Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Pennsylvania cuts funding to Delaware River commission

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.

Pennsylvania is cutting its share of funding to the agency that oversees issues from water quality to flood management in the Delaware River watershed, the Scranton Times-Tribune reports.

The Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC, is run by the federal government and the governors of the four states that share the watershed – New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Under an agreement, Pennsylvania is responsible for 25 percent of the funding for the commission’s work.

Governor Tom Corbett proposed a $500,000 cut in February, which remained in the final budget passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by the governor on July 10.

However, state funding levels to four other interstate groups – including the Susquehanna River Basin Commission – have remained flat. That has led some critics to believe that the cut to the DRBC is retaliation for the ongoing stalemate over natural gas development in the Delaware watershed.

Continue Reading

Commonwealth Court throws out several challenges to Act 13, including ‘doctor gag rule’ [UPDATED]

The Commonwealth Court has upheld several sections of the state's oil and gas law,  including a provision dealing with doctors' access to the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court has upheld several sections of the state's oil and gas law, including a provision dealing with doctors' access to the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

This post has been updated to include additional comments on the ruling.

Pennsylvania doctors have nothing to worry about when it comes to the so-called “gag order” on chemical exposures from oil and gas drilling. That’s the message from the Commonwealth Court today in a much-anticipated ruling on provisions of the state’s two-year-old oil and gas law. The court issued the ruling after the Supreme Court passed on the controversy, sending it back to the lower court.

The “gag rule” stems from a section of Act 13, which requires nondisclosure agreements from healthcare providers who seek information on chemical exposures, which may be deemed “confidential” by industry. The law, which was drafted without the knowledge or consultation of healthcare providers, forces doctors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, thereby agreeing not to share any ingredients in the industry’s secret sauce used to frack and drill for natural gas.

Writing for the Commonwealth Court, President Judge Dan Pellegrini says the law is not unconstitutional, and it neither prevents healthcare providers from obtaining the necessary information or sharing it with other health practitioners.

Continue Reading

Environmental groups call for investigation into Pa. Department of Health

Two former employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people complaining about natural gas operations.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Two former employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people complaining about natural gas operations.

Five Pennsylvania environmental groups are calling for an investigation into the state Department of Health, in the wake of allegations it deliberately ignored public complaints about natural gas operations.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported in June, two former state health workers claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people who complained about gas drilling. Employees also needed high-level permission to attend meetings and forums about Marcellus Shale topics.

Representatives from five environmental groups– PennFuture, PennEnvironment, Clean Water Action-Pennsylvania, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, and the Clean Air Council– issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for an investigation into the Department of Health’s handling of the issue.

“As it stands right now, the citizens of Pennsylvania will be left in the dark of the impacts of gas development,” says PennFuture CEO Cindy Dunn. “They may be local and individualized, but the sooner we know the sooner they can be addressed.”

Continue Reading

Bradford County commissioners ask feds to investigate Chesapeake Energy

A Chesapeake Energy rig in Oklahoma.

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, file

A Chesapeake Energy rig in Oklahoma.

Bradford County’s three commissioners have reached out to the federal Department of Justice, seeking its help investigating allegations gas driller Chesapeake Energy is cheating Pennsylvania landowners out of royalty money.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, residents there have been complaining about the issue for more than a year and say they’re disappointed with what they view as a lack of action in Harrisburg.

“It’s still a travesty,” says commissioner Daryl Miller (R). “It’s still an issue that is hurting the working families and senior citizens of our county. As more wells go online, more people are aware of the problem because more people are getting royalty checks.”

Deductions from royalty payments– known as gathering fees or post-production costs– are legal in many cases. The fees enable companies and landowners to share the costs of processing and transporting gas as it moves from the well to the market.

Continue Reading

Expert: without fracking boom, U.S. would face oil crisis

Daniel Yergin speaking at the U.S. Energy Information Conference in Washington D.C. Monday. His book, "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power" won the Pulitzer Prize and is often cited as one of the definitive histories of the oil industry.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Daniel Yergin speaking in Washington D.C. Monday. His book, "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power" won the Pulitzer Prize and is often cited as one of the definitive histories of the oil industry.

Energy expert and oil historian Daniel Yergin says without the recent domestic boom in oil production, the United States would be in trouble.

