Energy. Environment. Economy.

Shell seeks to build docks for barges near proposed petrochemical plant

The Beaver County Times reports Shell Chemicals has filed a permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build two docks and 24 smaller structures to moor barges near the site of its proposed ethane cracker in western Pennsylvania.

From the article:

When asked whether the application signaled a new level of commitment from Shell, [spokesman Michael Marr] responded, “As we have previously communicated, acquisition of the necessary permits is a prerequisite for Shell reaching a stage where a final investment decision could be considered.”

At this point, [Army Corps regulatory specialist Josh Shaffer] said, Army Corps reviewers are “diving into the technical aspects” of the application, which was submitted in February. Shaffer said the Army Corps will review the application’s compliance with provisions under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and the Clean Water Act.

“Things are moving along pretty efficiently,” Shaffer said of the process, which also involves other regulatory agencies, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Shell first proposed the multi-billion dollar plant in July 2011, but has not fully committed to the project yet. The facility would rely on natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale to create compounds used in the manufacturing of plastics.

At a public meeting last spring, the company said it may spend another one to two years deciding whether to move forward.

State plans to give industry group $150K grant to study effects of gas drilling


Joe Ulrich/WITF

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved a $150,000 grant for "independent research" to an industry-backed nonprofit organization.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved a $150,000 grant earmarked in the state budget for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling” to an industry-backed nonprofit organization.

The funding was approved on a non-competitive basis– other groups were not able to apply for the money.

The Pittsburgh-based Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA) was formed as a partnership between industry and academia. Its board includes two representatives from Pennsylvania universities and five members from the oil and gas industry. SAFER PA’s president, Patrick Findle, heads the Pittsburgh office of the Gas Technology Institute– an Illinois nonprofit that conducts research for gas companies. In 2012 Findle also served as the research committee vice chair of the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Reached by phone, Findle declined to comment and refused to even confirm that SAFER PA was working with DEP. He asked that all questions for this story be emailed to him and did not respond to the email.

The DEP did not respond to repeated requests to comment.

“We frequently see this in the budget– line-items designed so only one entity is able to acquire it.” says Barry Kauffman of the government reform group, Common Cause PA. “Hopefully that’s not the situation here because we need unbiased research. One would hope this group was not selected because it would produce a predetermined outcome.”

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Shell taps Utica shale in northern Pennsylvania

Shell logo

AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Shell says it's demonstrated the Utica's "sweet spot" extends into northern Pennsylvania.

Royal Dutch Shell announced today it has successfully drilled two new discovery gas wells in the Utica shale in Tioga county, signaling  the formation could be bigger than previously thought.

The company has drilling rights to about 430,000 acres in the discovery area and says the wells show the Utica’s “sweet spot” extends into Northern Pennsylvania–  beyond southeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

“This successful discovery is the result of solid technical work in our onshore business” said Shell’s Upstream Americas Director Marvin Odum in a statement. “Last year, we refocused our resources plays strategy to select fewer plays with specific scale and economic characteristics to best suit our portfolio. The Appalachian basin is one of those areas, and these two high-pressure wells both exhibit exceptional reservoir quality.”

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New study will examine impact of shale boom on families

The state Independent Fiscal Office compared Pennsylvania to ten other shale gas-producing states.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drilling rig in Susquehanna County.

Here’s the question that’s been nagging Penn State University researcher Molly Martin for years: When it comes to a child’s success, how much does money matter?

Martin says that’s been a tough one for sociologists like her to answer. That is, until the Marcellus Shale boom.

“It’s very rare that you can separate the money from everything else about the person,” she said, noting income may or may not be related to a parent’s other traits that impact their child’s health or their performance in school, for example.

Martin is leading a new study that will compare families in New York State where there is a moratorium, despite known shale deposits, with families in Pennsylvania – which is producing record-breaking amounts of gas. This key difference in neighboring states offers a unique look at the impact money may have on children’s lives.

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West Goshen tightens zoning laws for pipeline projects

West Goshen resident Azim Siddiqui speaks at a forum about a proposed pump station for Sunoco Logistics' Mariner East pipeline in this April file photo.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

West Goshen resident Azim Siddiqui speaks at a forum about a proposed pump station for Sunoco Logistics' Mariner East pipeline in this April 2014 file photo.

A Chester County town passed a series of amendments to its zoning law Tuesday night – the latest defensive move in West Goshen’s fight to prevent Sunoco Logistics from building a pump station for its Mariner East pipeline in a residential neighborhood.

