Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

New report counts more than 13,000 renewable energy jobs in Pa.

John Bennett is site manager at the Twin Ridges Wind Farm in Somerset County, Pa.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

John Bennett is site manager at the Twin Ridges Wind Farm in Somerset County, Pa.

A new report shows the renewable and alternative energy industry supports more than 13,000 jobs in Pennsylvania.

The Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance and Environmental Entrepreneurs – the two nonprofit organizations that put out the report – are touting it as the first full accounting of these jobs, which are not tracked by the state.

The Department of Labor Statistics only counts employment in the coal, oil, gas, and nuclear energy sectors and puts out a monthly report on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling jobs. The agency gets statistics on solar and wind jobs, for example, from trade associations.

“There hasn’t been formal data on these types of jobs in Pennsylvania,” said KEEA Executive Director Brian Kauffman. “So that was one of the major motivations [for the report] to get a sense of where we are so we can get a sense of where we’re going.”

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Pew survey finds declining support for fracking

A drill rig in Tioga County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Fewer Americans now say they support the expanded use of fracking.

A new poll from the Pew Research Center shows public support for fracking has declined since last year.

In a survey conducted last week, 41 percent of respondents said they favor the increased use of fracking, while 47 percent say they are opposed.

Enthusiasm has dwindled since Pew surveyed people in March 2013. Back then, there was more support (48 percent) than opposition (38 percent). In a 2012 survey most Americans said they had heard little or nothing at all about fracking.

There is still a strong partisan and gender divide over the issue. More Republicans (62 percent) favor increased fracking, compared to 29 percent of Democrats. Women are far more likely to oppose it than men are.

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Pipeline conference planned for State College next week

Natural gas gathering lines in Bradford County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Natural gas gathering lines in Bradford County.

A one-day conference next week will focus exclusively on the midstream side of the natural gas business.

The first annual Midstream PA conference is co-hosted by Penn State and Shale Directories. It will be held next Tuesday at the Penn Stater in State College and bring together some of the biggest midstream companies and drillers in the state– including Williams, UGI Energy Services, Cabot Oil & Gas, and Range Resources.

The term “midstream” covers everything from gathering lines, to compressor stations, and interstate pipelines– basically the infrastructure needed to move gas from the well to end users.

You can think of pipelines as “part two” of the drilling boom.

“We have all this gas and liquids,” says Matt Henderson, of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research. “Now the issue is getting it to market. The midstream is the bottleneck.”

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Pennsylvania’s frack ponds now number more than 500

A sign warns against trespassing on a fracking wastewater impoundment in Bradford County.

Kim Paynter / Newsworks/WHYY

A sign warns against trespassing on a frack wastewater impoundment in Bradford County.

In 2005, Pennsylvania had 11 frack water pits. Just eight years later, aerial maps show that number has jumped to 529. It’s unclear how many of these sites store fresh water used for fracking, and how many store the toxic wastewater that results from oil and gas drilling operations. The Department of Environmental Protection could not provide the data to public health researchers working with Geisenger on an NIH funded health impact study. So the researchers turned to the nonprofit data sleuths from SkyTruth, who have documented the impoundents with the help of USDA aerial imagery and citizen scientists from around the world. Smithsonian.org recently reported on how the project was initiated by public health researchers from Johns Hopkins:

Brian Schwartz, an environmental epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and his colleagues have teamed up with Geisinger Health System, a health services organization in Pennsylvania, to analyze the digital medical records of more than 400,000 patients in the state in order to assess the impacts of fracking on neonatal and respiratory health.

While the scientists will track where these people live, says Schwartz, state regulators cannot tell them where the active well pads and waste pits are located. Officials at Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) say that they have simply never compiled a comprehensive list.

A spokesman for DEP told the Observer-Reporter that the department can’t produce a list of impoundments that include smaller wastewater storage sites because they have a different classification. The DEP sent the reporter to another nonprofit that tries to fill the state’s data and information gap – FracTracker. But FrackTracker says the data they get from DEP on the location of frack ponds is “woefully incomplete.”

“We are big fans of the SkyTruth dataset here at FracTracker, but it is a shame that it is needed,” said Matt Kelso, manager of data and technology at FracTracker Alliance.  ”We wish that the PA DEP would publish better data about this aspect of the oil and gas extraction business.”

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Court permanently bars activist from gas sites

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins says she wants to appeal a court ruling that permanently bars her from Cabot Oil & Gas sites.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins says she wants to appeal a court ruling that permanently bars her from Cabot Oil & Gas sites.

A Susquehanna County judge has ruled that 63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will be permanently barred from setting foot on Cabot Oil & Gas sites.

Scroggins has been a thorn in the company’s side for years. She hosts a lot of citizen gas tours around Susquehanna County where Cabot has most of its operations. The company says she has repeatedly trespassed on its property and poses a safety risk.

“I’d like to appeal it,” Scroggins says of the ruling. “I consider it an unfair decision that is further restricting me– to keep me from exposing Cabot and the gas industry.”

Cabot spokesman George Stark says the company is pleased with the outcome.

