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2014 countdown: A fatal fire & state accused of ignoring fracking complaints

Our countdown ends with the two most popular web stories of 2014*: A gas well fire in Greene County that claimed a young man’s life, and allegations from former state health workers that Pennsylvania ignored public complaints about gas drilling.

2. Natural gas well explodes in Greene County

A Chevron natural gas well in Greene County exploded February 11th, killing one worker and injuring another. The fire burned for five days before it was extinguished, however it took more than a week to find the remains of 27-year-old Ian McKee, a contract worker with Texas-based Cameron International.

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2014 countdown: Chesapeake Energy royalties & gas company controls public roads

Our end-of-year countdown continues with the third and fourth most popular web stories.* This time, they’re both video features. In fourth place is our story about people blocked from public roads and public forests by security guards working for a gas company.

Our third most popular web story is a follow-up with landowners who say gas drilling giant Chesapeake Energy is stealing from them. The company has been accused of underpaying gas royalties from its leaseholders in Pennsylvania and other states.

4. On public land, a gas company takes private control

StateImpact Pennsylvania documents people being harassed on public roads by security guards.

Update: The retiree profiled in this story, Bob Deering, is still thinking of moving because of the disturbances he deals with from nearby gas development. However, since this story was published, he has been able to travel more freely on the road to his home. The lawsuit mentioned (from the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation) is still pending in Commonwealth Court.

 

3. As fraud allegations mount against Chesapeake Energy, so does frustration

Most of the company’s Pennsylvania operations are in Bradford County. It’s a rural area stretching along the New York border; it has more Marcellus shale gas wells than any other part of the state. StateImpact Pennsylvania first talked with landowners there in June 2013. A year-and-a-half later, we went back.

Landowners complain Chesapeake is still cheating them and Harrisburg has done little to stop it.

Update: Chesapeake Energy’s royalty practices are currently the subject of inquires by the U.S. Department of Justice and Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s office. A controversial bill in Harrisburg aimed at limiting oil and gas companies from withholding royalty money for processing and transporting fees went virtually nowhere. It will be reintroduced in 2015. 

 

*The countdown is based on web traffic statistics to the StateImpact Pennsylvania site.

VIDEO: The explosive oil train boom

The Weather Channel has teamed up with InsideClimate News to take a look at the explosive growth in oil-by-rail shipments across North America.

As the fracking boom unleashes massive amounts of domestic oil, much of it is flowing out of North Dakota’s Bakken Shale by train.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the Bakken oil has helped breathe new life into Philadelphia’s refineries, but the city has also become one of the nation’s most heavily traveled regions for rail oil shipments.

A string of recent accidents has prompted calls for safety upgrades.

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As fraud allegations mount against Chesapeake Energy, so does frustration

Landowners who have been accusing natural gas driller Chesapeake Energy of stealing their money say Harrisburg is doing little to stop it.

Most of the company’s Pennsylvania operations are in Bradford County. It’s a rural area stretching along the New York border; it has more Marcellus shale gas wells than any other part of the state. StateImpact Pennsylvania first talked with landowners there in June 2013.

A year-and-a-half later, they say Chesapeake is still cheating them:


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Following fracking scandal, state Rep. Jesse White loses House seat

State Rep. Jesse White (D- Allegheny) apologized for using fake online personas to bully shale gas supporters.

State Rep. Jesse White (D- Allegheny) apologized for using fake online personas to bully shale gas supporters.

A Pittsburgh area Democrat and vocal fracking critic lost his state House seat last night. Rep. Jesse White (D- Allegheny) was caught last year in an online bullying scandal by Pittsburgh’s local CBS affiliate.

In May 2013 the TV station reported White had been using pseudonyms to bully online commenters who express support for shale gas development. He later apologized.

White was soundly defeated by Republican challenger Jason Ortitay. The Washington Observer-Reporter covered his loss, which he blamed on negative ads.

“This wasn’t a campaign; it was a character assassination. They dragged my name through the mud and it worked, this time,” White said. “We did everything we could have done. I’m proud of my campaign.”

Ortitay did not dispute the nastiness of the campaign, but said he’s ready to work for his new constituents as he learns the nuances of state government.

“From here on out, it’s about bringing people together,” Ortitay said. “If you have disagreements, I’m here to be reasonable and be fair and to help bridge the gap to bring people together to build a better 46th District.”

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Travel the Turnpike with StateImpact Pennsylvania

Drivers traveling the Pennsylvania Turnpike can see nearly every major form of energy from their car window.

As the federal government pushes states to cut emissions that are leading to climate change, StateImpact Pennsylvania took a road trip down the toll road. We profiled five major energy sources along the way: coal, wind, nuclear, solar, and oil.

Learn more about the project, and visit our special website to hear all the stories.

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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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