Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Attorneys advise landowners to get involved in pipeline plan

Pipeline construction in Butler County.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pipeline construction in Butler County.

More than 200 people turned out for a meeting in Lancaster Thursday night to discuss a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline. The forum was aimed at educating landowners about how to handle a pipeline on their property.

The project has sparked significant controversy. Attorneys were on hand to discuss ways landowners can negotiate with a pipeline company and deal with regulatory agencies.

Oklahoma-based Williams Partners is seeking to build 177 miles of new pipeline through 10 Pennsylvania counties in an effort to bring Marcellus Shale gas southward to markets along the East Coast. Williams needs the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to go forward with the project.

Washington D.C.-based attorney Carolyn Elefant represents landowners in pipeline cases and says it’s important for people to educate themselves and get involved early in the process. She spoke with StateImpact Pennsylvania.

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Fracking in Texas helps the state’s public school fund top Harvard’s endowment

Lenny Rodriguez works on a Choice Exploration Inc. natural gas rig near Devers, Texas. Drilling on state lands has helped create the largest public school endowment in the country.

Mike Fuentes / AP

Lenny Rodriguez works on a Choice Exploration Inc. natural gas rig near Devers, Texas. Drilling on state lands has helped create the largest public school endowment in the country.

A fund that collects rents and royalties from oil and natural gas development to Texas public schools recently became the largest education endowment in the country.

The publicly run endowment, called the Permanent School Fund, is worth $37.7 billion dollars. That’s $1.3 billion more than Harvard University’s $36.4 billion endowment. Jim Suydam, a spokesperson for the Texas General Land Office, says a big part of the story is the shale gas boom.

“We’re making a ton of money off natural gas,” said Suydam. “We made over a billion last year. The shale plays are huge down here. You can see them from space.”

Suydam says that from 1874 to 2003, $7.9 billion was deposited into the fund.  Since 2003, just before the shale gas boom began, oil and natural gas has helped increase the endowment by $8.1 billion. These deposits have generated enough return on investments to bring the grand total close to $40 billion. The Permanent School Fund doesn’t cover all expenses for Texas school children, but Suydam says it contributes an average of $400 per student per year. It also backs bonds by local school districts, allowing them to get a triple-A rating. Continue Reading

Environmentalists seek to halt construction at Cove Point LNG export plant

Dominion's offshore loading platform at Cove Point. Lusby, Maryland. Dominion wants to start exporting LNG from this platform.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

Dominion's offshore loading platform at Cove Point. Lusby, Maryland. Dominion wants to start exporting LNG from this platform.

Environmental groups have filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to stop the current construction of Dominion’s liquefied natural gas export facility in Cove Point, MD. The groups also want FERC to reverse their recent decision approving the plant. 

Last month FERC approved Dominion Energy’s plan to transform the Cove Point plant from an import terminal to an export facility, which will ship out more than 5 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas each year. Cove Point is the fourth export terminal approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. It will be the first connected to the Marcellus Shale by pipeline.

Opponents of the plan say the plant will stimulate natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, thereby increasing pollution in shale gas communities. Jocelyn D’Ambrosio is an attorney with Earthjustice.

“In neglecting to prepare a thorough review of the environmental impacts of Dominion’s controversial project, FERC is prioritizing the desires of a powerful company over the health and safety of the people of Calvert County, Marylanders, and communities throughout the Marcellus shale region,” wrote D’Ambrosio in a release.  Continue Reading

Senate OKs bill allowing legislators to weigh in on carbon plan

The state Senate has passed a measure that will require legislative approval of a state plan to cut carbon emissions.

Under proposed rules recently put forth by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania will have to cut its carbon emissions by 32 percent over the next 15 years. The federal climate policy will mean major changes for the state’s energy industries. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for coal production and third for carbon dioxide emissions.

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Lancaster groups to hold meeting on proposed pipeline

An interstate pipeline in Susquehanna County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

An interstate pipeline in Susquehanna County.

An informational meeting will be held in Thursday night in Lancaster to discuss a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that would cut through 35 miles of the county.

The proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline would run through 10 Pennsylvania counties, but it’s faced its fierce opposition from people in Lancaster County, who have raised concerns about how it will effect the environment, public safety, and property values.

The pipeline’s initial route would have cut through several of the county’s nature preserves, but in response to public criticism, the Oklahoma-based pipeline company, Williams proposed an alternate route to federal regulators.

The informational public meeting tonight is hosted by the Lancaster County Conservancy and Lancaster Farmland Trust. It’s aimed at helping landowners along the proposed route learn more about the issue.

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Pa. legislature passes bill changing buffers for cleanest streams

Valley Creek is a prized trout stream that feeds into the Schuylkill River and runs through Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Valley Creek is a prized trout stream that feeds into the Schuylkill River and runs through Valley Forge National Historical Park.

A bill eliminating a requirement for 150-foot buffers between new developments and Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams is now headed to Governor Tom Corbett’s desk.

The House passed HB1565 late Wednesday, which makes forested stream buffers an optional tool to other “substantially equivalent” practices that would preserve water quality and prevent erosion and sedimentation in specially protected watersheds. An amendment approved by the Senate earlier this week also requires developers to offset disturbances within 100 feet of a stream by planting a replacement buffer elsewhere in the same watershed.