“I’m convinced–were it not for what’s happened these last few years– we’d be looking at an oil crisis,” he said. “We’d have panic in the public. We’d have angry motorists. We’d have inflamed congressional hearings and we’d have the U.S. economy falling back into a recession.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Vice Chairman of global consulting firm IHS spoke Monday at the annual conference of the U.S. Energy Information Administration– the statistics arm of the federal Department of Energy.

“We still call them unconventional, but they’re becoming pretty conventional,” Yergin said of recent increases in domestic oil and gas production. “U.S. natural gas production’s up 34 percent since 2005. Recoverable reserves have doubled. Crude oil production is up 66 percent since 2008. We’re seeing a re-balancing of world oil.”

Continue Reading

Protesters arrested opposing natural gas exports

Twenty-four protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Twenty-four protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Two dozen environmental activists were arrested Monday outside the Washington D.C. offices of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They were protesting the proposed Cove Point export terminal for liquefied natural gas. If approved by FERC, the facility would be the closest gas export terminal to the Marcellus Shale.

About 40 protesters participated in the demonstration. Some linked arms and blockaded several entrances to the office building in an attempt to keep FERC employees from getting to work. Twenty-four of them were arrested for blocking a public passageway. Monday’s protest followed another D.C. rally on Sunday opposing gas exports.

Continue Reading

Former health secretary: Pa. failed to address fracking concerns

Pennsylvania's former health secretary says he believes the state has failed to address public concerns about fracking, "What are you so afraid that we're going to uncover?" he told the Associated Press.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Pennsylvania's former health secretary says he believes the state has failed to address public concerns about fracking, "What are you so afraid that we're going to uncover?" he told the Associated Press.

Former state health secretary, Dr. Eli Avila, is telling the Associated Press he believes Pennsylvania has failed to address public concerns related to natural gas development.

“The lack of any action speaks volumes,” Avila told the AP. “Don’t BS the public. Their health comes first.”

His comments come in the wake of an investigation by StateImpact Pennsylvania, which revealed health department employees were instructed in 2012 to forward drilling-related complaints to the agency’s Bureau of Epidemiology. Two former employees also say they were told not to respond to phone calls from people complaining about natural gas operations.

Continue Reading

Budget may force Pa. back to square one on drilling regulations

The DEP has spent two years crafting regulations for oil and gas surface activities. It may have to start all over again.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

The DEP has spent two years crafting regulations for oil and gas surface activities. It may have to start all over again.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection may have to go back to the drawing board in its two-year overhaul of drilling regulations, because the new state budget contains language changing the rules for oil and gas wells.

Governor Corbett signed the legislature’s $29 billion spending plan yesterday. The new well regulations were among other items slipped into a companion bill, known as the fiscal code. Democrats challenged the constitutionality of the move, noting that bills are supposed to adhere to one subject, but the objections were overruled in the House.

The law now makes distinctions between modern deeper, Marcellus Shale wells and shallower, conventional wells. It mirrors a bill introduced by Senate Present Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R- Jefferson) earlier this spring.

Given the new law, the DEP’s yet-to-be-finalized regulations may be in jeopardy.

Continue Reading

Wolf says he would ‘restore trust’ in health department drilling policies

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf says he will work to restore public trust in how the state handles health complaints related to gas drilling.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf says he would "put a premium on transparency" in how the state handles health complaints related to gas drilling.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf says he wants to restore public trust in the state Department of Health. The agency was recently accused by former employees of having policies aimed at muzzling its workers on the issue of natural gas drilling.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, two retired state health department workers claim employees were instructed not to respond to phone calls from people who complained about natural gas operations.

In 2012, employees were sent a list of 19 drilling-related “buzzwords” and directed to forward phone calls from people who used those words to the Bureau of Epidemiology. Employees were also required to fill out a permission form and get high-level approval before attending any meetings on topics related to Marcellus Shale development.

While campaigning Wednesday in Chambersburg, Wolf wouldn’t weigh in on specific policies supported by public health advocates– such as increasing funding to the department or creating a public registry of drilling-related complaints.

But he said if he’s elected, he would work to make the department more accountable.

“The idea is to make people actually trust their government—look to government for answers–not to think that we’re alien and the enemy,” he said. “With the Department of Health and throughout my administration I would put a premium on transparency.”

Continue Reading

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »

Economy
Education