Energy. Environment. Economy.

State to study effects of frack sand at Wyoming County site

Sand at a fracking site in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Sand at a fracking site in Lycoming County.

The Scranton Times-Tribune reports state environmental regulators are looking at using a site in northeastern Pennsylvania to study how the sand used in hydraulic fracturing affects air quality.

A company called D&I Silica LLC is planning to build a transfer facility for frack sand in Tunkhannock Township, Wyoming County. Sand is an important ingredient in most fracking fluid recipes. It’s mixed with chemicals and water and blasted deep underground where the tiny grains help keep cracks in the shale rock open allowing the natural gas to seep out.

Breathing in silica dust can lead to silicosis, which has long been a hazard for workers in construction and manufacturing. But concerns have shifted in recent years to workers in the oil and gas industry. Local residents are also worried about the risks the transfer facility could pose.

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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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Study: Greenhouse gas emissions from industry concentrated in two sources

A snow covered well site at night.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

A snow covered well site at night in the Tioga State Forest.

The Environmental Protection Agency says oil and natural gas production is the largest industrial source of methane emissions in the U.S. Methane is 84 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term.  So climate scientists and activists are starting to focus more and more on reducing methane. And they say natural gas production sites are an easy place to start.

A new peer-reviewed study out Tuesday in the Environmental Science and Technology journal says two parts of the production process should be targeted for reduced methane emissions. Researchers from the University of Texas and the environmental firm URS concluded that pneumatic devices and liquid unloadings pose the most risk to fugitive methane. And just a small percentage of each device tested account for the bulk of emissions.

Pneumatic devices use natural gas to control valves. Researchers found that just 19 percent of the 377 devices tested accounted for 95 percent of the total measured emissions. Similarly with liquid unloadings, where most of those operations do not vent methane to the atmosphere, according to the report. Instead just 20 percent of 107 natural gas well liquid unloading events tested made up 65 to 83 percent of the emissions. Liquid unloadings refers to a process, usually in older wells, where accumulated liquids have to be cleared in order to continue producing gas.

The report was funded by the Environmental Defense Fund, along with ten oil and gas producers.

Wolf’s gas tax estimate might be too high

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf wants to change the way the state taxes the natural gas industry.

The Associated Press reports Governor-elect Tom Wolf may have been hundreds of millions of dollar off in his estimate of how much money a gas severance tax could generate for Pennsylvania.

On the campaign trail, Wolf repeatedly said his proposed five percent tax on gas production could bring in $1 billion.

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Constitution pipeline puts pressure on landowners

The dotted black circle shows the gas supply area in Susquehanna County. The red line is the path of the Constitution Pipeline.


The dotted black circle shows the gas supply area in Susquehanna County. The red line is the path of the Constitution Pipeline.

The Albany Times Union reports the developers of an interstate gas pipeline have sent letters to landowners along the route threatening to use eminent domain.

Last week, federal regulators gave final approval to the Constitution pipeline. The 124 mile, 30-inch line will connect gas in Susquehanna County to existing transmission lines in New York. It will be operated by subsidiaries of Williams Partners, Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas, and WGL Holdings.

From the Times Union:

A copy of the letter, obtained by the Times Union, tells property owners who have refused to sell rights-of-way for the Constitution Pipeline that they have until Wednesday to accept offered prices before developers take them to court to force such sales for possibly less money.

Sent from the Philadelphia office of the national law firm Saul Ewing, the letter also warned that Constitution Pipeline Co.crews can show up on private property, whether owners agree, starting Thursday to conduct surveys or other tests. The company wants pipeline construction to begin early next year so gas can start flowing by winter 2015 or 2016.

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Plans for shale gas ‘energy hub’ draw investors and protestors to Philadelphia

Dozens of protestors carried signs and chanted “no fracking hub” outside Drexel University’s Creese Student Center where business leaders met to discuss plans for expanding Philadelphia’s role in the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Dozens of protestors carried signs and chanted “no fracking hub” outside Drexel University’s Creese Student Center where business leaders met to discuss plans for expanding Philadelphia’s role in the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom.

Business leaders gathered in Philadelphia on Friday to pitch investors on plans to turn the region into an “energy hub” based on booming Marcellus Shale gas production.

It’s hard to say exactly how it went, though, because most members of the news media were barred from the event. They hung around outside Drexel University’s Creese Student Center, along with protestors who came to decry those plans to hinge the region’s economy on fossil fuels.

The only journalists allowed inside were a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and a freelancer representing the New York Times, according to a spokeswoman for the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s by invitation-only because we think it’s extremely important to have individuals that are empowered to make buying decisions meet each other here in Greater Philadelphia,” said the chamber’s CEO Rob Wonderling in a phone interview. “It is not a broad public policy event.”

