Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

DEP to hold public hearings on new drilling regulations

The state Department of Environmental Protection has scheduled three hearings for the public to weigh in on proposed changes to regulations for the oil and gas industry.

Since 2011, the DEP has been revising its Chapter 78 regulations, which govern drilling. The draft rules have gone through a number of changes. Most recently, after Governor Wolf took office, the department proposed more changes relating to waste management, noise, and stream setbacks.

The DEP says it’s seeking public input on those new proposals– not the entire package of regulations.

All of the hearings will be from 6-9pm. Here are the dates and locations: Continue Reading

In New Jersey, open space sacrificed for cheaper natural gas

Farmer Rob Fulper stretches his arms out to show the path of a pipeline underneath his corn field in West Amwell, NJ.

KATIE COLANERI/STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA

Farmer Rob Fulper stretches his arms out to show the path of a natural gas pipeline that runs under one of his corn fields in West Amwell, NJ.

Open space is a rare commodity in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation says a proposed natural gas pipeline could cut through about 4,500 acres of undeveloped land preserved with public dollars.

If built, backers of the PennEast pipeline say it would feed cleaner fuel to power plants and bring cheaper gas to customers.

Now, the pipeline is forcing residents in the state’s highly-valued bucolic communities to weigh the environmental costs of moving natural gas to the marketplace.

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With shale boom, U.S. expected to become net energy exporter

The U.S. is expected to become a net energy exporter over the next 15 years. This photo shows Dominion Resources Cove Point terminal in Maryland. It is currently being converted from a gas import facility to an export terminal to ship Marcellus Shale gas to Asia.

AP Photo/Dominion Resources

Dominion Resources' Cove Point terminal in Maryland is currently being converted from an import facility to an export terminal to ship Marcellus Shale gas to Asia.

Reversing a trend that has lasted more than half a century, the federal government predicts the U.S. will become a net energy exporter within 15 years, as the shale boom increases the production of crude oil and natural gas.

In its Annual Energy Outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says advanced technologies are reshaping the nation’s economy. The outlook includes predictions to 2040 and assumes a business-as-usual trend, with current laws and regulations going unchanged.

“With continued growth in oil and natural gas production, growth in the use of renewables, and the application of demand-side efficiencies, the projections show the potential to eliminate net U.S. energy imports in the 2020 to 2030 timeframe,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski in a statement. ”The United States has been a net importer of energy since the 1950s.”

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Wolf appoints political insider as energy advisor

Gov. Wolf delivered his budget address Tuesday in Harrisburg.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Wolf delivering his first budget address in Harrisburg.

Attorney, lobbyist and political insider David Sweet will be advising Governor Tom Wolf on energy and manufacturing issues starting Monday. Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan says Sweet, who currently works for the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll, will serve as a special assistant to the governor, making $129,605 a year. In the position, Sweet will report directly to Governor Wolf and act as a deputy secretary at the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The position is a departure in some ways from the Corbett administration’s “energy czar,” or “energy executive”, a cabinet position held by Patrick Henderson, who made $145,000 advising the governor on energy issues.

In this new position, David Sweet will work on issues related to both energy and manufacturing.

Sweet told StateImpact that his role covers both issues because those are two of Wolf’s priorities for creating well-paying jobs in the state. The attorney and former state lawmaker says Wolf did not choose him for his energy expertise, but rather, his political savvy.

“I’m not touting myself as an expert on energy issues,” said Sweet. “What my role is, I believe, in those two areas is really figuring out ways to mobilize what government resources are there, work with [multiple] state departments…and develop consensus. I’m bringing more of the government and political experience to try to get things done.” Continue Reading

Law Would Offer New Federal Protection for Delaware River Basin

A view of the Delaware River where it separates Northeast Pennsylvania on the right with New York State on the left.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A view of the Delaware River where it separates Northeast Pennsylvania on the right with New York State on the left.

Federal lawmakers on Tuesday stepped up efforts to conserve the Delaware River Basin when they reintroduced a bill that would enhance federal protection for the 300-mile watershed between upstate New York and the mouth of the Delaware Bay.

The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act would charge the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with coordinating the activities of an array of federal, state and local environmental groups, and would provide $5 million in grant funding to support conservation projects.

The Fish and Wildlife Service would identify and implement conservation activities without setting new regulations, while the funding would require a 50 percent non-federal match, meaning that the governmental support would be doubled.

Existing watershed organizations include the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate agency that oversees water quality and usage, and which has welcomed the legislation as a way of defending environmental quality in ways that are outside of its operations.

The DRBC, which represents the basin states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware, as well as the federal government, has operated without its designated federal funding for most of the last 20 years, and has experienced several reductions in state funding. Continue Reading

Industry group considers legal action over new drilling rules

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association objects to the way Gov. Wolf's administration has handled changes to drilling regulations.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association objects to the way Gov. Wolf's administration has handled changes to drilling regulations.

A trade group representing the state’s oil and gas industry is considering taking the Wolf administration to court over the way it’s handling proposed changes to drilling regulations.

“We want to hear facts and science, but we’re seeing disrespect for the law in many ways,” says Kevin Moody of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA). “We are considering legal action.”

PIOGA objects to an effort by the administration to add four new, non-voting members to a technical advisory board that is guiding the Department of Environmental Protection on a major update to oil and gas regulations. The new members include representatives from academia and environmental groups.