The law only applies to projects that require stormwater discharge permits and that are adjacent to one of Pennsylvania’s “high quality” or “exceptional value” streams – a small percentage of waterways.

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Mind ‘the gap’: why more gas means more pipelines

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Pennsylvania is producing more gas than it knows what to do with. Amid a push to export gas to foreign markets, there’s also a shift away from coal toward gas at electric power plants. Right now the state gets about 20 percent of its electricity from gas, but that’s expected to increase significantly.

All these changes are leading to an ongoing expansion of gas-related infrastructure– primarily pipelines.

Anthony Cox, of UGI Energy Services, spoke with StateImpact Pennsylvania Tuesday during Penn State’s Natural Gas Utilization Conference in Cannonsburg.

He describes the need for pipelines as an “infrastructure gap” problem that causes supply to be out of balance with demand.

Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is this infrastructure gap?

A: I’d describe it as a dumbbell. One side of the dumbbell—you have a major source of production and supply. And on the other end you have a major source of demand.

And in the middle you have a thin bar, and that bar is the infrastructure gap. That needs to be built, basically, to bridge the two ends of the dumbbell.

Q: What happened last winter with electricity prices spiking?

A: Last winter, simply, the middle—in between the two [ends of the dumbbell]– was just too small. We saw unprecedented demand, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York. There was certainly enough supply, but it couldn’t get to where it was needed.

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Corbett says taxing natural gas may be a future option

Governor Corbett discussing his budget proposal on witf's Smart Talk Friday.

Heather Woolridge/ witf

Governor Corbett speaking at WITF.

Governor Tom Corbett says he’s thinks taxing natural gas could be an option. Just three weeks before the election, the governor is battling for his political future. In an exclusive interview with StateImpact Pennsylvania, Corbett said he thinks rather than the extraction tax advocated by his Democratic opponent Tom Wolf, it may be better to tax the transport of the gas within the state.

“Maybe the tax instead of being at the wellhead, should be in the transmission line,” said Corbett. “Now we can probably only tax it in the transmission line that is intrastate because if it goes into interstate, that is a Washington issue.”

Back in 2012 Governor Corbett enacted the impact fee, which charges Marcellus Shale gas drillers $50,000 per well.  Critics, including his Democratic opponent Tom Wolf, say that method leaves a lot of money on the table. Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state without a severance tax, which taxes the value of the gas extracted. Wolf has proposed a five percent severance tax. Corbett continues to oppose this kind of tax for now, saying it would cut too much into the drillers bottom line, causing them to move out of state. But he’s no longer calling it “un-American.” Instead, he says once the vast majority of the wells are drilled, it may be time to enact a tax.

“If this industry was 10-15 years old already, I think we’d be having a different conversation,” said Corbett.

Corbett gave no details of what a transmission gas tax would mean. But pipelines that cross state lines are regulated by the federal government, so the state would be limited to the transmission lines within Pennsylvania. Pipeline companies may be an easy taxation target because they already benefit from tax breaks. Natural gas transmission companies are exempt from both federal corporate income tax and Pennsylvania’s gross receipts tax. Continue Reading

Bill would eliminate buffer requirement for Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams

Loyalsock Creek in Sullivan County.

SCOTT LAMAR/WITF

Loyalsock Creek in Sullivan County.

Yet another battle of the economy versus the environment is taking place in Harrisburg. This time, conservationists say Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams are at stake.

A bill (HB1565) working its way through the state legislature would eliminate a requirement for 150-foot buffer zones between new developments and specially protected watersheds.

Thick rows of trees and shrubs help keep pollution from washing off buildings and pavement into waterways. However, developers say waterfront property is valuable and 150 feet can be too much to ask for certain projects.

The buffer requirement – passed four years ago under the Rendell administration – only applies to developments that require stormwater discharge permits and that are adjacent to one of Pennsylvania’s “high quality” or “exceptional value” streams. These waterways are often used for recreation and are home to wild brook trout and other species.

“The regulation is very narrow,” said David Hess, a former secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection. “It really only applies to a small percentage of the watersheds in Pennsylvania and even there, there are a lot of exemptions.”

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Not so pretty in pink? Drill bits for breast cancer spark controversy

A drill bit at a gas site in Pennsylvania's northern tier. As part of a breast cancer awareness, Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill pits pink.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill bit at a gas site in Pennsylvania’s northern tier.

In an effort to promote breast cancer awareness, oil and gas services company Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill pits pink.

A partnership between global breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen and oil and gas services company Baker Hughes has sparked a backlash. As part of an awareness campaign called Doing our Bit for the Cure Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill bits pink and sending them to its customers across the globe.

Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy organization, is criticizing the partnership as the “most ludicrous piece of pink sh*t we’ve seen all year.”

“This has taken this whole issue of ‘pinkwashing’ to new depths– quite literally.” says Angela Wall, a spokeswoman for the group.

Komen’s Facebook page is filled with similarly angry comments from the public.

“Absolutely absurd,” writes a user named Eric Ryan. “I regret every dollar I ever gave to the Susan G. Komen foundation.”

Baker Hughes did not respond to requests to comment. The drilling services company also plans to donate $100,000 to Komen at the Pittsburgh Steelers game at Heinz field on October 26th.

“There’s not an ounce in this that says [Komen cares] about women’s health,” says Wall. “Because if they did care they’d be going after fracking corporations, not getting into bed with them.”

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