Pennsylvania

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Fish with cancerous tumor worries state official

A smallmouth bass was found in the Susquehanna River with a rare, cancerous tumor last fall.

Courtesy Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission

A smallmouth bass was found in the Susquehanna River with a rare, cancerous tumor last fall.

A smallmouth bass caught in the Susquehanna River last fall was found to have a rare, cancerous tumor, and it has the head of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission worried.

John Arway tells WITF this should be a wake-up call to researchers studying the health of the river.

He has publicly clashed with the state Department of Environmental Protection over whether or not to list the main stem of the Susquehanna as officially impaired.

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New study links gas drilling to water contamination in NE Pa.

A drilling rig in Bradford County.

Scott Detrow / StateImpactPA/WITF

A drilling rig in Bradford County.

New research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows evidence of a connection between gas drilling and water contamination that occurred in Bradford County in 2010. The researchers used a new method of testing for contaminants that can detect much smaller amounts of chemicals than the instruments typically used in commercial laboratories.

“[It's] probably the most equipped technique to find a problem like this,” said Frank Dorman, a professor of biochemistry at Penn State University and one of the authors of the study. “It can see lower down than many techniques and it can see a wider variety and more complex samples than other techniques. It could be a game changer. We found something that wasn’t findable by commercial laboratories.”

The report could point to a new tool for those who believe they have suffered from gas drilling contamination, only to have water tests say otherwise.

The instrument Dorman used in his lab at Penn State to test the drinking water samples in the study is called a comprehensive 2D gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GCxGC-TOFMS).

The results of the tests showed levels of the chemical 2-n-Butoxyethanol, or 2-BE, as well as unresolved complex mixtures (UCMs). Previous tests by both the Department of Environmental Protection and environmental consultants using traditional laboratory methods did not show these chemicals. Dorman says the chemical 2-BE is used as a surfactant in drilling fluid and marketed under the product name Airfoam HD. The UCM signatures also matched sampled Marcellus Shale flowback fluid that Dorman had tested using this same method.

Dorman and the researchers on the paper are quick to point out that the contamination happened before the wells were hydraulically fractured, and could be traced either to poor well construction or the leakage of an impoundment pit that contained drilling fluid. The contamination did not occur as a result of frack fluid migrating from the Marcellus Shale upward, the report says. Continue Reading

Casey pushes oil train safety legislation

“It’s a substantial step in the right direction," Senator Casey says of new federal oil train rules. "But just like anything else, it has to be complimentary to what we do legislatively.”

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

“It’s a substantial step in the right direction," Senator Casey says of new federal oil train rules. "But just like anything else, it has to be complimentary to what we do legislatively.”

Senator Bob Casey (D) says the U.S. needs to do a better job of investing in safety, training, and preparation for the massive increase in shipments of crude oil by train. Deadly derailments, spills, and close-call accidents have sparked a push for tougher regulations.

On Friday, the federal Department of Transportation announced new rules for oil trains, which will phase out the current tank cars, implement stronger tank car standards, and require upgraded braking systems.

Speaking in Harrisburg Monday, Casey says he’s co-sponsoring a new bill, along with six other Democrats, called the Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act.

“Communities need to be given more information,” he says. “The rule is a step forward, but we need to make sure we add to that with legislation.”

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8 facts about the shale gas industry’s air pollution

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently released data on air emissions from the shale gas industry in 2013.

PublicSource looked into the data and built a series of interactive charts so you can more easily explore the information.

Overall, the data showed emissions from the shale gas industry increased from 2012 to 2013 for five major pollutants:

  • nitrogen dioxides
  • particulate matter
  • sulfur dioxide
  • volatile organic compounds, or VOCs
  • carbon dioxide (CO2)

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Feds issue new oil train safety rules

In this photo taken April 9, 2015, children play in view of train tank cars with placards indicating petroleum crude oil standing idle on the tracks, in Philadelphia. Rail tank cars that are used to transport most crude oil and many other flammable liquids will have to be built to stronger standards to reduce the risk of catastrophic train crash and fire under a series of new rules unveiled Friday by U.S. and Canadian transportation officials.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

In this photo taken April 9, 2015, children play in view of train tank cars with placards indicating petroleum crude oil standing idle on the tracks, in Philadelphia.

The Department of Transportation joined with Canadian officials Friday to announce stronger safety rules for shipping crude by rail. About 70 to 80 trains carrying more than a million gallons of crude oil from the Bakken Shale fields in North Dakota travel across Pennsylvania each week, heading to Philadelphia area refineries. The long-awaited rules come on the heels of a number of dangerous oil train derailments in both countries.

So far Pennsylvania has been lucky. Four crude oil trains have derailed in the state since January 2014. But none exploded into giant fireballs like the recent incidents in West Virginia, Illinois and Canada. in one case, an accident in Westmoreland County resulted in a crude oil spill.

New rules aimed at preventing those accidents include phasing out the current tank cars, implementing stronger tank car standards and requiring better braking systems.

Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration, told StateImpact that “stronger, better tank cars are on the way.”

