Pennsylvania

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On public land, a gas company takes private control

On any given day Bob Deering doesn’t know how much trouble he’ll have getting to and from his home. He lives on a mountain in Lycoming County and he’s routinely stopped and questioned by security guards. It’s been happening for the past six years– ever since the natural gas boom began.

“I’ve been coming up here with my grandparents since 1953,” he says. “But if I would have known in 2001 what I know now, I’d never have built a house up here.”

Deering expected to enjoy a quiet retirement. In the early 2000′s, he and his wife built a log home from a kit. Their property is surrounded by state forest and game land.

But in recent years their neighborhood has gotten noisy as gas companies drill wells, build pipelines, and move heavy equipment.

Nearly a third of Pennsylvania’s roughly 2 million acres of public forest land is already available for oil and gas development. Governor Corbett wants to lease even more land, but an environmental group is suing to try to stop him.

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Meet the Candidates: Governor Tom Corbett

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with the gubernatorial candidates on issues related to shale gas development in Pennsylvania.

Meet the candidate in a brief video, and read a more detailed transcript of our interview below. Both the video and transcript have been edited, separately, for length and clarity. The primary is on May 20th. 

Name: Tom Corbett

Party affiliation: Republican

Residence: Shaler, Allegheny County

Occupation: Governor of Pennsylvania, elected in 2010

Campaign websitewww.tomcorbettforgovernor.com

 

Q: Your democratic opponents all support a severance tax on natural gas drilling. Why do you support the current impact fee?

A: The purpose of the impact fee was to obtain revenue for the areas that have been impacted on a daily basis by the drilling that is going on up there and as you know, to date we have gotten over $630 million in three years from that impact fee that is paid by the companies. [Those] funds come to the PUC to be distributed back out to the communities. Sixty-three percent goes to the counties and all counties get something out of this, but the 40 counties that have the impact of the drilling going on, which is to their roads and to their communities, get the majority of that. But even counties like Philadelphia receive funds from this even though there’s no drilling going on down there. And one of the reasons it went to the PUC is if it goes into the general fund, it could be spent anywhere and clearly those communities do have an impact from the drilling activity, a very positive impact, but also there’s some usage on the roads and there’s some infrastructure impacts that had to be dealt with. The communities are supportive of this and it was a fair way of treating the development of this industry with those areas that are being covered.

But I do want to remind everybody that all of these companies, like any other company and any other individuals, pay taxes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s over $2 billion in taxes that have been paid to the Commonwealth by these companies and by the individuals working in these companies in a combination of corporate and net income tax, sales and use tax, corporate stock and franchise tax, personal income tax, so it’s not like these companies are not paying in, they are paying in.

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Meet the Candidates: Tom Wolf

This is the fourth in a series of interviews with the gubernatorial candidates on issues related to shale gas development in Pennsylvania.

Meet the candidate in a brief video, and read a more detailed transcript of our interview below. Both the video and transcript have been edited, separately, for length and clarity. The primary is on May 20th. 

Name: Tom Wolf

Party affiliation: Democrat

Residence: Mount Wolf, York County

Occupation: Chairman and CEO, The Wolf Organization, Inc.

Campaign websitewww.wolfforpa.com

 

Q: Do you support a severance tax or the current impact fee on natural gas extraction?

A: I’m proposing a 5 percent severance tax I call it, although I’m not quite sure what the distinction is between that and an extraction tax or even the impact fee. The impact fee is about 1.3 percent of market value right now, depending on your calculation, and [most] of that goes to local government. My severance tax would be imposed as a percent of the market price at the wellhead which right now I think is around $4 per thousand cubic feet, which according to some estimates would raise around $700 million in the first year. The hope is as the price goes up, as demand goes up, it would be higher in the future.

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Meet the Candidates: Allyson Schwartz

This is the third in a series of interviews with the gubernatorial candidates on issues related to shale gas development in Pennsylvania.

Meet the candidate in a brief video, and read a more detailed transcript of our interview below. Both the video and transcript have been edited, separately, for length and clarity. The primary is on May 20th.

Name: Allyson Schwartz

Party affiliation: Democrat

Residence: Jenkintown, Montgomery County

Occupation: Congresswoman, 13th District, elected in 2004

Campaign website: www.allysonschwartz.com

 

Q: Do you support a severance tax or the current impact fee on natural gas extraction?

