Energy. Environment. Economy.

Gas companies buy livestock, goodwill at Pennsylvania Farm Show

Gas companies bid on livestock from kids who live in the counties where they drill.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Gas companies stopped by the Farm Show this week to bid on livestock from kids who live in the counties where they drill.

Much of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drilling takes place in rural areas. Over the years, gas companies and farmers have had to learn how to co-exist. Sometimes those relationships are positive. Other times, they can be rocky.

That’s why some drilling companies come to Pennsylvania Farm Show—where they make an effort to buy livestock and a little goodwill.

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Wolf picks former Rendell appointees for top environmental posts

John Quigley with former Governor Ed Rendell in 2010. He previously headed DCNR and was chosen by Gov.-elect to run DEP.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

John Quigley with former Governor Ed Rendell in 2010. Quigley served as DCNR Secretary in the Rendell administration and has been nominated by Gov.-elect to run DEP.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf has announced his picks for the state’s two top environmental posts. Both nominees will be heavily involved in overseeing Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale industry and have extensive backgrounds in environmental causes and government.

Wolf nominated John Quigley to head the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP.) He previously served as Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary during the Rendell administration.

“I’m thrilled, I’m humbled, and excited,” Quigley tells StateImpact.  ”There are obviously some challenges facing Pennsylvania.”

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Obama aims to limit methane emissions from oil and gas industry

A worker stands by a natural gas well in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A worker stands by a natural gas well in Susquehanna County, Pa.

President Obama has made methane his latest target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In an announcement today, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency laid out plans to enact new regulations limiting methane emissions from oil and gas production. The goal is to cut methane leaks by 40 to 45 percent by 2025, using 2012 as the baseline.

Environmental activists and climate scientists have been urging Obama to tackle methane emissions. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide emissions in the short term. The announcement marks the president’s latest effort to take on climate change using his executive authority. The White House says it has the authority to use the Clean Air Act to impose regulations, and does not have to go through Congress.

Mark Brownstein, vice president in charge of the U.S. climate and energy program at the Environmental Defense Fund says he’s very pleased by the announcement.

“This is a landmark moment,” Brownstein told StateImpact. “Direct federal regulation of methane is essential. The administration set the right goal.”

The EPA’s plan will target new and modified sources of methane leaks within the production process and along the supply chain. But Brownstein says in order to reach 40 to 45 percent reductions, current natural gas and oil production would also have to be regulated.

“It’s a watershed moment but the job is not done,” said Brownstein. Continue Reading

Federal regulators schedule hearings on PennEast pipeline

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has scheduled five public hearings on the PennEast Pipeline as it prepares to draft a statement on the potential environmental impacts of the project.

The hearings are part of what FERC calls the “scoping process” and will give members of the public a forum to tell regulators what should be evaluated as part of the environmental impact statement.

Each “scoping meeting” will begin at 6 p.m. Here’s the schedule:

  • January 27The College of New Jersey   2000 Pennington Rd.  Ewing, NJ 08628
  • January 28Bucks County Community College   275 Swamp Rd. Newtown, PA 18940
  • February 10Northampton Community College   3835 Green Pond Rd. Bethlehem, PA 18020
  • February 11Penn’s Peak   325 Maury Rd. Jim Thorpe, PA 18229
  • February 12Best Western Hotel & Conference Center   77 E Market St. Wilks-Barre, PA 18701

PennEast representatives will be available for one hour before the start of each meeting. For more information, click here to read FERC’s notice. 

The PennEast project involves constructing 108 miles of 36-inch diameter pipeline to transport about 1 billion cubic feet a day of Marcellus Shale natural gas. The line would start in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania and end in Mercer County, New Jersey. Along the way, the pipeline will supply local distribution companies that deliver gas to homes and businesses in southeast Pennsylvania and South Jersey. It will also supply some power plants that have switched from coal to gas.

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Report: Quigley, Dunn to head environmental agencies under Wolf

Pennsylvania’s Governor-elect Tom Wolf continues filling his cabinet with former Rendell-era staffers.

Sources tell the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Wolf will name John Quigley as his Department of Environmental Protection secretary and Cindy Dunn to lead the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

More from the Post-Gazette:

The official announcements of those nominations could come as soon as Tuesday.

Mr. Quigley, a former DCNR secretary in the Rendell administration, will have a higher profile in his new leadership role at the DEP, which has the primary responsibility for regulating the state’s booming shale gas drilling industry operating in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

Ms. Dunn, is president and chief executive officer of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, or PennFuture, a statewide environmental organization. She worked in the DCNR for more than a decade and was DCNR deputy secretary for conservation and technical service in the Rendell administration.

Update 1/13 at 12 p.m. – A spokesman for Wolf told StateImpact Pennsylvania he could not confirm the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s report.

John Quigley and Cindy Dunn did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Update 1/14 at 1 p.m.- Governor-elect Wolf confirmed the appointments.

PUC pushes Philadelphia to ramp up replacement of leaky gas pipes

Michael Groves, PGW Senior Pipe Mechanic climbs out of a hole on Van Pelt Street after inspecting a new main gas line in North Philadelphia.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Michael Groves, PGW Senior Pipe Mechanic climbs out of a hole on Van Pelt Street after inspecting a new main gas line in North Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s city-owned utility says it’ll take 88 years to replace its old, leaky gas mains under a plan approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission nearly two years ago. The commission announced Monday it has begun an in-depth safety review of that plan, putting pressure on the city to fix its pipes faster.

The review comes in the wake of a failed attempt to sell Philadelphia Gas Works to a private company – a move the PUC endorsed as a way to get the job done more quickly.