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NPR: In Pa. gas industry jobs boom despite nationwide oil and gas bust

A worker checks paperwork on the monkey board of a Cabot Oil & Gas drill rig in Kingsley, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A worker checks paperwork on the monkey board of a Cabot Oil & Gas drill rig in Kingsley, Pa.

Oil and gas workers are facing unemployment in the country’s big oil producing states like Texas. But NPR’s energy reporter Jeff Brady took a trip to a shale gas training center in Williamsport and finds students optimistic about their future job prospects. The governor’s chief of staff, Katie McGinty, tells Brady that Pennsylvanians should be seeing less and less Texans on drill rigs. Listen to the NPR story here.

“Pennsylvania has gone from pretty much nowhere on the map in terms of natural gas production to now second in the country behind only Texas,” says McGinty.

When drilling rigs started showing up, McGinty says residents worried the good jobs would go to out-of-state workers, leaving locals with nothing but the environmental consequences of drilling.

“In the early days, those concerns were exacerbated by too many people seeing nothing but Texas and Oklahoma license plates,” says McGinty. That’s changing, she says, as more locals learn the skills necessary to work in the gas business.

The latest figures show more than 31,000 people in the state have jobs related to extracting natural gas. That’s nearly double what it was five years ago. State officials say the rate of employment growth in the gas fields has slowed recently, but for now it’s still growing.

Methods of calculating Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale jobs have always been controversial. The 31,000 figure includes workers in these six sectors:

  • Crude petroleum and natural gas extraction
  • Natural gas liquid extraction
  • Drilling oil and gas wells
  • Support activities for oil and gas operations
  • Oil and gas pipeline and related structures
  • Pipeline transportation of natural gas

Amid lower oil prices, Moody’s predicts failure of many gas export projects

Pipes carry liquified natural gas to and from a holding tank, seen in background, at Dominion Energy's Cove Point LNG Terminal in Lusby, Md. Moody's expects projects already under construction--like this one-- will continue as planned.

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Pipes carry liquefied natural gas at Dominion Energy's Cove Point LNG Terminal in Lusby, Md. Moody's expects projects already under construction--like this one-- will continue as planned.

Lower global oil prices, coupled with new gas supplies in Australia will cause the cancellation of most liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects planned for the U.S. and Canada, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Services.

Moody’s expects several projects already under construction will go forward as planned and be successful. That list includes Dominion Resources Cove Point project in Maryland, which is the closest export terminal to Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. Another early mover is Cheniere Energy, which expects its Sabine Pass, Louisiana LNG terminal to start making shipments by the end of this year.

“The winners in the U.S. LNG industry are the projects that are already in construction,” the report’s authors write. “They face medium-term financing and execution risks, but longer term these facilities will be a significant new revenue source for their sponsors.”

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New study raises possible link between gas drilling and radon levels

  A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

Radon levels in buildings near unconventional natural gas development in Pennsylvania are higher than those in other areas of the state, suggesting that hydraulic fracturing has opened up new pathways for the carcinogenic gas to enter people’s homes, according to a study published on Thursday. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University analyzed radon readings taken in some 860,000 buildings, mostly homes, from 1989 to 2013 and found that those in rural and suburban areas where most shale gas wells are located had a concentration of the cancer-causing radioactive gas that was 39 percent higher overall than those in urban areas.

It also found that buildings using well water had a 21 percent higher concentration of radon than those served by municipal water systems.

And it showed radon levels in active gas-drilling counties rose significantly starting in 2004 when the state’s fracking boom began.

Overall, 42 percent of the buildings analyzed had radon concentrations at over 4 picocuries per liter, the level at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends remediation, and which is about three times the national average for indoor air. According to the EPA, there are about 21,000 radon-related lung cancers per year in the U.S.

The new study was based on data collected from the DEP which requires the reporting of radon tests, many of which are done when houses are bought or sold. The project was conducted with the Geisinger Health System, and is the first part of a long-term investigation of the health effects of unconventional gas development being done by Geisinger, based in Danbury, northeastern Pennsylvania.

But the study, titled “Predictors of Indoor Radon Concentrations in Pennsylvannia 1989-2013,” released today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication put out by the National Institutes of Health, contradicts a report released by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in January.  Continue Reading

Under Wolf, Pennsylvania continues publishing disputed Marcellus job figures

About 30,000 people work in six core oil and gas sectors in Pennsylvania, but the way the state publishes the jobs figures has allowed industry boosters to credit shale with supporting nearly a quarter million jobs.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pennsylvania has about 30,000 direct oil and gas jobs, but the way the state publishes the jobs figures has allowed industry boosters to credit shale with supporting nearly a quarter million jobs.

Under a new administration, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry is continuing to publish gas industry jobs figures that have been repeatedly questioned by independent economists.

Tim Kelsey is co-director of Penn State University’s Center for Economic and Community Development and spends much of his time studying the economic impact of the Marcellus Shale boom.

“I think very obviously [the state jobs figures] can be misleading, and they are misused,” he says.

After it was brought to their attention by StateImpact Pennsylvania, the Wolf administration says it is looking into the possibility of changing how the numbers are presented.

“We’re reviewing the practice and methodology involved with getting the data and reporting it,” says Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan.

Pennsylvania began publishing the employment numbers in a booklet called Marcellus Shale Fast Facts under former governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat. It continued under his Republican successor, Tom Corbett.

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