Pennsylvania

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DEP says gas drilling air pollution a small fraction of Pa. emissions

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

A new report from the Department of Environmental Protection found that air pollution from Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry represented a small fraction of the state’s total emissions in 2012, despite including more emissions data from compressor stations than in 2011.

Here are the new stats from the DEP:

  • 16,361 tons of nitrogen oxides, a 1.09 percent decrease from 2011
  • 101 tons of sulfur dioxide, a 17.21 percent decrease from 2011
  • 7,350 tons of carbon monoxide, a 7.27 percent increase from 2011
  • 548 tons of particulate matter (PM2.5), a 8.51 percent increase from 2011
  • 600 tons of PM10, a 3.99 percent increase from 2011
  • 4,024 tons of volatile organic compounds, a 42.70 percent increase from 2011

Joyce Epps, Director of DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality, said that nitrogen oxides, or NOx, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are among the most significant emissions. Ozone is formed when VOCs and NOx react with sunlight.

In 2012, the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania saw a roughly one percent drop in NOx emissions. Epps said the department owes this decrease to a slowdown in drilling operations in Pennsylvania. She noted that the drilling rigs that bore deep into shale rock formations are the biggest NOx emitters in the natural gas development sector, accounting for more than 6,200 tons.

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Gas drilling impact fee revenue up 11 percent this year

The state expects to bring in $224.5 million in impact fee revenue from natural gas drillers this year.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

The state expects to bring in $224.5 million in impact fee revenue from natural gas drillers this year.

Pennsylvania expects to collect $224.5 million in impact fees levied on natural gas drilling companies this year– an 11 percent increase over the amount collected last year.

The state’s 2012 oil and gas law, Act 13, charges drillers for each well. The fee can range from $40,000 to $60,000 per well, depending on the price of natural gas.

This year, drillers paid $50,000 for new horizontal wells– up from $45,000 last year because the price of gas increased. Smaller, vertical wells paid $10,000.

The state Public Utility Commission (PUC) is charged with collecting and distributing the fee. Spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says there were approximately 1,200 new wells drilled in 2013.

“The vast majority of the wells were horizontal wells,” she says.

Range Resources paid the most this year ($27,992,000) followed by Chesapeake Energy ($26,727,950) and Shell ($17,004,450).

The fee declines over time and drillers continue to pay for 15 years.

Governor Corbett issued a statement noting the success of the law, which has brought in $630 million to the state so far.

“We are building a stronger Pennsylvania by harnessing our abundant resources to create jobs for working families, reinvest in our local communities, and protect our environment for generations to come,” Corbett said.

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PA DEP does not keep public records of all drilling complaints

Empty water jugs used to haul clean water hang from a house in Washington County. Residents suspected nearby gas drilling as the culprit. The DEP investigation concluded drilling was not to blame.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Empty water jugs used to haul clean water hang from a house in Washington County. Residents suspected nearby gas drilling as the culprit. The DEP investigation concluded drilling was not to blame.

Documents from the ongoing court battle over the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas law have revealed that the state Department of Environmental Protection does not always keep public records of pollution complaints related to natural gas drilling, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

One of the key questions that remain about the law, known as Act 13, is whether it is a “special law” crafted for the oil and gas industry. Act 13 requires the DEP to notify public water suppliers about pollution incidents, but not private well owners. Attorneys for the municipalities that challenged the law argue that makes an “unconstitutional distinction” between public and private drinking water supplies, according to briefs filed with the Commonwealth Court on Tuesday. To read the briefs, please see the end of this story.

More from the Post-Gazette:

Among its 16 attached exhibits, the brief included 12 pages of sworn deposition testimony by Alan Eichler, DEP oil and gas program manager, who said the department “didn’t typically issue Notices of Violation,” or assess fines or issued determination letters when water contamination complaints were privately settled. And as a result the public has no way to know if, when or where private water supplies might be contaminated or at risk of contamination.

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Pa. Farm Bureau calls for passage of gas royalty legislation

Pennsylvania’s farm lobby is throwing its support behind a bill aimed at limiting the ability of gas companies to withhold royalty money from landowners.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the state’s largest driller– Chesapeake Energy– has been widely accused of shortchanging landowners who have leased their property for gas development.

A bill currently in the state House would amend Pennsylvania’s 1979 Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act. It’s an effort to protect landowners from royalty deductions known as “post-production costs”– the expenses incurred in processing and transporting gas.

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In Fracking Fight, a Worry About How Best to Measure Health Threats

Note: This story is from ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

There are more than 6,000 active gas wells in Pennsylvania. And every week, those drilling sites generate scores of complaints from the state’s residents, including many about terrible odors and contaminated water.

How the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection handles those complaints has worsened the already raw and angry divide between fearful residents and the state regulators charged with overseeing the burgeoning gas drilling industry.

For instance, the agency’s own manual for dealing with complaints is explicit about what to do if someone reports concerns about a noxious odor, but is not at that very moment experiencing the smell: “DO NOT REGISTER THE COMPLAINT.”

