Energy. Environment. Economy.

At 74, the Pennsylvania Turnpike looks to the future of fueling

Workers spread concrete by hand in Somerset, Pa. during construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1939.

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

Workers spread concrete by hand in Somerset, Pa. during construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1939.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike turns 74 years old today. The vast majority of the roughly 190 million drivers who travel the toll road every year rely on gasoline for fuel just as they did when it first opened on October 1, 1940.

This week, StateImpact Pennsylvania has been taking a journey across the turnpike, exploring the state’s energy past and present and a future that may be shaped by efforts to fight climate change and cut down on greenhouse gases. Click here to see our story map.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, about one-third of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions come from the transportation sector, ranking second behind power plants. Yet, cars that run on natural gas, electricity and other lower-carbon alternatives haven’t become mainstream.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is trying to offer new options – in part, to lower its own carbon footprint, but also because the state is offering millions of dollars in grants to create new markets for alternative fuels.

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Final hurdle cleared for Marcellus gas exports

A federal regulatory agency has approved plans to ship Marcellus Shale gas from Pennsylvania overseas. The decision clears the way to begin converting a former import terminal in the Chesapeake Bay to export liquefied natural gas. Dominion Energy’s Cove Point plant can now move forward with plans to export 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. It will be the first connected to the Marcellus Shale by pipeline.


The offshore loading pier at Dominion's Cove Point facility now sits idle.

Lindsay Lazarski/ WHYY

The offshore loading pier at Dominion's Cove Point facility now sits idle.

The switch from an idled import terminal to an export facility results from a domestic shale boom, and greater need for energy abroad. Dominion has agreements with energy companies in India and Japan to liquefy natural gas, and ship it overseas. The Japanese company, Sumitomo, made a deal with Cabot Oil and Gas last December to purchase 350,000 MMBtu per day of natural gas from Cabot’s Marcellus wells and send it through pipelines to plant on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. That agreement is to last 20 years, signaling how much gas Cabot has within its holdings in Northeast Pennsylvania. Figures released in August by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection show Cabot’s wells to be some of the most productive in the state.

New Life for an Idled Plant

The project breathes new life into the idled plant, which Dominion Energy spokesman Jim Norvelle says will create thousands of new construction jobs during the 3 year project, and 100 new full-time workers at the plant. He says Dominion will be paying an additional $40 million dollars in property taxes to Calvert County, MD.

But Dominion Energy, Cabot Oil and Gas, and Calvert County’s coffers aren’t the only winners. Utilities in Japan and India also stand to benefit. Benjamin Gage is an LNG analyst with IHS International. Gage says Marcellus Shale gas provides a dependable alternative to Middle East and Southeast Asian natural gas for Japan’s Sumitomo, as well as the Indian company Gail. Continue Reading

Federal regulators approve Cove Point gas export terminal

The offshore loading pier at Dominion's Cove Point facility.

Lindsay Lazarski/ WHYY

The offshore loading pier at Dominion's Cove Point facility.

Federal regulators have approved a proposal to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Dominion’s Cove Point, Maryland terminal. The facility was originally designed to receive gas imports, but will now become the closest export terminal to the Marcellus Shale.

As the domestic fracking boom has unleashed record amounts of natural gas and depressed prices, the industry has been seeking new markets abroad.

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Cove Point is the fourth U.S. LNG export project to get the green light to begin construction from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It will be able to export up to 5.75 million metric tons of LNG a year when fully operational.

Dominion’s facility is one of about two dozen projects that hope to ship a growing bounty of domestic natural gas to countries in Asia and Europe.

The Cove Point site, a little more than an hour’s drive southeast of Washington, D.C. on Chesapeake Bay, boasts four large storage tanks and a pier built in the 1970s to import LNG from Algeria, underscoring just how much U.S. market dynamics have changed.

“We are pleased to receive this final approval that allows us to start constructing this important project that offers significant economic, environmental and geopolitical benefits,” said Diane Leopold, president of Dominion Energy.

Pa. Auditor General: Don’t rely on DEP for good information

A man helps deliver donations of clean water to residents of Butler County who say gas drilling polluted their water supply. DEP officials had told residents that nearby drilling was not the cause. So free water deliveries by the gas producer ended.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A man helps deliver donations of clean water to residents of Butler County who say gas drilling polluted their water supply. DEP officials had told residents that nearby drilling was not the cause. But gave no other explanation.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is having a rough week. On Thursday, the Attorney General’s office showed reporters evidence of how DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo exchanged pornographic emails with his pals on taxpayer time. And now, another state agency, the Auditor General’s office, has released a “citizens guide” to shale gas water complaints warning Pennsylvanians not to trust information on the DEP’s website.

In an audit released back in July, the Auditor General described DEP’s ineptitude when it comes to investigating and acting upon shale gas related water complaints from citizens. Sloppy record-keeping, lax oversight, and poor communication with citizens topped the list of findings. So perhaps it’s not surprising that “Shale Gas Development and Water Quality Complaints — A Citizen’s Guide” urges caution when relying on DEP for accurate information.

“Users should exercise caution in accessing any information from DEP’s website as the information may not be accurate and may not be representative of actual conditions. DEP frequently posts data it obtains directly from operators without checking to see if the data is valid and reliable. In particular, drilling dates (or spud dates) may be inaccurate on DEP’s website. As we found in our audit work, the only way to really know when critical drilling activity occurred on a site is to conduct a file review at the applicable district oil and gas office or to speak with an operator’s representative.”

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Study: Treated fracking wastewater could still threaten drinking water

A worker collects a water sample at a natural gas wastewater recycling plant in Susquehanna County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A worker collects a water sample at a natural gas wastewater recycling plant in Susquehanna County. At this facility, the wastewater reused in oil and gas drilling, and the solids that contain salts are sent to a landfill.

