Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

$35M initiative aims to improve water quality in the Delaware River basin

Wildlife along the Delaware River at Washington Avenue Green Park in Philadelphia.

WHYY Photo

Wildlife along the Delaware River at Washington Avenue Green Park in Philadelphia.

The Delaware River watershed supplies drinking water to millions of people. Managing water quality is a challenge that changes from upstate New York down to the Delaware Bay. The William Penn Foundation announced today a $35 million initiative to tackle this shifting problem by uniting the efforts of more than 40 conservation groups and monitoring the results.

Rather than approaching the whole river basin at once, the Philadelphia-based philanthropy’s efforts are focusing on eight sub-watersheds, or clusters of rivers and streams facing different challenges from forest fragmentation to agricultural runoff.

“It really is about this idea of collective and cumulative impacts that we can observe and measure and fine-tune and then model to export to other places,” said Andrew Johnson, the foundation’s senior program officer for watershed protection.

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Pa. leases more than 1,400 acres under rivers and streams to drillers

The most recent streambed lease agreement gives Chesapeake Energy the rights to extract gas from under 1,092 acres of the Susquehanna River in Wyoming and Bradford Counties.

Scott LaMar/WITF

The most recent streambed lease agreement gives Chesapeake Energy the rights to extract gas from under 1,092 acres of the Susquehanna River.

Over the past year the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has raised nearly $5.9 million by quietly leasing more than 1,400 acres of mineral rights to gas companies underneath publicly-owned waterways.

The most recent lease agreement– signed just over two weeks ago– gives Chesapeake Energy the rights to extract gas from under 1,092 acres of the Susquehanna River in Wyoming and Bradford Counties for five years.

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DEP postpones hearings on forced pooling request in western Pa.

A growing controversy surrounding a company’s request to drill for natural gas without some property owners’ consent has moved the Department of Environmental Protection to postpone a set of hearings on the issue.

Hilcorp Energy Company asked DEP in July to approve Utica Shale drilling units for 3,267 acres in Lawrence and Mercer counties – all but 35 acres of which the company has under lease. Hilcorp is invoking a 1961 state law that allows “forced pooling” or the combining of adjacent tracts of land even if landowners have not signed leases or hold leases with other companies. The Oil and Gas Conservation Law only applies to drilling in the Utica Shale and not the better-known Marcellus formation.

However, when it comes to interpreting the 53-year-old law for modern shale drilling, state environmental regulators have been proceeding with caution. As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the DEP originally deferred the decision to the Environmental Hearing Board. Last November, the board ruled the department must respond to Hilcorp’s request.

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Report: Philadelphia gas utility second worst for pipeline leaks

A report by SNL Energy ranked Philadelphia Gas Works second worst in the nation for pipeline leaks.

lorenkerns/ via flickr

A report by SNL Energy ranked Philadelphia Gas Works second worst in the nation for pipeline leaks.

The private company planning to buy Philadelphia Gas Works has promised to upgrade the city’s aging and leaking pipelines. A new report by SNL Energy shows just how big that task could be, ranking the city’s utility second worst in the nation for pipeline leaks.

The firm looked at data from the federal Office of Pipeline Safety showing that in 2012, PGW reported 5,464 leaks over its 5,762 miles of gas mains and service lines. That’s a rate of roughly one leak (0.95) per mile. PGW came in second to New York’s Con Edison, which reported 7,328 leaks over 7,301 miles of pipelines. Pittsburgh-based People’s Natural Gas ranked fifth.

It may come as no surprise that SNL’s list includes some of the nation’s oldest cities. The New York Times found similar results in an analysis following a deadly explosion in East Harlem earlier this month.

Philadelphia Gas Works spokesman Finbarr O’Sullivan says some of the city’s original natural gas pipelines were made from hollowed out tree trunks. Those lines haven’t been used in more than one hundred years. Today, about half of Philadelphia’s pipelines are made of cast-iron and unprotected steel, some of which are more than a century old.

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Judge approves narrower order, barring fracking activist from drilling sites

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins, center, and her attorney Scott Michelman, left, speak to the media after a hearing in Montrose, Pa. Last fall, a judge signed off on an order barring Scroggins from more than 300 square miles of Susquehanna County or all the land owned or leased by Cabot Oil and Gas.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins, center, and her attorney Scott Michelman, left, spoke to the media after a hearing on Monday in Montrose, Pa.

A Susquehanna County judge issued a revised court order today, aimed at keeping 63-year-old anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins away from active drilling sites operated by Cabot Oil and Gas.

Until today, Scroggins had been under a much broader preliminary injunction from the court. In October 2013, Judge Kenneth Seamans approved the order, which Cabot sought, barring her from all the land owned or leased by the company.

That area included public places like grocery stores and a hospital. It amounted to nearly 40 percent of the county.

The company says Scroggins has repeatedly trespassed on its properties, and her activities posed a significant safety risk.

Both parties in the case were pleased with the judge’s ruling, which bars her from active work sites, access roads, and Cabot-owned equipment.