When a resident does report a real-time alarm about the air quality in or around their home, the agency typically has two weeks to conduct an investigation. If no odor is detected when investigators arrive on the scene, the case is closed.

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$35M initiative aims to improve water quality in the Delaware River basin

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.

The Delaware River watershed supplies drinking water to millions of people. Managing water quality is a challenge that changes from upstate New York down to the Delaware Bay. The William Penn Foundation announced today a $35 million initiative to tackle this shifting problem by uniting the efforts of more than 40 conservation groups and monitoring the results.

Rather than approaching the whole river basin at once, the Philadelphia-based philanthropy’s efforts are focusing on eight sub-watersheds, or clusters of rivers and streams facing different challenges from forest fragmentation to agricultural runoff.

“It really is about this idea of collective and cumulative impacts that we can observe and measure and fine-tune and then model to export to other places,” said Andrew Johnson, the foundation’s senior program officer for watershed protection.

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Pa. leases more than 1,400 acres under rivers and streams to drillers

The most recent streambed lease agreement gives Chesapeake Energy the rights to extract gas from under 1,092 acres of the Susquehanna River in Wyoming and Bradford Counties.

Scott LaMar/WITF

The most recent streambed lease agreement gives Chesapeake Energy the rights to extract gas from under 1,092 acres of the Susquehanna River.

Over the past year the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has raised nearly $5.9 million by quietly leasing more than 1,400 acres of mineral rights to gas companies underneath publicly-owned waterways.

The most recent lease agreement– signed just over two weeks ago– gives Chesapeake Energy the rights to extract gas from under 1,092 acres of the Susquehanna River in Wyoming and Bradford Counties for five years.

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DEP postpones hearings on forced pooling request in western Pa.

A growing controversy surrounding a company’s request to drill for natural gas without some property owners’ consent has moved the Department of Environmental Protection to postpone a set of hearings on the issue.

Hilcorp Energy Company asked DEP in July to approve Utica Shale drilling units for 3,267 acres in Lawrence and Mercer counties – all but 35 acres of which the company has under lease. Hilcorp is invoking a 1961 state law that allows “forced pooling” or the combining of adjacent tracts of land even if landowners have not signed leases or hold leases with other companies. The Oil and Gas Conservation Law only applies to drilling in the Utica Shale and not the better-known Marcellus formation.

However, when it comes to interpreting the 53-year-old law for modern shale drilling, state environmental regulators have been proceeding with caution. As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the DEP originally deferred the decision to the Environmental Hearing Board. Last November, the board ruled the department must respond to Hilcorp’s request.

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Report: Philadelphia gas utility second worst for pipeline leaks

A report by SNL Energy ranked Philadelphia Gas Works second worst in the nation for pipeline leaks.

lorenkerns/ via flickr

A report by SNL Energy ranked Philadelphia Gas Works second worst in the nation for pipeline leaks.

The private company planning to buy Philadelphia Gas Works has promised to upgrade the city’s aging and leaking pipelines. A new report by SNL Energy shows just how big that task could be, ranking the city’s utility second worst in the nation for pipeline leaks.

The firm looked at data from the federal Office of Pipeline Safety showing that in 2012, PGW reported 5,464 leaks over its 5,762 miles of gas mains and service lines. That’s a rate of roughly one leak (0.95) per mile. PGW came in second to New York’s Con Edison, which reported 7,328 leaks over 7,301 miles of pipelines. Pittsburgh-based People’s Natural Gas ranked fifth.

It may come as no surprise that SNL’s list includes some of the nation’s oldest cities. The New York Times found similar results in an analysis following a deadly explosion in East Harlem earlier this month.

Philadelphia Gas Works spokesman Finbarr O’Sullivan says some of the city’s original natural gas pipelines were made from hollowed out tree trunks. Those lines haven’t been used in more than one hundred years. Today, about half of Philadelphia’s pipelines are made of cast-iron and unprotected steel, some of which are more than a century old.

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Judge approves narrower order, barring fracking activist from drilling sites

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins, center, and her attorney Scott Michelman, left, speak to the media after a hearing in Montrose, Pa. Last fall, a judge signed off on an order barring Scroggins from more than 300 square miles of Susquehanna County or all the land owned or leased by Cabot Oil and Gas.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins, center, and her attorney Scott Michelman, left, spoke to the media after a hearing on Monday in Montrose, Pa.

A Susquehanna County judge issued a revised court order today, aimed at keeping 63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins away from active drilling sites operated by Cabot Oil and Gas.

Until today, Scroggins had been under a much broader preliminary injunction from the court. In October 2013, Judge Kenneth Seamans approved the order, which Cabot sought, barring her from all the land owned or leased by the company.

That area included public places like grocery stores and a hospital. It amounted to nearly 40 percent of the county.

The company says Scroggins has repeatedly trespassed on its properties, and her activities posed a significant safety risk.

Both parties in the case were pleased with the judge’s ruling, which bars her from active work sites, access roads, and Cabot-owned equipment.

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