Pennsylvania

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New LNG plant planned for Northeast Pennsylvania

UGI Energy Services has announced plans to build a new $60 million liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Meshoppen, Wyoming County. It will help meet peak demand for gas during cold days, and service emerging markets for LNG, like truck fleets, drill rigs, and industrial sites.

The plant will take locally produced natural gas– in its gaseous form– and cool it down to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, converting it into a liquid that can be stored and used as a transportation fuel.

“This is really more geared towards those growing markets,” says UGI spokesman Matt Dutzman. “That’s the reason why we’re building it. You’ll see heavy-duty trucks convert from diesel to natural gas. We currently serve UPS in Harrisburg and Mechanicsburg.”

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What’s in those tank cars near the Amtrak derailment?

Emergency personnel work at the scene of a deadly train derailment, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. The Amtrak train, headed to New York City, derailed and crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, killing at least six people and injuring dozens of others. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Patrick Semansky / AP

Emergency personnel work at the scene of a deadly train derailment, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia with tank cars in the background. The Amtrak train, headed to New York City, derailed and crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, killing at least six people and injuring dozens of others. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

News footage of the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia Tuesday night shows nearby tank cars that look similar to the rail cars carrying crude oil or other hazardous material across the country each day. In aerial photos, it looks as if the Amtrak train, traveling at 100 miles an hour, nearly missed creating an even greater catastrophe, if it had struck an oil train, say, or a train carrying chlorine gas. Residents quickly took to twitter, wondering about the content of those tank cars, and whether it was hazardous.

“This could be just one more in a litany of near misses,” said David Masur, director of PennEnvironment, an activist group working to ban oil trains.

Conrail spokesman John Enright confirmed on Thursday that the nearby tanker cars did not contain flammable crude oil or ethanol. But he wouldn’t say what was in those cars, only that some cars in the yard were empty, and others weren’t.

But it wouldn’t be far-fetched for a passenger rail car to collide with an oil train, dozens of oil trains run through the state on their way to Philadelphia and South Jersey refineries each week. In fact, Norfolk Southern runs oil trains on a track that crosses above Amtrak lines, close to the derailment. Bakken crude oil from North Dakota crosses those lines daily, traveling across the Delaware river, and down to refineries in South Jersey. WHYY reporter Tom MacDonald says he saw the black tankers about 50 yards from the derailed Amtrak train. Oil trains frequently run parallel to commuter rail lines throughout the city.

But it’s still unclear what is in those tank cars sitting near the Amtrak crash site. Continue Reading

Energy industry invests in Philly mayor’s race

Protestors opposed hydraulic fracturing march past City Hall, from outside a Marcellus Shale industry conference, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, in Philadelphia.  Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday attacked anti-drilling activists as the "unreasoning opposition" who accept the nation can land a space vehicle on Mars but don't believe energy companies can safely harvest gas a mile under the earth's surface. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Protestors opposed to natural gas drilling rally in front of Philadelphia City Hall during the industry conference in September, 2012.

Since Marcellus Shale development boomed, Philadelphia has been a thorn in the side of the gas industry. The city has not seen many of the economic benefits that places like Williamsport, or Pittsburgh have. And it tends to be home to well-organized, experienced environmental groups used to taking on powerful adversaries.

When the industry invited Mayor Michael Nutter to speak at its annual convention in Philadelphia, Shale Insight, back in the fall of 2012, he chided them, as protestors chanted outside.

“Many of us are deeply concerned about water quality in our watershed,” Nutter told the assembled industry executives. “There is no economic opportunity for which jeopardizing our water quality is acceptable.”

Earlier that year, when the state legislature was about to vote on new oil and gas legislation, including the impact fee, Republican leaders and gas drilling proponents like Joe Scarnati had to strong arm members of the Philadelphia delegation into voting for it. Scarnati threatened to leave the city out in the cold when it came to revenue generated by gas drilling. Continue Reading

As gas boom cuts into forests, scientists study how to put it back together

 

In the seven years since Marcellus Shale gas companies began working in Pennsylvania’s state forests, none of the nearly 1,700 affected acres has been fully restored and put back the way it was before drilling began.

Now state foresters and Penn State scientists are trying to plan for the future and help gas companies figure out the best ways to clean up after themselves.

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FracFocus upgrades availability of data on oil & gas operations

Information on fracking at gas wells like this one in southwest Pennsylvania will be more easily available through a new FracFocus project. (AP Photo/David Smith)

AP Photo/David Smith

Information on fracking at gas wells like this one in southwest Pennsylvania will be more easily available through a new FracFocus project. (AP Photo/David Smith)

A national project that collects and disseminates data about hydraulically fracked U.S. oil and gas wells raised its game on Friday by making the information available in aggregate form for anyone to download.

FracFocus, which draws data from most states, including Pennsylvania, that host unconventional oil and gas development, has been gathering information such as the use of water, chemicals and sand, and the depth and location of individual wells, since 2011.

The data have been available to the public but only in the form of pdfs containing data for each well.

The project, which is funded by industry trade groups, has been criticized by researchers as being too cumbersome to be an effective disclosure of the substances used by oil and gas operators. Some of those drillers have been accused of hiding their practices from public view amid persistent claims of air and water contamination. Continue Reading

Pipeline expansion could bring more shale gas to Philly

Spectra Energy wants to expand the capacity of the Philadelphia Lateral, shown here.

