Pennsylvania

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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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Morning Edition: “The Frackers” author on what more U.S. oil means for geopolitics

Yesterday the U.S. Energy Department announced a milestone last seen nearly two decades ago: the United States produced more crude oil in a month than it imported.

Morning Edition spoke with Wall Street Journal reporter Gregory Zuckerman, author of The Frackers, about the geopolitical implications of that increased domestic energy production. Zuckerman (not to be confused with the other Wall Street Journal reporter with a book that has the word “frack” in the title) said U.S. oil production made the current sanctions on Iran possible.

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DEP Secretary: regulating radiation may be “next frontier” of drilling oversight

Gov. Tom Corbett's former deputy chief of staff, Christopher Abruzzo has served as acting secretary of DEP since April.

Gov. Tom Corbett's former deputy chief of staff, Christopher Abruzzo has served as acting secretary of DEP since April.

The state Department of Environmental Protection’s acting Secretary Chris Abruzzo says regulating the radioactive materials associated with gas drilling could be the “next frontier” of the agency’s oversight of the industry.

In an interview with the Scranton Times-Tribune, Abruzzo says the DEP is still in the midst of its year-long study into naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) and technologically enhanced material (TENORM).

“It will depend largely on what the results [of the study] show us,” Abruzzo told the newspaper. “It certainly has the potential to be the next frontier in terms of regulations coming out.”

Listen to the Scranton Times-Tribune interview:

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Politicians may not be in a hurry to break drilling deadlock in the Delaware watershed

Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith leased his farm to an energy company, but has not seen any natural gas production on his land.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith leased his farm to an energy company, but has not seen any natural gas production on his land.

Dairy farming doesn’t bring in the money it used to in Wayne County, Pennsylvania. So to make ends meet, farmer Brian Smith is also a school bus driver and a county commissioner.

A few years ago, Smith leased his land in Damascus Township to an energy company looking to tap into deposits of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale below his farm.

Smith said he wanted some financial security for his family of eight. “You start thinking as you turn 50 years old, if something happens to me, how are these kids gonna pay $300,000 to pay off the debt that’s on this farm?”

But in the parts of Pennsylvania that lie in the Delaware River watershed, natural gas drilling has been on hold for more than four years. That’s because the five-member Delaware River Basin Commission, the agency in charge of overseeing the region’s water quality, has been unable to come to a consensus about how to regulate it. The DRBC came close to voting on draft regulations in late November 2011, but the meeting was postponed indefinitely to give the commissioners more time.

For the last two years, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has been the commission’s only vocal “yes” vote. The other commissioners – the governors of New Jersey, New York and Delaware, plus a federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers – haven’t taken a final stand.

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Has natural gas transformed Pennsylvania’s economy?

Hydraulic fracturing has unleashed a huge amount of natural gas in Pennsylvania.The Marcellus Shale is rapidly becoming one of the most productive gas plays in the world.

The boom has brought new jobs and new wealth to the state. But like every industry, it responds to supply and demand.

Overproduction led to a glut of gas, causing companies to shift operations to different parts of the shale in search of more lucrative natural gas liquids.

Over the past five years, the ebbs and flows of the industry have meant a changing economic reality for different parts of the state.

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