A new study shows how treated wastewater from oil and gas operations, when discharged into rivers and streams that travel toward drinking water intakes, can produce dangerous toxins. The research confirms what scientists have been warning about for some time. The high concentrations of salty brine, which flows up from deep underground once a well is fracked, are difficult to remove from the wastewater without the aid of an expensive technique called reverse osmosis or a cheaper method known as thermal distillation. If the wastewater is treated conventionally, which does not remove the bromides, chlorides or iodides, then it can be combined with chlorine at a drinking water facility, and create carcinogens such as bromines and iodines.

The peer-reviewed research was published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, and conducted by a team from both Duke University and Stanford University. Researchers from Duke University, who recently published a study on the impact of faulty well casings, had water samples from Pennsylvania and Arkansas frack sites, which they shared with the Stanford researchers. In the lab the researchers diluted the fracking wastewater with water samples from the Allegheny and Ohio rivers. What they found was that just .01 percent per volume of fracking wastewater, when combined with the disinfectant chlorine used by drinking water facilities, created trihalomethanes. The EPA limits the amount of these compounds in drinking water because of their link to kidney, liver and bladder cancer. Continue Reading

Corbett says he hasn’t seen any ‘intentional violations’ by gas industry

Governor Corbett speaking Thursday to Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer at the industry group's annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Governor Corbett speaking in PittsburghThursday to Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer at the industry group's annual Shale Insight conference.

Speaking Thursday at a gas industry trade group conference in Pittsburgh, Governor Corbett said he has yet to see any “intentional violations” by drillers.

“Have there been violations? Yeah. And that’s when we have to take action,” Corbett said. “If it happens again, the action gets a little harder. If it happens again, it’s gonna get a lot harder. And eventually that permit—that’s always at risk. That’s the leverage to make sure everybody does what they’re supposed to do.”

Corbett was speaking before a crowd at the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s annual Shale Insight conference. He was among the keynote speakers following a luncheon sponsored by Chesapeake Energy. The Oklahoma-based company is one of Pennsylvania’s largest operators.

His remarks are a change in tone from statements he made earlier this year about Chesapeake Energy. In February, Corbett asked state Attorney General Kathleen Kane to investigate complaints of fraud against the company, calling its business practices “unfair and perhaps illegal.”

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DEP Secretary Abruzzo implicated in sexually explicit email exchange

Chris Abruzzo is the secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Chris Abruzzo is the secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Chris Abruzzo is one of eight prominent state employees who “sent or received hundreds of sexually explicit photos, videos and messages from state email accounts between 2008 and 2012.” A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office confirmed to WITF that Abruzzo sent eight of the emails, and received 46.

Prior to being appointed as Pennsylvania’s top environmental regulator, Abruzzo worked under Gov. Corbett during his term as Attorney General, running the Drug Strike Force and prosecuting Medicaid fraud. He has no environmental background.

The sexually explicit emails were requested by the Inquirer and other newspapers under a Right-to-Know law request. They are related to the current Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s investigation of the Jerry Sandusky prosecution while Corbett was at the helm.

Kane released the names of eight emailers, which include the state’s top cop, and showed reporters some of the pornographic messages.

More from the Inquirer:

The emails include explicit photos and videos of women and men engaged in oral sex, anal sex and intercourse.

Kane’s office showed only what it called a sampling of the emails and their contents; it could not say specifically if the messages were opened, provide the dates they were sent, or if the pornography had been viewed by the intended recipients.

The office also could not say how many people received the e-mails, how often the emails circulated, or how many such e-mails the eight named recipients sent or received.

Kane’s office did not show reporters the images of actual emails – just the attached image or the video, which it then attributed to a specific person.

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Budget forces DEP to split regulations for shallow, deep wells

Natural gas wells in Springville Township, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Natural gas wells in Springville Township, Pa.

Despite a new state law changing the way oil and gas wells are regulated, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is not going back to the drawing board on a proposed overhaul of the state’s drilling rules.

During July budget negotiations, state Republican leaders slipped controversial language into the fiscal code that requires state regulators to differentiate between “conventional” or shallow wells and modern, deep shale wells. Conventional wells have traditionally been subject to fewer regulations, although many are being developed today using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The change came just as the DEP wrapped up a series of public hearings and began wading through 25,000 comments on the draft rules. The new regulations would deal with surface activities on and around well sites – including waste handling, spill prevention, and protecting environmental resources.

“To start that process from scratch would be a disservice to that effort,” said Kurt Klapkowski, DEP’s director of oil and gas management.

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DEP fines pipeline company $250,000 for violations in Lycoming County

Crews weld a pipeline the Loyalsock State Forest.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Crews weld a pipeline the Loyalsock State Forest.

The Department of Environmental Protection fined NFG Midstream Trout Run for violating the state Clean Streams Law 13 times over a seven-month stretch beginning in October, 2011. The infractions occurred during the construction of a 16-mile length of pipeline running from a Seneca Resources well pad in McIntyre Township to the Transco transmission pipeline in Loyalsock Township. DEP says the company discharged sediment into local streams.

“NFG’s failure to implement and maintain erosion and sediment control best management practices resulted in several sediment discharges into unnamed tributaries to Mill Creek and Lycoming Creek, Lycoming Creek, and an exceptional value wetland,” wrote DEP district director John Ryder in a release.

Although DEP says the waterways were impacted, the department says it didn’t document any effects on aquatic life. The fine seems small compared to DEP’s recent $4 million dollar assessment against Range Resources. But it still tops the highest fine incurred by the oil and gas industry in 2013, which was $198,500 paid by Seneca Resources.


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