More from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Under the amendments West Goshen Township supervisors approved at a special public hearing, the township will restrict pipeline companies to industrial areas, require them to prove their projects are necessary as public utilities, and force them to meet a series of requirements regarding safety and emergency planning.

However, the amendments are essentially legally “meaningless” if the state grants applicants exemptions from local zoning laws, as Sunoco Pipeline is seeking to do, township solicitor Kristin Camp told the roughly 70 residents at the hearing.

“There’s nothing our local zoning ordinance can do to trump state statutes,” Camp said.

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Pennsylvania DEP revamps effort to map abandoned oil and gas wells

An abandoned, unplugged well near the Allegheny National Forest


An abandoned, unplugged well near the Allegheny National Forest

Pennsylvania environmental regulators are embarking on a project to map about 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells that are currently unaccounted for in state records, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.  

Abandoned wells provide pathways for methane gas to seep to the surface, where it can, under the right settings, trigger explosions. However, as StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported, finding and plugging them has been a difficult task for the state’s underfunded Abandoned and Orphaned Well Program.

The current mapping effort is being spurred by proposed state regulations for modern oil and gas drilling that would require companies to locate any old wells before fracking their new well.

More from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: 

While some companies have submitted historical maps to DEP, including valuable archives kept by EQT Corp. and Peoples Natural Gas, other companies have been reluctant to participate in the effort, citing cost, time and a host of thorny legal issues.

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Report: drilling waste records don’t add up


Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Drilling waste at a site in Tioga County.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers have under-reported the amount of waste they send to landfills.

The paper analyzed records of nine landfills in the southwestern part of the state and found they reported three to four times the amount of waste that drillers claimed to have dropped off.

The paper found EQT Corp. reported 21 tons of drill cuttings in 2013, while six landfills in southwestern Pennsylvania reported receiving 95,000 tons.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is looking into the discrepancies.

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DEP publishes details on 248 cases of water damage from gas development

Ray Kemble of Dimock, displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pa. displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo.

For the first time, Pennsylvania environmental regulators are publicly releasing documents about cases when natural gas operations have damaged private water supplies.

A list of 248 incidents is now available on the Department of Environmental Protection’s website with links to the letters sent to homeowners when the agency determined their water well was impacted by gas development.

The DEP provided an early copy of the list to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in July, which showed 209 cases. The updated tally is the result of a more thorough search of paper records in regional offices, said spokesman Eric Shirk.

“As we do get more information, we will keep this list updated,” he said.

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New study shows gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene

Workers keep an eye on well heads during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. oil well, near Mead, Colo.


Workers keep an eye on well heads during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. oil well, near Mead, Colo.

A new study out this month reveals unconventional oil and natural gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene, putting them at a higher risk for blood cancers like leukemia. Benzene is a known carcinogen that is present in fracking flowback water. It’s also found in gasoline, cigarette smoke and in chemical manufacturing. As a known carcinogen, benzene exposures in the workplace are limited by federal regulations under OSHA. But some oil and gas production activities are exempt from those standards.

The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) worked with industry to measure chemical exposures of workers who monitor flowback fluid at well sites in Colorado and Wyoming. A summary of the peer-reviewed article was published online this month on a CDC website. In several cases benzene exposures were found to be above safe levels.

The study is unusual in that it did not simply rely on air samples. The researchers also took urine samples from workers, linking the exposure to absorption of the toxin in their bodies. One of the limits of the study includes the small sample size, only six sites in two states. Continue Reading

Report: Pa. attorney general widens investigation into gas royalty complaints

In this 2014 file photo, Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa

AP Photo/Marc Levy, file

In this 2014 file photo, Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is reportedly widening her investigation into complaints of fraud from gas royalty owners.

So far, the allegations have centered on the state’s biggest gas driller, Chesapeake Energy. Now sources tell Capotolwire that Kane’s office has issued subpoenas “throughout the energy industry” in Pennsylvania.

It could suggest investigators are looking for background information or that the probe also includes complaints about the payment practices of other companies.

Kane spokesman J.J. Abbott and a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the state’s top drilling trade group, declined to comment.

Jackie Root, President of the National Association of Royalty Owners’ Pennsylvania chapter, welcomed the news.

“We know that the issues that are out there were not solely Chesapeake,” said Root, who noted the organization has heard from numerous members who have been interviewed by state investigators.

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