Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Mind ‘the gap’: why more gas means more pipelines

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Pennsylvania is producing more gas than it knows what to do with. Amid a push to export gas to foreign markets, there’s also a shift away from coal toward gas at electric power plants. Right now the state gets about 20 percent of its electricity from gas, but that’s expected to increase significantly.

All these changes are leading to an ongoing expansion of gas-related infrastructure– primarily pipelines.

Anthony Cox, of UGI Energy Services, spoke with StateImpact Pennsylvania Tuesday during Penn State’s Natural Gas Utilization Conference in Cannonsburg.

He describes the need for pipelines as an “infrastructure gap” problem that causes supply to be out of balance with demand.

Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is this infrastructure gap?

A: I’d describe it as a dumbbell. One side of the dumbbell—you have a major source of production and supply. And on the other end you have a major source of demand.

And in the middle you have a thin bar, and that bar is the infrastructure gap. That needs to be built, basically, to bridge the two ends of the dumbbell.

Q: What happened last winter with electricity prices spiking?

A: Last winter, simply, the middle—in between the two [ends of the dumbbell]– was just too small. We saw unprecedented demand, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York. There was certainly enough supply, but it couldn’t get to where it was needed.

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Corbett says taxing natural gas may be a future option

Governor Corbett discussing his budget proposal on witf's Smart Talk Friday.

Heather Woolridge/ witf

Governor Corbett speaking at WITF.

Governor Tom Corbett says he’s thinks taxing natural gas could be an option. Just three weeks before the election, the governor is battling for his political future. In an exclusive interview with StateImpact Pennsylvania, Corbett said he thinks rather than the extraction tax advocated by his Democratic opponent Tom Wolf, it may be better to tax the transport of the gas within the state.

“Maybe the tax instead of being at the wellhead, should be in the transmission line,” said Corbett. “Now we can probably only tax it in the transmission line that is intrastate because if it goes into interstate, that is a Washington issue.”

Back in 2012 Governor Corbett enacted the impact fee, which charges Marcellus Shale gas drillers $50,000 per well.  Critics, including his Democratic opponent Tom Wolf, say that method leaves a lot of money on the table. Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state without a severance tax, which taxes the value of the gas extracted. Wolf has proposed a five percent severance tax. Corbett continues to oppose this kind of tax for now, saying it would cut too much into the drillers bottom line, causing them to move out of state. But he’s no longer calling it “un-American.” Instead, he says once the vast majority of the wells are drilled, it may be time to enact a tax.

“If this industry was 10-15 years old already, I think we’d be having a different conversation,” said Corbett.

Corbett gave no details of what a transmission gas tax would mean. But pipelines that cross state lines are regulated by the federal government, so the state would be limited to the transmission lines within Pennsylvania. Pipeline companies may be an easy taxation target because they already benefit from tax breaks. Natural gas transmission companies are exempt from both federal corporate income tax and Pennsylvania’s gross receipts tax. Continue Reading

Bill would eliminate buffer requirement for Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams

Loyalsock Creek in Sullivan County.

SCOTT LAMAR/WITF

Loyalsock Creek in Sullivan County.

Yet another battle of the economy versus the environment is taking place in Harrisburg. This time, conservationists say Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams are at stake.

A bill (HB1565) working its way through the state legislature would eliminate a requirement for 150-foot buffer zones between new developments and specially protected watersheds.

Thick rows of trees and shrubs help keep pollution from washing off buildings and pavement into waterways. However, developers say waterfront property is valuable and 150 feet can be too much to ask for certain projects.

The buffer requirement – passed four years ago under the Rendell administration – only applies to developments that require stormwater discharge permits and that are adjacent to one of Pennsylvania’s “high quality” or “exceptional value” streams. These waterways are often used for recreation and are home to wild brook trout and other species.

“The regulation is very narrow,” said David Hess, a former secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection. “It really only applies to a small percentage of the watersheds in Pennsylvania and even there, there are a lot of exemptions.”

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Not so pretty in pink? Drill bits for breast cancer spark controversy

A drill bit at a gas site in Pennsylvania's northern tier. As part of a breast cancer awareness, Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill pits pink.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill bit at a gas site in Pennsylvania’s northern tier.

In an effort to promote breast cancer awareness, oil and gas services company Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill pits pink.

