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Gas drillers still ignoring law to include women and minorities

According to a recent survey by the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, 84 percent of workers are white. Men outnumber women three to one.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

According to a recent survey by the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, 84 percent of gas workers are white. Men outnumber women three to one.

In an industry heavily dominated by white men, most gas drilling companies continue to ignore a state law requiring them to make efforts to include minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses in contracting opportunities.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania previously reported, last year marked the first time drillers had to fill out a legally-mandated diversity survey. Most of them didn’t respond.

Dave Spigelmyer, who heads the industry group the Marcellus Shale Coalition, says gas companies are committed to hiring locally.

“We will continue to make collaborative efforts – working with a diverse set of stakeholders – as shale development matures aimed at creating even more opportunities and partnerships with local businesses,” he wrote in an email.

Pennsylvania’s 2012 oil and gas law –known as Act 13– directs drillers to provide “maximum practicable contracting opportunities” to small diverse businesses. It doesn’t set quotas, but it does require gas companies to respond to an annual survey and use the state Department of General Services’ (DGS) database to identify certified small diverse businesses.

The response rate to this latest survey was better. Forty percent of companies replied this time, compared to 27 percent last year. Among those who responded, most said they did not employ any small diverse businesses, nor did they use the DGS database. Many companies reported that they already had their contractors selected.

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Heirs to 19th century lumber baron claim gas rights in Loyalsock State Forest

A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Gas drilling is already occurring there, but there are controversial plans to expand it in an ecologically sensitive area known as the Clarence Moore lands.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

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.

Shortly after the Philadelphia Inquirer published an October 2012 story about environmental groups fighting the gas companies’ plans, a Boston-based group called the Thomas E. Proctor Heirs Trust sent a letter to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

“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.

DCNR has said the Clarence Moore tract presents a unique case because of the intense public interest and the fact that the state does not own the mineral rights.

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Pa. faults Chevron for lack of oversight, poor communication in fatal well fire

The family of Ian McKee, a worker who was killed in a February natural gas well explosion in Greene County, is suing Chevron Appalachia.

Katie Colaneri/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

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.

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Independent judges: Sunoco Logistics pipeline can’t bypass local zoning laws

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.

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Pa. health department reaches out to doctors amid controversy over drilling complaints

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 respond to people who called with drilling-related health complaints.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

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?

The state Department of Health wants to know.

The agency reached out to physicians through the Pennsylvania Medical Society this week, following a recent investigation by StateImpact Pennsylvania into how the agency handled drilling-related health complaints.

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.

In the wake of these allegations, state health secretary Michael Wolf wrote an editorial published on PennLive.com on July 22.

In it, Wolf made several claims about how the agency has addressed the potential impacts of shale gas development, including:

  • That the department “has conducted outreach on the issue” through the Pennsylvania Medical Society,
  • That the department has been “working with schools of public health in Pennsylvania to further understand and study the potential health impacts of drilling,”
  • That the department “will continue to carry out related monitoring activities under Act 13 of 2012,” the state’s two-year-old oil and gas law.

Neither Wolf, nor a department spokeswoman mentioned these initiatives in prior interviews with StateImpact Pennsylvania.

We checked in on where these initiatives stand. Here’s what we found out.

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Drilling plans for Loyalsock State Forest quietly move forward

A drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Forest. Although gas drilling is already occurring in many state forests, including the Loyalsock, environmental groups are opposing a proposed expansion in an area of the Loyalsock known as the Clarence Moore lands.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

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.

Controversial plans to expand natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest are quietly moving forward. Last month the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages drilling on public lands, met with two gas companies who own mineral rights there.

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.

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Proposed Pipeline Project to Get Federal Scrutiny

Workers build the Laser pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Kim Paynter / Newsworks/WHYY

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.

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Corbett agrees to hold off on new gas leases on state lands pending lawsuit

A caravan of trucks travel through the Loyalsock State Forest to a natural gas drilling site.  Fossil fuel production itself utilizes a lot of energy.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A caravan of trucks travel through the Loyalsock State Forest to a natural gas drilling site. Fossil fuel production itself utilizes a lot of energy.

The Corbett administration has agreed to hold off on leasing any more state land for natural gas drilling until a case challenging the practice is settled.

In exchange, the environmental group suing the stateagreed not to challenge the use of state conservation money to fund the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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

Commonwealth Court throws out several challenges to Act 13, including ‘doctor gag rule’ [UPDATED]

The 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.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

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.

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Environmental groups call for investigation into Pa. Department of Health

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.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

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.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported in June, two former state health workers claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people who complained about gas drilling. Employees also needed high-level permission to attend meetings and forums about Marcellus Shale topics.

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.”

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