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Obama administration unveils plan to cut methane emissions

The White House unveiled a plan today to curb emissions of methane– a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. It’s released by livestock, landfills, and oil and gas production.

Methane accounts for about 9 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution, but it is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat trapping gas.

From the New York Times:

Among the steps the administration announced on Friday to address methane pollution:

The Interior Department will propose updated standards to reduce venting and flaring of methane from oil and gas production on public lands.

In April, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management will begin to gather public comment on the development of a program for the capture and sale of methane produced by coal mines on lands leased by the federal government.

This summer, the E.P.A. will propose updated standards to reduce methane from new landfills and take public comment on whether to update standards for existing landfills.

In June, the Agriculture Department, the Energy Department and the E.P.A. will jointly release a “biogas roadmap” aimed at accelerating adoption of methane digesters, machines that reduce methane emissions from cattle, in order to cut dairy sector greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

According to the White House plan, natural gas systems are the second-leading cause of human-related methane emissions, after agriculture.

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Discussion forum promises ‘fracking without all the fracas’

Workers vaccuum any water or fluids surrounding a frack site in Harford Township, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Workers vaccuum any water or fluids surrounding a frack site in Harford Township, Pa.

Love to talk about hydraulic fracturing or just want to learn more?

Next month, StateImpact Pennsylvania partner station WHYY is co-hosting a discussion forum with the Bernard Wolfman Civil Discourse Project in Elkins Park, Montgomery County about the controversial extraction process known as “fracking.” The conversation will focus on the economic impact of natural gas development in Pennsylvania and the region. (For a primer, check out our report and this infographic on natural gas and Pennsylvania’s economy.)

Speakers at the forum include Deborah Lawrence Rogers, founder of consulting firm EnergyPolicyForum, and William Freeman, a former committee chairman of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the state’s biggest gas industry trade group.

Here are the details:

A Frank Conversation about Fracking, Without All the Fracas
Thursday, April 17, 2014
7:30 p.m.

Beth Sholom Congregation
8251 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027

Pre-registration is required. Register online by clicking here.

A note of clarification: this is not a StateImpact Pennsylvania event. 

Three Mile Island: 35 years later

Three Mile Island was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Three Mile Island was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history.

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history. On March 28th, 1979 one of the reactors at the The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Dauphin County partially melted down.

Back then, no one knew exactly what was going to happen. The incident was unprecedented.

Former Governor Dick Thornburgh was at the center of the crisis. He marked the anniversary at an event Thursday at Penn State’s Harrisburg campus in Middletown–not far from the plant.

Thornburgh remains troubled the country still has no long-term plan to handle its nuclear waste.

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Old debate over taxing Marcellus Shale getting new life

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Phila.) is proposing a five percent severance tax on shale gas to help the city's struggling public schools.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Phila.) is proposing a five percent severance tax on shale gas to help the city's struggling public schools.

An old debate over taxing natural gas production in Pennsylvania has been getting new life. A Republican state representative from Bucks County has introduced legislation to create a severance tax on shale gas. Democrats running to unseat Governor Tom Corbett are also calling for a tax. Last week, a report by the state’s Independent Financial Office found Pennsylvania has one of the lowest effective tax rates compared to other gas drilling states.

Today, State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) joined the chorus, calling for a five percent severance tax on natural gas.

At a rally outside the Philadelphia School District offices, Hughes said the tax would generate about $720 million in the first year, of which $375 million would go to the state’s public schools.

“We have a very difficult budget problem that’s going on right now,” he said. “We have to find resources from some places and all circumstances are coming together to try to get this done.”

Attempts to pass a severance tax stalled under the Rendell administration in 2010. However, Hughes believes pushing the need for more education funding will convince Republicans and Democrats across Pennsylvania when state budget talks begin in June.

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Pennsylvania’s top drilling trade group going grassroots

Protestors waved signs at attendees of the Marcellus Shale Coalition's 2013 conference in Philadelphia.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Protestors waved signs at attendees of the Marcellus Shale Coalition's 2013 conference in Philadelphia.

Members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition are used to walking past chanting protestors with signs decrying fracking. Now, Pennsylvania’s top gas drilling trade group is embracing the tactics of grassroots organizing with a new advocacy initiative to promote shale development.

United Shale Advocates was launched at an event in northeast Pennsylvania last week and is being billed as “an online neighborhood for committed advocates of shale gas and those who want to learn more about the industry,” according to the website.

At the launch, held at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, MSC president David Spigelmyer told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette it is a citizens campaign aimed at amplifying the voices of everyday Pennsylvanians who support shale gas development.

More from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

United Shale Advocates does not have a specific policy platform, Mr. Spigelmyer said, but in announcing the initiative in Wilkes-Barre he criticized “some candidates and officeholders” who “would choose to saddle the industry with higher, job-crushing taxes and regulatory changes that would push job-creators out of the commonwealth.”

Speakers at the launch event addressed an audience of Marcellus Shale Coalition member company employees, affiliates and guests, but United Shale Advocates wants to enlist people who were not in the hotel ballroom: those who like the industry but don’t necessarily work for it.

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