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UIL pulls the plug on PGW

UIL Holdings has decided to end its agreement to buy Philadelphia Gas Works for $1.86 billion dollars. The deal fell through in November after Philadelphia City Council failed to hold a hearing, and approve the sale.

“Unfortunately, we had no choice but to terminate our efforts in the City of Philadelphia to acquire the PGW assets,” said James P. Torgerson, UIL’s President and Chief Executive Officer in a release. “We are extremely disappointed that no ordinance was introduced to approve the acquisition and we’re equally disappointed that we were not afforded a hearing to present the facts regarding our bid proposal. Philadelphia and the City’s gas customers would have benefitted from our accelerating the pace of pipe replacement and from our management of the PGW assets.”

The Connecticut based company had until the end of the year to terminate the deal.

DEP gives gas industry group $150,000 grant to study drilling

Drilling waste at a natural gas site in Tioga County. The DEP has given an industry-backed nonprofit $150,000 grant to study the effects of drilling.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Drilling waste at a natural gas site in Tioga County. The DEP has given an industry-backed nonprofit $150,000 grant to study the effects of drilling, including its waste.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has awarded a $150,000 non-competitive grant to an industry-backed nonprofit organization. The money was allocated in last year’s state budget specifically for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling.”

As StateImpact Pennsylvania previously reported, the grant recipient is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit called the Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA). It formed in 2013 as a partnership between industry and academia. Its board has three representatives from Pennsylvania universities and five members from the oil and gas industry.

Other groups were not able to compete for the grant money because the DEP said SAFER PA is “the only known research organization that is comprised of both private and public entities … with a specific focus of conducting scientific research and development of shale related projects.”

SAFER PA has never published any research. The DEP has not responded to repeated inquiries about the grant.

Barry Kauffman, of the nonpartisan government reform group Common Cause PA, finds the deal concerning.

“There are many, many qualified organizations with good research credentials that could produce unbiased research—or certainly more balanced research—than an entity heavily dominated by the industry which it contends to take a look at,” he says.

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Industry documents show effort to hide health impacts of benzene

A new report out today by the Center for Public Integrity details how workers exposed to the cancer causing chemical benzene, get little support from their employers. CPI gained access to documents from court cases across the country, which show how companies try to debunk the science linking benzene to cancer. More from CPI:

Taken together, the documents — put in context by interviews with dozens of lawyers, scientists, academics, regulators and industry representatives — depict a “research strategy” built on dubious motives, close corporate oversight and painstaking public relations. They comprise an industry playbook to counteract growing evidence of benzene’s toxic effects, which continue to command the attention of federal and state regulators and be fiercely debated in court.

Several occupations come with an exposure risk of benzene, including steel workers, refinery workers and gas station attendants.  A recently published peer-reviewed study in the journal Environmental Health found high levels of benzene near some natural gas production sites.

Court battles make revenue from new leases in state parks, forests ‘unlikely’

A drilling convoy heads through the Loyalsock State Forest.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

A drilling convoy heads through the Loyalsock State Forest.

Pennsylvania won’t be able to rely on revenue from new natural gas leases on state lands to help plug a nearly $2 billion shortfall, according to the state’s top budget official.

Secretary Charles Zogby laid out Pennsylvania’s financial woes at a briefing Wednesday, noting some of the one-time stopgaps in Governor Tom Corbett’s $29 billion budget will not come to fruition. Among them is Corbett’s plan to raise $95 million by expanding natural gas leasing in state parks and forests which is facing two simultaneous Commonwealth Court battles.

“With that matter tied up in the courts, it’s very much unlikely that we will see that resolved in time for this fiscal year to be accounted in our spending plans,” Zogby said.

Corbett, a Republican, lifted a Rendell-era moratorium on new leasing in May, calling for a restrictive approach to drilling in state parks and forests that would not create new surface disturbances.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a direct challenge to Corbett’s order in October. A separate lawsuit, filed in 2012 by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation challenges the Governor’s authority to lease that land and to use the proceeds for the general fund. After a series of hearings, the case is now in the hands of seven Commonwealth Court judges and Governor-elect Tom Wolf.

Wolf, a Democrat, has said he supports maintaining a moratorium on new leasing in state parks and forests. He also campaigned on passing a 5 percent severance tax on gas drilling to generate additional revenue. However, that plan could face fierce opposition from the state’s Republican legislature.

correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly named the plaintiff organization as the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund, in fact it is the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation.

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