A partnership between global breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen and oil and gas services company Baker Hughes has sparked a backlash. As part of an awareness campaign called Doing our Bit for the Cure Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 drill bits pink and sending them to its customers across the globe.

Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy organization, is criticizing the partnership as the “most ludicrous piece of pink sh*t we’ve seen all year.”

“This has taken this whole issue of ‘pinkwashing’ to new depths– quite literally.” says Angela Wall, a spokeswoman for the group.

Komen’s Facebook page is filled with similarly angry comments from the public.

“Absolutely absurd,” writes a user named Eric Ryan. “I regret every dollar I ever gave to the Susan G. Komen foundation.”

Baker Hughes did not respond to requests to comment. The drilling services company also plans to donate $100,000 to Komen at the Pittsburgh Steelers game at Heinz field on October 26th.

“There’s not an ounce in this that says [Komen cares] about women’s health,” says Wall. “Because if they did care they’d be going after fracking corporations, not getting into bed with them.”

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Commonwealth Court takes up issue of drilling in state parks and forests

A sign posted in Susquehannock state forest, which makes up part of the most "climate resilient" land on the East Coast..

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign posted in Susquehannock state forest, where land has been leased for gas drilling.

The fate of expanded natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s parks and forests is now in the hands of seven Commonwealth Court Judges. Governor Tom Corbett wants to lease 25,000 acres of additional state land to drillers in order to raise $95 million to plug a hole in the 2014-2015 fiscal year’s $29.1 billion budget. The Commonwealth’s seven judge panel heard arguments Wednesday from an environmental attorney challenging the Governor’s authority to lease that land, and to use the proceeds for the general fund.

Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation Attorney John Childe says both current Governor Tom Corbett, and former Governor Ed Rendell, violated the state constitution by disregarding the environmental impacts of drilling on state parks and forests.  Childe’s case hinges upon the state constitution’s environmental rights amendment. The environmental rights amendment became relevant for the first time earlier this year when the Supreme Court upheld challenges to the state’s new oil and gas law in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth. Childe says the amendment clearly puts ownership of the state’s parks and forests in the hands of Pennsylvania citizens, not the governor or general assembly.

“The constitution describes basic rights for the people that are not to be impaired by other governmental decisions,” Childe told StateImpact outside the courtroom. “It’s the same as the right to freedom of religion.”

A total of 700,000 acres of state forest land is available to oil and gas drillers. Under the direction of Governor Rendell, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources leased 132,000 acres. (Not all of the mineral rights are under state control. About 315,000 acres of state forest land lies above natural gas deposits owned by private leaseholders.) The leases occurred despite opposition from DCNR’s leadership. Just before leaving office, Rendell then issued an executive order placing a moratorium on future leases.

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Report: police sharing intelligence on activists with gas industry

Protesters outside a gas industry trade conference in Philadelphia last year.

Kim Paynter/ WHYY

Protesters outside a gas industry trade conference in Philadelphia last year. According to the Pittsburgh City Paper, a private security firm watching them sent an update to the Pennsylvania State Police.

According to the Pittsburgh City Paper, state and federal law enforcement have joined in an intelligence-sharing network with the oil and gas industry to follow the activities of environmental activists.

The paper cites documents it obtained showing a state trooper giving a presentation to industry representatives with photographs of several anti-fracking groups.

According to the article, the same trooper visited the homes of activist Wendy Lee, a Bloomsburg University professor, and crossed state lines to visit the home of Jeremy Alderson, publisher of the No Frack Almanac, at his home outside Ithaca, New York.

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DEP seeks record fine against gas driller as AG files criminal charges

Pennsylvania regulators are seeking a record $4.5 million fine against EQT Corp. for a major leak from an impoundment pond in Tioga County, the Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday in a news release. The announcement comes one week after the state Attorney General’s office filed criminal charges against the company for the same incident.

In May 2012, EQT estimates between 300 and 500 gallons of “flowback fluid” – the liquid that comes back out of the ground after a well has been fracked – seeped out of an impoundment pond at a well site in Duncan Township. Flowback contains high levels of salts, heavy metals and some naturally occurring radioactive materials.

DEP inspectors found the fluid had polluted soil, as well as nearby groundwater seeps and waterways – including Rock Run, a high quality, wild trout stream. Trees and shrubs along the path of the spill were also damaged.

