Energy. Environment. Economy.


EPA hearings put Pittsburgh in the crosshairs of climate war


Note: This story is from The Allegheny Front, a public radio program covering environmental issues in Western Pennsylvania. 


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held hearings today in Pittsburgh on a proposed rule to slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The plan is up against serious opposition from the coal industry, but environmental groups say it doesn’t go far enough.

Competing rallies for and against the EPA’s proposed carbon rules crossed paths in Downtown Pittsburgh today.

“No planet, no jobs!” shouted those who supported the EPA proposal.

“U-M-W-A!” chanted the United Mineworkers of America and their supporters.

Mark Sunyak, 54, of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, is a retired mineworker who came to protest the rule. He said it threatened his community.

“Our jobs, our security, our families,” Sunyak said when asked why he was there. “I’m a recent retiree, my benefits may be in jeopardy.”

About three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector come from burning coal. The EPA is trying to cut emissions from electric power plants by 30 percent of 2005 levels by the year 2030. The EPA’s own analysis shows that under the plan, coal production in Appalachia would decline. But it said other energy sectors would grow, and the overall economy would benefit.

Inside the hearings, the voices of coal were evident. Cindy Frich, a state legislator from Morgantown, West Virginia, was one of them.

“I have to admit I feel these rules are existential threat to my state,” Frich said. “We’re already having problems with our state budget. I really see problems ahead if these rules are implemented.”

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Gas boom starts to hit home for residents of Southeastern Pa.

In the past few years, the Marcellus Shale has rapidly become one of the most productive gas plays on the planet. But for many people in Southeastern Pennsylvania– the state’s most populated region– the boom has been out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

Until now.

The region is beginning to experience the tradeoffs long familiar to those who live on top of the Shale—more job opportunities and more disruption.

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What is the long-term health impact of pharmaceuticals in our water?

At our discussion forum on the Susquehanna Watershed in January, a number of you asked about what we know about the drugs we take getting into our waterways and our drinking water, and whether they could pose a threat to humans or the environment. StateImpact Pennsylvania set out to find some answers.


Scientists have been detecting traces of pharmaceuticals in our water systems for about 30 years now, but the research shows no one is getting a full dose of say, Prozac, just from drinking tap water. However, scientists do wonder whether these compounds may be having more subtle, long-term impacts on human health.

“We don’t have an answer to that and there’s really no good research out there that says ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ at this particular time,” said Julie Becker, a public heath researcher at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

But scientists are looking for answers.

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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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What does the Susquehanna River mean to you?

StateImpact Pennsylvania’s community forum on the state of the Susquehanna River Watershed is only a week away and registration is filling up quickly.

We’re collecting comments and photos about the Susquehanna and want to hear what the river means to you.

If you can’t make it to witf’s Public Media Center in Harrisburg, the event will be live-streamed, and we’ll be taking questions and comments from the online audience.



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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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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Marcellus Shale Exports Could Transform Global LNG Market

The offshore loading pier at Dominion has not received a ship importing liquefied natural gas since January 2011.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

The offshore loading pier at Dominion has not received a ship importing liquefied natural gas since January 2011.

In energy-hungry countries, all eyes are on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas. In a dramatic shift from just five years ago, the U.S. is looking to export, instead of import natural gas. And if more natural gas starts getting shipped abroad, Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale could help change the global market for natural gas, and lighting homes in Tokyo.

The U.S. currently has two export terminals, one in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, and the ConocoPhillips LNG export terminal in North Cook Inlet, Alaska. The U.S. Department of Energy just gave preliminary approval for ConocoPhillips to expand its Freeport, Texas import terminal to export liquefied natural gas. About 17 other export proposals now await approval by the DOE, including the Cove Point liquefied natural gas import terminal operated by Dominion Resources.

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Photographers Seek to Shine Light on Marcellus Shale Drilling

A new photo exhibit on Marcellus Shale is up at the Gershman Y in Philadelphia, and it’s worth a look if you’re in town. Several years ago six professional photographers, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, decided to document the Marcellus Shale drilling boom in Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh resident Brian Cohen helped conceive the idea, and simply calls it the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project.The photographers also include Noah Addis, Nina Berman, Scott Goldsmith, Lynn Johnson, and Martha Rial. A panel discussion and reception takes place Wednesday evening, January 23. I spoke with Brian Cohen last week as he was hanging the show in Center City Philadelphia.

Q: When was the first time you heard of fracking or Marcellus shale?

A: It really came on my radar in an immediate way when we moved to Pittsburgh, six years ago. This is a huge story, much more than any one photographer could do on their own. So I proposed a collaborative project.

Q: It’s an impressive group.

A: Yes, Lynn [Johnson] and Scott [Goldsmith] work with National Geographic, Martha [Rial] has a Pulitzer prize.

Q: What was your goal?

A: The ultimate goal was to tell this story through multiple perspectives, through different eyes, and different narrative styles. So we could have a more well rounded view of Marcellus Shale drilling than we would otherwise. There’s a lot of heat that’s generated by this subject but there’s not a lot of light and I want this project to shed some light. Continue Reading

The Birds-Eye View Of Marcellus

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drilling pad near a Wyoming County home

Thanks to Bill Foster and Arianne Sellers, I recently got a chance to fly over Bradford and Wyoming Counties in a Cessna, to take a look at what Marcellus Shale operations look like from above.

Here’s the bird’s-eye view of the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process, as well as completed well pads.


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