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Changes at DEP could delay new oil and gas rules

A gas production unit (foreground) cleans, depressurizes, and moderates gas temperatures at a  Cabot Oil & Gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A gas production unit (foreground) cleans, depressurizes, and moderates gas temperatures at a Cabot Oil & Gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

Long awaited changes to the state’s oil and gas rules may run into some snags with new faces in Harrisburg. But DEP secretary for oil and gas, Scott Perry, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that missing the March 2016 deadline to upgrade regulations would be a “failure.”

The state’s new oil and gas law, known as Act 13, required an update to Chapter 78 of the Pennsylvania Code. The rules guide construction and operation of oil and gas wells, including waste, spills, and pipelines. The DEP has received thousands of public comments to the proposed revisions. In a surprising move last week, the agency announced changes to the oil and gas Technical Advisory Board, which helps guide DEP on the rules. More from the Tribune-Review:

Current members were waiting to be told whether their service is still wanted.

“No other administration has really touched the makeup of the board,” said Gary Slagel, the government relations coordinator at the Cecil office of the law firm Steptoe & Johnson who has served on the board since 1989.

Perry said the department wants new members focused solely on shale drilling since it announced last week the formation of a board for advice on rules for conventional oil and gas drilling.

The department is adding three nonvoting members to the five engineers and geologists on each board, Perry said.

To accommodate the changes, a planned March 5 meeting of the existing board was postponed to March 20, and the new conventional board will meet March 26.

The boards’ new members will consider revisions to proposed rules that initially went out for public review a year ago and garnered 25,000 comments. Perry said those comments dictated the latest changes, as did a review by Wolf administration officials who took office last month, including acting DEP Secretary John Quigley and former department leaders John Hanger and Katie McGinty.


Heavy flaring at Philadelphia refinery sends black smoke into the air

Flaring at the PES oil refinery in southwest Philadelphia Friday morning caused concerned residents to call 911.


Flaring at the PES oil refinery in southwest Philadelphia Friday morning caused concerned residents to call 911.

Some Philadelphia residents woke up to a large plume of black smoke drifting up through the sky, wondering what was on fire. But it turns out it was a flare coming from the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in southwest Philadelphia. PES is the single largest consumer of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota. The refinery turns that crude into gasoline, which supplies a large portion of the region’s gas stations.

PES spokeswoman Cherice Corley says the cold weather caused problems at the plant, which led to the flaring and smoke both this morning and this afternoon. Flaring is actually a safety valve used to limit the number of air pollutants released during start-ups or shut-downs of facilities. The flare was not the result of burning oil, but of other hydrocarbons that would have been released into the atmosphere. “We quickly conducted air monitoring in the surrounding communities, which were negative,” Corley wrote in an email. “There was no impact to the community.” NBC10 has more:

A flare up at a South Philadelphia oil refinery has prompted emergency calls from concerned citizens.

The incident took place around 6:30 a.m. Friday at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex along Pennrose Avenue, fire officials tell NBC10.

The refinery is burning off additional flammable fuel through a tower at the complex. The flare-up is producing a larger than usual flame that’s causing thick black smoke to billow into the sky.

Residents called 911 concerned by what they saw, but officials said the situation is under control. The Philadelphia Fire Department responded to the scene as a precaution.

Chesapeake Energy faces another royalties lawsuit

More than 50 landowners have filed a federal lawsuit against Chesapeake Energy, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It’s the latest in a slew of lawsuits directed at the Oklahoma City-based driller, alleging it fraudulently withholds gas royalty money.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Chesapeake, which has more than 700 producing shale wells in the state, declined to comment. The other defendants, which include Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum — the ninth-biggest shale gas producer in the state — and Tulsa-based pipeline company Williams Partners, which last year acquired Access Midstream, did not return a call for comment.

Similar accusations have prompted federal and state investigations, Chesapeake has acknowledged, and led to several other lawsuits. The company agreed to pay $11 million to settle a class-action claim filed by thousands of leaseholders over deductions that state lawmakers are seeking to limit.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, Chesapeake has faced legal troubles over its royalty payments in Pennsylvania and other parts of the country where it operates.

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Oil trains on Pa. tracks getting more scrutiny after W. Va. explosion

In this aerial photo made available by the Office of the Governor of West Virginia shows a derailed train in Mount Carbon, WV., Tuesday Feb. 17, 2015.  The train carrying crude oil derailed Monday night, causing a large fire that forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and temporarily shutting down water treatment facilities. (AP Photo/ Office of the Governor of West Virginia, Steven Wayne Rotsch)

Steven Wayne Rotsch / AP/Office of the Gov. of West Virginia

An aerial photo shows a derailed train in Mount Carbon, WV., Tuesday Feb. 17, 2015. The train carrying crude oil derailed Monday night, causing a large fire that forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and temporarily shutting down water treatment facilities.

The fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia on President’s Day, which forced the evacuation of nearby residents and sent Bakken crude into the Kanawha River, has environmentalists and local lawmakers taking a more critical look at the oil trains running across Pennsylvania’s tracks.

The burning CSX rail cars in the West Virginia accident carried shale oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields. Dozens of those same oil trains role across Pennsylvania each day on their way to Philadelphia area refineries.  And driving, walking or biking around Philadelphia these days it’s hard to miss the rows of black cylindrical tanker cars lining the city’s railroad tracks.

Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution Thursday urging the city’s Office of Emergency Management and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to work together and make more information about the oil train routes and safety plans available to the public. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown says the 2014 oil train derailment that had tanker cars hanging over the Schuylkill River close to the downtown area of the city was a warning.

“If there’s ever an accident it would be a bad thing so we need to be proactive and figure out what type of prevention measures they have in place to avoid an accident,” said Reynolds-Brown. “We don’t want to be in a ‘I wish I shoulda coulda place.’”

Just last month another oil train derailed in South Philadelphia. Neither of those incidents resulted in fires, spills or injuries.  Continue Reading

Cabot continues legal fight against fracking activist

Activist Vera Scroggins speaks with reporters after an October 2014 court hearing.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Activist Vera Scroggins speaks with reporters after an October 2014 court hearing in Montrose.

Houston, Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas is headed back to court again next week in an ongoing legal battle with an anti-fracking activist.

The year-and-a-half long feud between Cabot and 64-year-old Vera Scroggins appeared to be over last fall, when Susquehanna County judge Kenneth Seamans ruled she would be permanently barred from Cabot sites and must observe buffer zones ranging from 25 to 100 feet.

But Cabot is continuing to challenge her movements and wants her to be punished for allegedly coming too close to a wellpad access road last month. The two sides will meet again in a Susquehanna County courtroom on February 25th.

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DEP holds public hearing on natural gas liquids pipeline


Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowtiz says the necessary pump stations for the pipeline will create low-level air emissions.

The state Department of Environmental Protection held a public hearing Tuesday night in Lebanon to discuss infrastructure related to a interstate natural gas liquids pipeline.

Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics is re-purposing an existing line to ship natural gas liquids, such as propane and ethane, from western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook refinery in Philadelphia.

The so-called Mariner East 1 pipeline is already partially operational, and Sunoco is seeking DEP permits to operate necessary pump stations to help move the liquids.

At Tuesday’s hearing the DEP took public comments on a pending operating permit for one of the pump stations, in Cornwall Township, Lebanon County. It’s one of 16 such facilities needed along the route. The DEP estimates the air emissions from the pump station– including emissions from equipment leaks and operation of an enclosed flare– will be 0.25 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, 0.01 tons per year of nitrogen oxide and 0.2 tons per year of carbon monoxide.

“Those are low-level,” says department spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz. ”Nonetheless, we still have to know their emissions and make sure they adhere to the limits.”

The pump stations and the pipeline have sparked controversy in some communities. Kasianowitz said the department received nearly 400 requests to hold the Lebanon hearing.

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Marcellus Shale production numbers break another record


Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A Cabot drill rig in Susquehanna County.

Drilling companies in Pennsylvania have broken yet another record, as shale gas production jumped 30 percent last year, according to new data released by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Marcellus Shale drillers produced more than 2 trillion cubic feet of gas in the second half of 2014. Throughout all of last year, they produced 3.7 trillion cubic feet– or about 16 percent of what the entire United States consumes on an annual basis.

“Economic growth from natural gas production has translated into increased disposable income for families and more profitable businesses,” said Frank Macchiarola, of the industry trade group, America’s Natural Gas Alliance. “Pennsylvania also is supplying the rest of the country with abundant natural gas helping to power America.”

Once again, the Susquehanna County operations of Cabot Oil and Gas are the most productive wells in the state. On a county-level basis, Bradford produces the most gas, followed by Washington, Susquehanna, Lycoming, and Greene counties.

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Cabot to pay $50,000 for violating water regulations

A Cabot fracking site in Susquehanna County.

A Cabot fracking site in Susquehanna County.

Houston, Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas has offered to pay a $50,000 settlement to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission for violating its consumptive water use regulations late last year.

Every gas well pad needs commission approval before drilling operations can commence. Cabot submitted an application to the SRBC in November 2014 for its Stellitano AP1 pad in Gibson Township, Susquehanna County. However, the commission noticed the company began some pre-drilling work on December 5th, before it had received permission.

“They got a little eager and started drilling pilot holes before they got approval,” says SRBC compliance director, Eric Roof. “It’s a very rare occurrence. In general, Cabot and most of the gas industry is very compliant. This was unintentional as far as we determined.”

The SRBC sent a cease-and-desist order to Cabot, but later approved the application and lifted the order. A Cabot spokesman could not be reached for comment Friday.

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Sunoco touts natural gas liquids pipeline in Lebanon

A Sunoco Logistics employee discusses the Mariner East 2 pipeline with residents in Lebanon.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Sunoco Logistics employee discusses the Mariner East 2 pipeline with residents in Lebanon.

Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics hosted a public forum in Lebanon Thursday night to discuss a proposed $2.5 billion pipeline that would carry natural gas liquids from Ohio to the Marcus Hook industrial complex in Philadelphia.

The 350-mile Mariner East 2 is a new pipeline that would traverse southern Pennsylvania. It would run parallel to its predecessor, the Mariner East 1– an existing line which Sunoco recently retrofitted.

Late last year Mariner 1 partially came online, and it’s already shipping propane across the state.

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields says the entire project is designed to make use of the abundant natural gas liquids– ethane, propane, and butane– found in the so-called “wet gas” regions of the Marcellus Shale, including parts of Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

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