“We hope that Ms. Scroggins is now able to respect the judge’s parameters, which have been reestablished unequivocally,” he wrote in an email. “We are hopeful that this finally marks an end to these events.”

The feud made international news earlier this year when Cabot got a sweeping (yet temporary) court injunction against her– effectively barring her from nearly half the county. In March the order was revised to be much less restrictive. It blocked her from Cabot sites and required she maintain a 100 foot buffer zone. However, that revised order was still temporary and the two sides were negotiating a permanent deal about where she can and can’t go.

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Wolf picks former challenger, DEP secretary McGinty for chief of staff

Governor-elect Tom Wolf has picked former Secretary of the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection, Katie McGinty to be his chief of staff.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Governor-elect Tom Wolf has picked former Secretary of the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection, Katie McGinty to be his chief of staff.

Pennsylvania’s Governor-elect Tom Wolf has tapped Katie McGinty, a former challenger and state environmental protection secretary, to be his chief of staff.

After finishing fourth in the June primary, McGinty led the Fresh Start political action committee that campaigned on behalf of Wolf and other democrats. She will help with the transition to the next administration before assuming her new role after the inauguration on January 20.

McGinty ran the state Department of Environmental Protection from 2003 to 2008 under Governor Ed Rendell and was the first woman to hold the position in Pennsylvania. She is also a former staffer under President Bill Clinton who named her chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“In federal and state government, Katie worked with diverse interests to achieve meaningful change in difficult environments,” said Wolf in a statement. “Her experience will help me work with Republicans and Democrats to move Pennsylvania forward.”

One major item on Wolf’s agenda is passing a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas drilling, which may be a tough sell in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.

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Changing climate changing forests: How best to help Pennsylvania’s woods

In a 19th-century farmhouse deep in northern Pennsylvania’s Bradford County, Nancy Baker is looking at family photos dating back four generations.

One shows her grandfather with a team of horses on clear cut land. Another shows her mother and aunt on the same farm as a small child. Baker also has a series of aerial photos going back to 1939, which show how the forest cover has evolved in the past 70 years.

Her home was built by her great grandfather, Joseph Morrow Gamble, a Scots-Irish immigrant who cut timber from the virgin forest and shipped it down the Susquehanna River.

The story of how Baker’s family used its land to make a living was replayed up and down the East Coast after European settlers arrived. Her great grandfather cut down woods for timber. Then he turned to farming, yanking rocks from the stony soil to mark out cow pastures. His children inherited the land. But in the 20th century, their children left for better jobs in town. Baker’s own parents became teachers.

With the land left to itself, the forests returned. So Baker grew up playing in the woods and learning how to fell a tree ambidextrously with an axe.

“When we inherited this land from my mother I said, ‘OK, it’s our turn to steward the land,’” said Baker. “But how are we going to do this?”

 


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Shell to buy Beaver County industrial site for proposed ethane cracker

Shell has announced it will buy a Beaver County industrial site for its proposed ethane cracker.

AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Shell has announced it will buy a Beaver County industrial site for its proposed ethane cracker.

A proposal to build a multi-billion dollar ethane cracker in western Pennsylvania has taken another step forward. Shell Chemical announced Friday it will buy the site of a former zinc plant in Beaver County.

The cracker plant would turn ethane – a natural gas liquid being extracted in abundance from the Marcellus Shale – into ethylene, a building block for plastics.

More from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“This is a good decision but it does not mean that we have [made] the investment decision to proceed with the project,” said Ate Visser, the vice president with Shell Chemical who has been the lead on the Marcellus cracker project since May.

Several things need to line up before Shell’s top brass can make a final investment decision.

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Philadelphia energy hub debate centers on city’s gas works

Philadelphia Gas Works offices on Broad Street in South Philadelphia.

Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks

Philadelphia Gas Works offices on Broad Street in South Philadelphia.

Business leaders are calling on the Philadelphia City Council to reconsider spiking a deal to sell its city’s gas works. Meanwhile, some environmental groups are celebrating it as a small victory in their fight against plans for an energy-centric future for Philadelphia.

Business leaders bemoan lack of “political will”

Philadelphia Gas Works is not just the company that provides the city’s residents with natural gas for their stoves and heaters.

Business leaders pushing to turn the city into a regional energy hub see privatizing PGW as the best way to develop the utility’s other assets – including two major liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage units on the Delaware River.

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Feds subpoena Chesapeake Energy over royalty complaints

Chesapeake Energy's offices in Athens, Bradford County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Chesapeake Energy's offices in Athens, Bradford County.

Chesapeake Energy has been subpoenaed by the federal Department of Justice, seeking information on its royalty payment practices to mineral owners.

The company has been the subject of widespread complaints in Pennsylvania and other areas of the country where it operates. Landowners have accused Chesapeake of violating lease agreements and underpaying royalties.

In a regulatory filing today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company disclosed it has received subpoenas from the DOJ and other states. Chesapeake says it has “engaged in discussions with the DOJ and state representatives” and continues to respond to demands for information.

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