A: I support both. I think we should maintain the impact fee. It’s been important to local communities and we should maintain that and it’s good dollars to use, important dollars to use to enforce the environmental regulations at the state. I would actually make sure those environmental regulations are strong ones and that they are clearly enforced, but I would add a 5 percent extraction tax because right now, Tom Corbett’s giving away that natural gas to the energy companies.

Q: How would you spend the money?

A: I would use those dollars to pay for education and restore some of the cuts that Tom Corbett has made in education and I would use it for universal pre-K for 4-year-olds, make sure kids start school ready to learn. [It’s] one of the smartest things we can do. Second, I would use some of the money for infrastructure projects, big transportation projects. I would use some of those dollars to capitalize an infrastructure bank [for] big, transformative transportation projects that help grow the economy across the state. And third, I would use some of the dollars for clean energy. The shale is still a fossil fuel and we ought to be building towards a future, to make sure we invest in wind and solar and hydro and energy efficiency and be a leader in all four.

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Meet the candidates: Rob McCord

This is the first in a series of interviews with the gubernatorial candidates on issues related to shale gas development in Pennsylvania.

Meet the candidate in a brief video, and read a more detailed transcript of our interview below. Both the video and transcript have been edited, separately, for length and clarity. The primary is on May 20th. 

Name: Rob McCord

Party affiliation: Democrat

Residence: Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County

Occupation: State Treasurer, elected in 2008

Campaign website: www.robmccord.com

 

Q: Do you support a severance tax or the current impact fee on natural gas extraction?

A: The courts have told Tom Corbett what I think most of the public already knows and that’s that the local impact fee is bad law. I think it ought to be replaced with a drillers’ tax. Some call it an extraction tax. I realize sometimes people get a glassy look and it’s like, “You don’t know what we’re talking about when we say this, right?” So it’s a drillers’ tax and it would be imposed on those are drilling a natural resource that cannot be drilled from outside the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a core point here when we’re talking about job creation. We would hold harmless, by the way, the local communities that have enjoyed revenues for real impacts, real costs on these local communities and counties and infrastructure projects and so forth, but we’d have dramatically increased revenue from $200 million to $1.63 billion under the McCord proposal for a drillers’ tax, a 10 percent fee and the lion’s share of that would be earmarked for investing in education, education, education, but we would also have enhanced revenue for environmental protection.

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Pa. drill rig manufacturer taking the ‘rough’ out of roughnecking

As shale oil and gas production soars in states like Pennsylvania, Texas and North Dakota, the number of drill rigs towering over treetops is on the decline. Operators are becoming more efficient and advances in technology are driving other changes in oil and gas fields.

Several hours away from where drillers are boring down into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, Schramm Inc. is manufacturing new rigs that, in the words of CEO Ed Breiner, “take the ‘rough’ out of roughnecking.” Schramm’s latest model – the T500XD – requires 40 percent fewer workers than a conventional rig.

Last week, StateImpact Pennsylvania visited Schramm’s factory in West Chester, Pennsylvania to learn more about how technology is shaping the future of drilling jobs.

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Tank cars moving crude by rail through Pa. need a makeover

Seven cars of a 101-car train traveling from Chicago to a refinery in South Philadelphia slid off the tracks on the Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge around 12:30 a.m. Monday.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

A train carrying crude oil derailed on a bridge in Philadelphia in January.

A series of high-profile derailments hasn’t stopped the flow of trains hauling crude oil through Pennsylvania to refineries along the Delaware River.

This week, PublicSource takes a look at the tank cars, known as DOT-111s, that are holding all this oil. They’re the same cars that were involved in a 2006 derailment in New Brighton, Pa.

More from PublicSource:

No one was injured, but 150 people were evacuated and a multi-million dollar cleanup ensued in the city about 30 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh.

The rail cars in the accident were DOT-111s, designed in the early 1960s and originally used to haul non-hazardous materials such as corn syrup. Now, they are the worker bees for the glut of crude oil and ethanol being transported across Pennsylvania and the country.

“The same old clunkers are still out there,” said Fred Millar, a Washington, D.C., consultant to the rail industry. “They’re pepsi cans on wheels.”

The railroads recently agreed to voluntary changes to make shipping oil by rail safer in the short-term and the federal government is now requiring shippers to test each load of crude. However, concerns linger about the safety of these tank cars that continue to bring hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil each day to Philadelphia alone.

