Energy. Environment. Economy.


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.

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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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Natural gas well explodes in southwest Pennsylvania [UPDATED]

Last updated at 10:55 a.m. Thursday Click here for more updates.

The Associated Press reports one worker is injured and another missing after a natural gas well exploded early Tuesday morning in Dunkard Township, Greene County in southwest Pennsylvania.

More details from the AP:

Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver says the fire was reported at about 6:45 a.m. at the Lanco 7H well in Dunkard Township, near Bobtown. That’s about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. Oliver says one person is reported hospitalized and another is currently unaccounted for.

Oliver says Chevron personnel immediately responded to the fire and called in assistance from Wild Well Control.

Ambulance and emergency medical crews have been summoned to the scene, and state police have reportedly set up a half-mile perimeter.

Crews at the scene report that intense flames have kept them from getting too close to the well.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the fire was still burning at noon and plumes of smoke were billowing from the site. See the Lanco 7H well on our Shale Play map here.

More details from the Post-Gazette:

DEP spokesman John Poister said that Chevron flew in a Wild Well Control team from Houston this morning and it arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport at 12:45 p.m.

He said the team had begun its evaluation of the situation prior to making an attempt to choke off the natural gas spewing from the well and put out the fire.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Greene County Emergency Management Agency also are on the scene, and help from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Red Cross has been requested.

Mr. Poister said the fire was complicated further by a truck on the well pad that contained propane, which became involved in the fire and also exploded. The fire was so intense that firefighters had to pull back from the flames, he said.

“They essentially retreated to let the fire burn,” Mr. Poister said.

“Chevron’s primary concern at this point is to contain the fire and ensure the safety of its employees, contractors and the surrounding community,” said Chevron Spokesman Kent Robertson in an e-mail.

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Watch our Delaware River watershed discussion live right here

Wildlife along the Delaware River at Washington Avenue Green Park in Philadelphia.

WHYY Photo

Wildlife along the Delaware River at Washington Avenue Green Park in Philadelphia.

Tonight, StateImpact Pennsylvania presents The Delaware River Watershed: Healthy or At Risk? It’s our interactive panel discussion about the economic, agricultural and environmental challenges facing this major river basin in the studios of WHYY in Philadelphia.

Our panelists include Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum, Patty Elkis of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Peter Wulfhorst from Penn State University’s Pike County Cooperative Extension and former Philadelphia Director of Commerce Stephen Mullin.

You can watch the event live right here on Ustream starting at 7 p.m. (EST):

Live streaming video by Ustream
Want to join in on the discussion? Using OVEE, you watch the event live and add your voice to the mix during our interactive web chat. Just click here:

Follow us on Twitter @StateImpactPA, @MarieCusick and @KatieColaneri for live updates.

New Corbett campaign ad touts Marcellus Shale benefits to PA and the planet

A new web ad for Governor Corbett's reelection campaign is touting the benefits of natural gas to Pennsylvania and the world.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A new web ad for Governor Corbett's reelection campaign is touting the benefits of natural gas to Pennsylvania and the world.

“There’s a place that is rapidly becoming one of the most critical energy suppliers on the entire planet.”

So begins the latest web ad for the governor’s reelection bid along with images of the sun rising over a gently spinning earth and an America lit up with electricity as seen from space.

“And thanks to Tom Corbett, this place known as Pennsylvania has also become America’s second largest producer of natural gas and the benefits to Pennsylvanians has been remarkable.”

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Bradford County Landowners Accuse Chesapeake Of Underpaying Royalties

Janet and Richard Geiger are Chesapeake leaseholders and claim the company has taken advantage of them by underpaying royalties.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Janet and Richard Geiger are Chesapeake leaseholders who claim the company has taken advantage of them by underpaying royalties.

It’s not easy to find Mary Jane Foelster’s home.

“We wanted the peace and quiet,” she says. “It’s just wonderful out here.”

Her home sits on 50 acres tucked away down a 1.7 mile dirt road in Bradford County. It’s as far north as you can go in Pennsylvania before crossing the border into New York.

The property is surrounded by forested hills. There’s a pond and a vegetable garden in the yard.

When she and her husband retired here from Philadelphia five years ago, they didn’t realize the property had a gas lease. They also didn’t know there was a gas well on the other side of their hill, nor did they notice when it was drilled and fracked.

But Foelster says she did begin to notice when the royalty checks started coming in from Chesapeake. There was something missing.

Money was being taken out for what Chesapeake called post-production costs –expenses it incurred getting the gas from her well to the market.

She was confused.

“There’s never a clear delineation of what those costs are. I couldn’t begin to tell you what they are.”

After numerous attempts, she finally got a Chesapeake representative on the phone and asked him to explain.

“He really couldn’t tell me why,” she says, “But I can tell you why. Chesapeake is doing whatever they think they can get away with.”

Chesapeake is the biggest natural gas producer in Pennsylvania and the second largest in the nation. But recently it’s faced financial troubles amid low natural gas prices.

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Drilling Opponents Pack DCNR Meeting On Loyalsock State Forest

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Everyone who spoke at the meeting voiced opposition to a proposal to expand natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest.

After facing months of public pressure over the possibility of expanding natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) held a public meeting on the issue.

DCNR estimates between 400 to 500 people turned out tonight to Lycoming College in Williamsport. The meeting ran an hour over its scheduled time slot, due to the number of people who wanted to comment.

Everyone who spoke expressed either concern or opposition to the proposal, which involves 26 well pads, and four compressor stations over a 25,000 acre swath of state forest, known as the Clarence Moore lands.

Although the Commonwealth controls the surface rights on about 18,000 acres, Anadarko Petroleum, along with Southwestern Energy Corporation, can exercise surface control on about 7,000 acres in the Loyalsock.  Some of that land is considered the most sensitive. Some opponents want DCNR to use their control over the 18,000 acres as leverage to keep Anadarko off the most sensitive parts of the forest.

Despite the public opposition, DCNR Secretary Richard Allan says his hands are tied.

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Rep. Jesse White Apologizes for Online Bullying of Shale Gas Supporters

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

KDKA-TV reports state Rep. Jesse White — a Pittsburgh area Democrat and vocal critic of the natural gas industry –has been using pseudonyms to bully online commenters who express support for shale gas development.

Although he declined to comment on camera to KDKA, White issued an apology today:

On occasion, I have exercised my First Amendment rights and responded in kind, which was an error in judgment that I regret. To be clear, I did not use government resources while posting comments on these sites.

I apologize to Janice Gibbs and Donald Roessler for any action I’ve taken that may have been offensive or hurtful, and I will be extending a private invitation to meet with them to discuss our viewpoints face-to-face in an effort to find common ground and foster a more professional and respectful level of communication.

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