Spectra Energy

Spectra Energy wants to expand the capacity of the Philadelphia Lateral, shown here.

Philadelphia may be getting more Marcellus Shale gas if all goes well with plans for an expansion of the Philadelphia Lateral, a section of the Texas Eastern pipeline system. Spectra Energy, the pipeline company that operates Texas Eastern, has plans to enlarge the capacity of the pipeline that connects the transmission line to Philadelphia.

Devin Hotzel, a spokesman for Spectra Energy, says the current pipeline needs to be larger to meet demand for Marcellus gas in Philadelphia.

“The demand has gone beyond what we can deliver through those pipes,” said Hotzel.

Hotzel says Spectra is in the earliest stages of planning the “Greater Philadelphia Expansion Project.” ”Open season” for the project, which allows potential customers to request additional capacity through the pipe, ends today. That information will be used to decide if and how the project moves forward.

“It’s as early as it gets in the project,” said Hotzel.

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Wolf’s pick to head PUC will promote energy-saving policies, green groups say

Gladys Marie Brown is the new Chair of the Public Utility Commission.

Gladys Marie Brown is the new Chair of the Public Utility Commission.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s pick as the new head of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is a sign that the new administration is serious about choosing key officials who can make a difference on energy efficiency and climate change, environmental campaigners said on Thursday.

The Democratic governor named Gladys Brown, a current member of the utilities regulator, as its new chair, replacing Robert Powelson, who remains on the panel as a commissioner.

Brown’s record as an advocate for energy efficiency, especially among low-income populations, indicates that she will steer the panel toward policies such as efficient appliances and renewable fuels to reduce carbon emissions, said Jackson Morris, director of eastern energy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“We are very excited about the announcement, and see it as an indication that Governor Wolf really wants to put his stamp on clean-energy policy,” Morris said. “Gladys Brown will be a great chair of the PUC to push through policies that are supportive of clean energy and energy efficiency.” Continue Reading

Industry warns of negative impacts from Wolf’s gas tax

Gov. Wolf made taxing the natural gas industry a central campaign pledge and a key part of his budget proposal.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Wolf made taxing the natural gas industry a central campaign pledge and a key part of his budget proposal.

Governor Wolf’s proposed severance tax on natural gas drilling will cost Pennsylvania thousands of jobs and billions of dollars, according to a report released Thursday by the American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas trade group.

API projects the governor’s tax will result in 1,364 fewer wells over the next decade, resulting in a cumulative drilling investment loss of $11.5 billion to the state.

“When Pennsylvanians see what this tax could do to a vibrant industry, they’ll have to think twice about it,” says Stephanie Catarino Wissman, head of API’s Pennsylvania division in Harrisburg.

Wolf’s tax proposal is part of his broader budget package. It calls for a five percent tax on the value of the gas, plus 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet. It would also set a minimum value of $2.97 per thousand cubic feet, regardless of its actual sale price.

“He is setting an artificial price,” says Wissman. “What I equate that to, is someone earning $40,000 a year having to pay the same in income taxes as someone earning $100,000 per year.”

Wolf expects his tax to raise $1 billion in the first year and says he wants to spend much of the money to increase funding to public education.

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Environmentalists sue FERC over Cove Point LNG project

Twenty-four protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July, 2014.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Twenty-four protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July, 2014.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court today challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to approve Dominion Energy’s Cove Point LNG export terminal in Lusby, MD. FERC had granted approval to the $3.8 billion project back in September, and construction on expanding the idled import terminal into an export terminal began in October. But environmental groups had sought to halt construction, and force FERC to consider the upstream impacts of an export facility on Marcellus Shale development. FERC rejected those arguments in a decision posted Monday.

The environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in D.C. circuit court on behalf of a number of groups including the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Patuxent Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.

“After months of delay, we will finally get our day in court to challenge the fundamentally flawed approval of Dominion’s climate- and community-wrecking project,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in a release. “Time and again, FERC has shown a blatant disregard for the health and safety of people and the climate and, we believe, the law. Tragically, FERC’s foot-dragging has allowed Dominion bulldozers to start construction before Calvert County residents had legal recourse to challenge the agency’s decision.”

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FERC rejects environmentalists appeal on Cove Point LNG exports

A seagull takes flight from the offshore loading pier out into the Chesapeake Bay.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A seagull takes flight from the offshore loading pier at Cove Point out into the Chesapeake Bay. Construction on the idled terminal in Lusby, MD is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has denied a request by several environmental groups to halt construction on Dominion Energy’s Cove Point LNG export terminal in Lusby, MD and conduct a more thorough environmental review. Environmentalists have been fighting the conversion of the mothballed import terminal into an import/export facility, saying FERC should consider the environmental impact of upstream Marcellus Shale production.

FERC had approved the project in September, after conducting an environmental assessment, which is less stringent than an environmental impact statement. The project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 will ship out more than 5 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas each year. Cove Point is the fourth export terminal approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The agency issued its opinion regarding environmental opposition this week.

Ryan Talbott, an attorney and executive director of the Allegheny Defense Project, says he wasn’t surprised by FERC’s decision.

“One of the problems with FERC’s environmental analysis, and every analysis they do whether it’s for compressor stations or pipelines, is it’s all being done to develop to Marcellus and Utica shales,” said Talbott. “Under federal law they have an obligation to consider the cumulative effects.”
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