EQT “has not been cooperative”

According to the DEP, the impoundment was supposed to contain six million gallons of fresh water. Instead, the agency says EQT used the pit to store flowback without a permission from the department and without the required safeguards to prevent leaks.

Acting Secretary Dana Aunkst said in a statement the company “has not been cooperative” during the state’s investigation. The agency has filed a complaint with the state Environmental Hearing Board, alleging EQT violated Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law.

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Bill would have PA lawmakers approve Obama’s carbon reduction plan

The stacks of the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, Pa.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The stacks of the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, Pa.

A bill that would allow legislators to weigh in on a federally mandated plan to cut carbon emissions may see a final vote before lawmakers end this year’s session. President Obama’s new climate change plan set a goal for Pennsylvania to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030. The EPA left it up to the states to decide how to reach their targets. In Pennsylvania’s case, the state Department of Environmental Protection develops plans to meet EPA mandated rules. But state representative Pam Snyder, a Democrat from the southwestern corner of the state, wants lawmakers to approve the carbon reduction plan crafted by DEP before it gets submitted to the EPA.

The House has already approved HB 2354, and today the Senate’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee gave it a thumb’s up. Rep. Snyder says she worries Obama’s efforts to cut carbon emissions would include shutting down coal generated electricity plants, hurting the coal mining communities she represents. In the legislative memo for HB 2354, she writes that any plan that goes to the EPA for approval must go through the legislature first.

“In short, my legislation would make clear that the people who were elected to govern Pennsylvania will have the final say on what happens – not unelected, unaccountable regulators.  While EPA managed to develop this rule without Congressional authorization, the Pennsylvania General Assembly will be the final arbiter of how the Commonwealth approaches greenhouse gas regulation.”

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Pa. must release Bakken crude oil train shipment information

A CSX unit train delivers a load of crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to a refinery in South Philadelphia.

NAT HAMILTON/WHYY NEWS

A CSX unit train delivers a load of crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to a refinery in South Philadelphia.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, or PEMA, must release details about rail shipments of crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. That’s the word today from the state Office of Open Records.

In May, federal transportation officials ordered railroads to report to state emergency planners the estimated number of Bakken crude shipments expected to travel through counties each week. Three newspapers, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review, requested the reports from PEMA in June.

More from the Associated Press:

Friday’s order came after railroads had argued the information should be kept secret. Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation cited potential security risks and business confidentiality.

But the open records office said the information was neither proprietary nor likely to endanger public safety if released. The railroads were given 30 days to appeal.

DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo resigns amid lewd email scandal

DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo (left) resigned from his office today.   Dana Aunkst (right) will now serve as Acting Secretary. Here, the two testify at the department's senate budget hearing in Harrisburg.

Marie Cusick

DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo (center) resigned from his post today. Dana Aunkst (right) will now serve as Acting Secretary. On the left is Deputy Secretary Jeff Logan. Here, the three testify at the department's senate budget hearing in Harrisburg in February.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Chris Abruzzo has resigned his position, according to a statement issued by Governor Tom Corbett. The resignation is effective immediately. It comes amidst a scandal involving several top Corbett officials exchanging lewd emails.

Abruzzo is one of eight Corbett appointees recently named by the Attorney General’s office as having sent or received pornographic emails on state computers. Some of the emails were shown to reporters, but the information was released without details as to who sent what to whom.

In a letter to Gov. Corbett, Abruzzo says he doesn’t remember the emails but accepts “full responsibility for any lack of judgement I may have exhibited in 2009.” At that time, Abruzzo worked under Corbett in the Attorney General’s office leading the Drug Strike Force. Current Attorney General Kathleen Kane says Abruzzo and others exchanged the lewd emails between 2008 and 2012, while Corbett served as AG.

In the letter, Abruzzo says he has not reviewed the emails Attorney General Kane has shown to reporters, but decided to resign because the issue has become a distraction.

“..it is my concern that these assertions have become a distraction from the great record of this administration; a record that has held the line on taxes for Pennsylvania families, invested the most state dollars for basic education in the history of the state, and put hard-working Pennsylvanians back to work.”

With the election just a month away, Corbett faces a tough fight against his challenger Democrat Tom Wolf. Continue Reading

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