“We felt that after taking in all of that information, two areas of concern that came back [were] the high propensity of cast iron [and] bare steel,” PUC Chairman Rob Powelson said, “And how do we adequately replace that without causing shock to ratepayers?”

The state of PGW’s gas mains was a central theme at a hearing the PUC hosted in November before the nearly $2 billion deal with Connecticut-based UIL Holdings Corp. fell through. UIL claimed it would be able to ramp up pipe replacement, but the company was unable to make its case to the public because the Philadelphia City Council declined to schedule a hearing on the company’s offer.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported, nearly two-thirds of PGW’s gas mains are made of cast iron or bare steel, materials that are prone to leaks. These leaks contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and can pose a significant safety hazard.

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Plans for offshore gas terminal spark controversy

Plans to build a new natural gas terminal off the New York and New Jersey coast are attracting controversy, according to the Associated Press.

Liberty Natural Gas is looking to build a new $600 million deep-water port in federal waters. It’s designed to bring more natural gas to the New York area during peak demand times.

From the AP: 

Business and labor groups support the plan, which was first proposed in 2008 and is projected to generate 800 construction jobs. But environmentalists, fishing groups and some elected officials say it is a dangerous, unnecessary project, given that America is awash in large supplies of domestically produced natural gas, much of which is produced in the Marcellus Shale formation just west of New York.

A public hearing on the proposal last week drew more than 1,000 people, many of whom said they fear the project, dubbed Port Ambrose, is really a Trojan horse designed to be switched to an export facility once it is built, to facilitate the sale of gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, to overseas markets.

“It seeks to bring us liquefied natural gas — a dirty, foreign, expensive fossil fuel that will be a target for terrorism, and threaten fisheries, clean ocean jobs and tourism,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action.

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EPA’s repackaging of power plant rules could thwart court challenges

Earlier this week, we told you the Environmental Protection Agency is putting off issuing new rules for cutting carbon emissions from new, existing and modified power plants so it can roll out all three proposals together this summer.

Scott Detrow – formerly of StateImpact Pennsylvania, now with E&E News – reports this new plan could help defend the plans from court challenges.

More from E&E News:

A former EPA official said packaging the three rules together could make court challenges more difficult. “I think they’re hoping to make it harder for people to challenge either rule,” said Jeff Holmstead, a former EPA air chief who now works as a partner at the Bracewell & Giuliani law firm. “If they do them all together in one package, they’ll argue that it will be one case. I’m sure they’re hoping to limit the number of words and number of pages [in briefs].”

A similar strategy made it harder for opponents to challenge the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal plants in court, Holmstead said. “It was a massive rule that covered power plants all over the country … the court only gave a limited number of words to those challenges,” he said.

Joe Kruger, a Clean Air Act expert and consultant who worked for both EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, agreed. “In some ways, it’s a lot easier if these are packaged together. It makes it easier for EPA to defend,” he said.

The three rules form a major component of President Obama’s plan to combat climate change. The overall goal is a 30 percent reduction in emissions nationwide by the year 2030. States will be directed to craft plans to meet their own specific targets.

DCNR investigating gas companies over royalty payments


Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

The state agency is investigating "a couple" gas companies for shortchanging the state on royalties from drilling in public forests.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is looking into whether some Marcellus Shale gas companies are shortchanging the state on royalty money.

The agency manages gas drilling on public forest land and currently has 117 active leases with about 18 different companies.

“We’re looking at the accuracy of payments,” says DCNR’s Chief Counsel, Richard Morrison. “It’s an internal process. It’s complicated and will take some time, but we’re proactively and aggressively pursuing those.”

Morrison declined to specify which companies are being investigated or say whether DCNR plans to file any lawsuits. He says the problems relate to only “a couple” of operators. Most of the issues involve companies withholding post-production costs from royalty payments. The agency brings in about $10 million per month in royalties.

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Commonwealth Court: Governor not the decider on leasing public land

A drilling convoy heads through the Loyalsock State Forest.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

A drilling convoy heads through the Loyalsock State Forest.

Decisions to lease state park and forest land to natural gas drillers lies with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, not the Governor’s office, according to a decision issued today by the Commonwealth Court. The court also ruled that the General Assembly can decide how to spend the royalty money generated from current and future leases. Up until 2009, proceeds from oil and gas drilling on state land were funneled directly back into the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources through the oil and gas lease fund. But as Marcellus Shale drilling ramped up, and the money multiplied, the legislature used much of it to balance the budget.

Governor Corbett’s energy secretary Patrick Henderson called the decision a “resounding victory for the Commonwealth.” “We’re extremely happy with the court’s recognition of the authority of the executive and the legislative branch,” Henderson told StateImpact.

Today’s Commonwealth Court en banc decision, written by Judge Kevin Brobson, stems from a case filed back in 2012 by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation seeking to halt all drilling in state forests. It also challenged how the drilling royalties were spent.

John Childe, the environmental attorney who brought the case, argued that the state’s environmental rights amendment prevented the General Assembly from using the funds for anything other than environmental conservation. But in a unanimous decision the seven Commonwealth Court judges disagreed.

Childe also wanted the court to rule that both former Governor Ed Rendell and Governor Corbett violated the state constitution by leasing land to drillers. The court did not do so.

The court did however, rule that the Conservation and Natural Resources Act put the decision on whether and how to lease public land squarely within the purview of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, not the Governor’s office.

Under the direction of Governor Rendell, DCNR leased 132,000 acres to Marcellus Shale drillers despite opposition from the agency’s leadership. Just before leaving office, Rendell then issued an executive order placing a moratorium on future leases. But Governor Corbett lifted that moratorium last year, while saying the new leases would prohibit any surface disturbance. For now, the issue seems moot because incoming Governor-elect Tom Wolf opposes any new leasing of public land. Continue Reading

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