A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Gas drilling is already occurring there, but there are controversial plans to expand development into an ecologically sensitive area known as the Clarence Moore tract.
A group representing the descendants of a 19th century lumber baron is claiming most of the mineral rights in an area of the Loyalsock State Forest where there are controversial plans to expand natural gas drilling– it’s a direct challenge to two gas companies who say they own the rights and have already submitted development plans to the state.
“As you may know, the article contains inaccurate information regarding the ownership of the natural gas rights,” wrote trustee Charles Kendall. “These rights were originally reserved in a deed dated October 2, 1894 from Mr. Proctor… Proctor’s heirs have been managing and leasing the property ever since. Any attempts by others to develop the Proctor gas rights under Loyalsock Forest… will result in appropriate legal action.”
At issue is a 25,000 acre swath of the forest known as the Clarence Moore lands– a treasured area for wildlife and recreation. Two gas companies– Anadarko Petroleum and Southwestern Energy– say they own the mineral rights and are currently working with DCNR on development plans.
State investigators have determined that human error may have led to a fatal explosion on a well pad in Dunkard Township, Greene County in February.
In a new report out today, the Department of Environmental Protection says Chevron was “too guarded” in its communication with state regulators and the media, and did not provide adequate information after a fatal well fire in southwest Pennsylvania.
The DEP admits it is also to blame for the poor communication and that the agency did not immediately assert its authority following the incident in February.
A second report by the department’s Bureau of Investigations faults Chevron’s site managers for inadequate supervision over several contractors working on the Lanco A well pad in Dunkard Township, Greene County.
DEP investigators found the explosion was likely caused by an inexperienced contractor – known as a “greenhat” – who was sent to assist a more experienced worker in preparing to put the three wells on the pad into production. The agency determined the unnamed greenhat did not properly tighten a bolt and locknut assembly on one of the wellheads, allowing gas to escape and eventually ignite.
“Our investigation revealed that the oversight of that operation was somewhat less than it should have been,” said DEP spokesman John Poister.
A contract worker, 27-year-old Ian McKee, was killed in the fire on Feb. 11.
Sunoco Logistics can’t bypass local zoning laws to develop its natural gas liquids pipeline project known as Mariner East. That’s the word from a pair of independent administrative law judges for the state’s Public Utility Commission, or PUC.
Sunoco Logistics wants to build 31 pump and valve stations to keep natural gas liquids flowing along the pipeline’s 300-mile route from western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook.
For months, the company has attempted to make the case – to local residents and to the PUC – that it is a public utility corporation, and that the pipeline itself offers a public utility service.
The judges dismissed that claim, resulting in a win for residents who have teamed up with environmental groups to fight the project.
“We’re happy that it proves what we’ve been saying all along,” said Tom Casey, the head of a citizens’ advocacy group in Chester County.
However, Casey, a resident of West Goshen Township, could not officially declare victory.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is asking doctors to let them know if their patients could be experiencing health impacts from natural gas operations. The outreach follows allegations by two former health department employees who say staff were told not to return calls from people drilling-related complaints.
Are doctors in Pennsylvania seeing patients with possible health effects from natural gas development?
In a message on the society’s website, the department asks health professionals to contact the state’s Bureau of Epidemiology if they have encountered patients with symptoms they suspect could be related to natural gas operations.
Two retired state employees told StateImpact Pennsylvania that in 2012, community health staffers were instructed not to return phone calls from people who complained about gas development, but to forward the caller’s name and number to a supervisor.
A drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Forest. Although gas drilling is already occurring in many state forests--including the Loyalsock--environmental groups are fighting a proposed expansion in an ecologically sensitive area of the Loyalsock known as the Clarence Moore lands.
More than a year has passed since DCNR held a contentious public meeting on the issue in Williamsport. Since then, the agency has released very little information publicly.
Nearly 500 people attended that meeting, and everyone who spoke over a three-hour period expressed either opposition or concern. In a response to an open records request from the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition, DCNR said it did not keep a record of the comments.
A DCNR spokeswoman did not respond to multiple requests to comment for this story.
The plans unveiled last summer involve 26 well pads and four compressor stations on a 25,000 acre swath of the Loyalsock forest known as the Clarence Moore lands– a popular area for wildlife enthusiasts and hikers.
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.
Two former employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people complaining about natural gas operations.
Five Pennsylvania environmental groups are calling for an investigation into the state Department of Health, in the wake of allegations it deliberately ignored public complaints about natural gas operations.
Representatives from five environmental groups– PennFuture, PennEnvironment, Clean Water Action-Pennsylvania, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, and the Clean Air Council– issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for an investigation into the Department of Health’s handling of the issue.
“As it stands right now, the citizens of Pennsylvania will be left in the dark of the impacts of gas development,” says PennFuture CEO Cindy Dunn. “They may be local and individualized, but the sooner we know the sooner they can be addressed.”
Bradford County’s three commissioners have reached out to the federal Department of Justice, seeking its help investigating allegations gas driller Chesapeake Energy is cheating Pennsylvania landowners out of royalty money.
As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, residents there have been complaining about the issue for more than a year and say they’re disappointed with what they view as a lack of action in Harrisburg.
“It’s still a travesty,” says commissioner Daryl Miller (R). “It’s still an issue that is hurting the working families and senior citizens of our county. As more wells go online, more people are aware of the problem because more people are getting royalty checks.”
Deductions from royalty payments– known as gathering fees or post-production costs– are legal in many cases. The fees enable companies and landowners to share the costs of processing and transporting gas as it moves from the well to the market.