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Environmental groups rally against plan to expand drilling in state forests

Environmental groups object to Governor Corbett's plan to expand leasing of state park and forest land for gas drilling.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Environmental groups object to Governor Corbett's plan to expand leasing of state park and forest land for gas drilling.

A statewide coalition of environmental groups held a rally today opposing Governor Corbett’s proposal to expand leasing of state parks and forests for natural gas drilling.

They marched from the capitol rotunda to Corbett’s office to deliver a petition opposing the plan.

The rally was timed to coincide with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources appearing before the House Appropriations committee.

DCNR secretary Ellen Ferretti told lawmakers Corbett’s proposal will not allow for any new or additional surface impacts to public lands.

“Each and every [leasing] proposal will be evaluated to make sure it adheres to this directive,” she said.

Former Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, leased about 130,000 acres of state forest land before he instituted a moratorium on future leasing during his last year in office.

Governor Corbett says he plans to issue a new executive order, under which companies could not build new well pads on state land. Instead, they could access gas by drilling horizontally underground from private property that’s adjacent to public land, or add new wells to existing well pads on state land.

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Worker still missing after southwestern Pa. gas well explosion

The sound of the fire can be heard at least a mile away from the site.

Katie Colaneri/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A day after the explosion, the sound of the fire could be heard a mile away from the site.

Note: StateImpact Pennsylvania will continue to update this story as more details become available.

A worker is still unaccounted for more than two days after a natural gas well explosion in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The incident happened around 6:45 a.m. Tuesday morning at Chevron’s Lanco 7H well site in Dunkard Township, Greene County – about 50 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The fire continued to burn into Thursday. The cause of the explosion is still unknown.

State Rep. Pam Synder (D- Greene) says state police are treating the site as a crime scene, even though a death has not been confirmed, and a body has not been found.

She said a Houston, Texas-based company called Wild Well Control, which specializes in these types of incidents, is on the scene.

“They’re doing everything they can,” she said. “Everybody’s doing everything they can to make sure that this situation is contained, controlled, and over as soon as possible.”

“A serious reminder of the dangers we face”

The missing worker is employed by the Houston-based contractor, Cameron. The company is not releasing his name, but has issued a statement about the incident.

“It is a serious reminder of the dangers we face in our industry every day, and underscores the importance of safety in everything we do.”

Chevron says they don’t know how long the fire may burn.

“We have begun to monitor the air, surface waters, and noise in the area for any signs of impact. At this point we have no indications that this incident has created any safety risk, “ said company spokeswoman Lee Ann Wainwright in an email Wednesday afternoon.

Nineteen workers were on the site at the time of the incident, and 18 have been accounted for. Another worker who received minor injuries was treated and released from the hospital yesterday.

Wainwright said Chevron will attempt to control the blaze by shutting off the flow of natural gas to the burning well. There are three gas wells on the site.

“We are closely monitoring the status of the adjacent two wells and are developing contingency plans for those wells if necessary.”

DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo addresses the media at the Bobtown Polish Club in Dunkard Township, Pa. He says there's no evidence the fire poses a health hazard for residents.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo addresses the media at the Bobtown Polish Club in Dunkard Township, Pa. He says there's no evidence the fire poses a health hazard for residents.

DEP: No concerns nearby residents were harmed

DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo attended a briefing Wednesday with officials from Chevron, its contractor Cameron, and Wild Well Control. He explained that there is a truck next to the flaming well that’s absorbing a significant amount of heat, making it more difficult for the flames to be extinguished.

Abruzzo says windy conditions have helped disperse vapors into the atmosphere instead of settling into the valley where most of the nearby homes are. DEP staff used hand-held monitors on the site.

“They were getting negative readings in terms of volatile organic compounds and other explosive-type gases,” he said.

The DEP will continue to place air sampling devices in the area around the well site.

“We don’t have any real concerns that there are people in the immediate area that may have been harmed either because of the initial explosion or ignition or from vapors,” he says. “This just demonstrates why making sure that the location of well pads is done responsibly because at the end of the day, the most important thing for all of us is the protection of our citizens.”

On Thursday morning Governor Corbett issued a statement, saying he has directed Abruzzo to work with state, county, and local authorities to investigate what happened.

“Our focus right now is making sure workers and first responders are safe, and we are concerned about the potential loss of life,” Corbett said. “We need to determine exactly what happened and how we can learn from it.”

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