the gas through pipelines. Otherwise, Templeton says many residents in Susquehanna – where only six of the county’s 40 municipalities have adopted zoning codes – just accepted the changes to their rural lifestyle.

“If I’m out in the townships and I’ve leased my land and now I’m looking forward to royalties, I don’t want somebody controlling it,” he says. ”How can you say this area is allowed to be drilled upon and this area is not?”

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Scientists document gas development disturbing forest ecosystems


Pennsylvania is no stranger to extractive industries–like coal and timber. By the early twentieth century its forests were decimated. Today they’ve grown back and trees are harvested in a sustainable manner.

But scientists say the state’s surge in natural gas development is having new kinds of dramatic effects on its forests.

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DEP’s climate change plan doesn’t set goal to reduce emissions

A Cambria County wind farm.

Scott Detrow/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Cambria County wind farm.

A draft update of Pennsylvania’s Climate Change Action Plan lacks a specific target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The state’s previous Action Plan–published by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2009– set an emissions reduction target of 30 percent by the year 2020.

According to the DEP, there is no target this time because state law does not require one.

The new plan is the second in a pair of legally-mandated reports about climate change. As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the publication of both documents has been fraught with problems.

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To clear the air, some Susquehanna County residents leave the fracking debate behind

Neighbors Victoria Switzer and Ron Teel point to a natural gas compressor station on Teel's property in Dimock, Susquehanna County.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Neighbors Victoria Switzer and Ron Teel point to a natural gas compressor station on Teel's property in Dimock, Susquehanna County.

Two years ago, Victoria Switzer and her neighbors had stopped speaking.

Switzer was one of the residents of Dimock who claimed natural gas drilling had ruined their water supplies. The small village in Susquehanna County became synonymous with flaming taps and jugs of muddy brown drinking water.

But the media blitz angered her neighbors, the Teels, who said it ignored the economic benefits of drilling.

The reporters, the activists and the industry haven’t gone away, but things have started to change.

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Royalty disputes fuel anger over state’s oversight of gas production data

Dave DeCristo frequently calls gas companies with questions and complaints about his royalty statements.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Businessman and landowner Dave DeCristo at his office in Canton. He frequently calls gas companies with questions and complaints about his royalty statements.

The Marcellus Shale is one of the most productive natural gas formations in the world. But when it comes to measuring precisely how productive it is, Pennsylvania doesn’t audit the numbers.

Natural gas production data is submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection directly from drillers and published online before it’s verified.

As allegations of underpaid gas royalties continue, some landowners are frustrated there is nowhere for them to go to check how much gas is produced and what they’re supposed to be paid.

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