“Some of the tank cars that are out there today, I think everyone would agree, are not strong enough to survive a derailment or an incident the way we would like them to,” said Feinberg. “So the good news is we’ve now landed on a new tank car standard. And so safer tank cars will be used in the transportation of this crude and also frankly with ethanol as well.” Continue Reading

Gas industry’s campaign donations rose 47% in 2013-14, report says

.   Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation has six drill rigs running in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.  This rig is the most recent as of October 2013 in Kingsley, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A Cabot Oil & Gas drill rig in Kingsley, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry donated 47% more to state political campaigns in 2013-14 than it did two years earlier in an effort to weaken regulations and minimize taxation, according to a new report from Common Cause Pennsylvania.

The liberal advocacy organization issued an updated report on Thursday, showing that the industry spent $2.8 million on political campaigns in the latest period, and increased its lobbying expenditure by $2.1 million to $17.9 million.

Of the lobbying total, $12.9 million was paid by the 20 companies with the largest number of environmental violations between 2011 and 2014. Those companies also spent $2.1 million on campaign gifts, the report said, citing data for that part of the report from the nonprofit Environment America Research & Policy Center.

Cabot Oil & Gas, the dominant operator in Susquehanna County, topped the list with 265 violations over the period, spending $575,913 on lobbying and $58,614 in campaign contributions, according to the Common Cause report, titled Marcellus Money. Continue Reading

State hears comments on new fracking regulations

About 100 people attended a hearing over the state's newest proposed fracking regulations.

Reid Frazier/ Allegheny Front

About 100 people attended a hearing over the state's newest proposed fracking regulations.

Note: This story is from The Allegheny Front, a public radio program covering environmental issues in Western Pennsylvania. 

The Wolf administration heard for the first time public comment on its newer, tougher proposed rules for the fracking industry.

More than 70 speakers were signed up to speak at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hearing in Washington, Pa. Wednesday. It was the first of three hearings scheduled for the latest round of proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s drilling regulations.

The DEP initially released the rules in 2013, but added proposed changes to the rule shortly after Gov. Tom Wolf took office this year. The rulemaking process began in 2011.

The proposal would ramp up regulations for noise, drilling near schools and playgrounds, reporting, and groundwater protection.

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Pipeline opponent arrested at public meeting in Lancaster County

An opponent of a controversial natural gas pipeline project was arrested Tuesday night and charged with disorderly conduct for speaking out at a public meeting in Lancaster County.

Conestoga Township supervisor Craig Eshleman says resident Kim Kann was removed by police because she violated the rules of the meeting. He says the gathering was not an official board meeting, but rather an educational forum about home rule– an effort to gain more local control by residents.

Eshleman circulated special rules for the meeting, which stated that residents could only ask questions. They were not allowed to make statements or give opinions. Discussion of the pipeline was also off-limits.

“I said, ‘Kim, do you have a question?’ I said that several times,” says Eshleman. “She proceeded to say she had the right to speak. But it was not a public board of supervisors meeting. We can make the rules and enforce the rules.”

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Governor Wolf hires rail expert to evaluate oil train risks

Seven cars of a 101-car train traveling from Chicago to a refinery in South Philadelphia slid off the tracks on the Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge around 12:30 a.m. Monday.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Seven cars of a 101-car train traveling from Chicago to a refinery in South Philadelphia slid off the tracks on the Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge in January, 2014.

Governor Tom Wolf has hired a rail expert to examine Pennsylvania’s railway infrastructure and report back on safety issues. The appointment is the latest move by Gov. Wolf to address increasing concerns about crude-by-rail transport. An oil train derailment and explosion in West Virginia earlier this year was touched off by a broken track, and led to a spill from defects in the tank cars, according to federal regulators.

Pennsylvania has experienced four train derailments since January 2014. Two of those derailments happened in heavily populated Philadelphia, but none resulted in a fire.

The Wolf Administration announced Tuesday that Allan M. Zarembski, a professor at the University of Delaware, will spend three months evaluating risks associated with transporting crude oil across the state’s freight rail lines. Zarembski will also make safety recommendations to the Wolf Administration.

Nationwide, crude by rail shipments have risen about 4000 percent in the past several years because of the shale oil boom in North Dakota, and the lack of pipeline infrastructure to carry all that crude to refineries on the East Coast. Continue Reading

Charges dismissed against Wolf inauguration protesters

Charges were dismissed against two of the eight fracking protesters arrested at Gov. Wolf's inauguration.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Charges were dismissed against two of the eight fracking protesters arrested at Gov. Wolf's inauguration.

Disorderly conduct charges were dismissed Monday against two of the eight protesters arrested for shouting “Ban fracking now!” during Governor Wolf’s inauguration ceremony in January. The remaining six activists had already pleaded guilty and paid $413 each in fines and court costs.

About 200 other protesters obeyed instructions from law enforcement to remain in a grassy area behind the inauguration ceremony’s bleachers. The eight people arrested shouted directly at Wolf from the bleachers.

Activists Maggie Henry and Michael Bagdes-Canning appealed, and the charges were dismissed against them Monday morning because the Dauphin County District Attorney’s office failed to produce any witnesses. The DA’s office was confused about whether it needed to call the Pennsylvania State Police or Capitol Police to testify– the two law enforcement agencies had worked together.

“I’m delighted I don’t have to make out a check to the government for saying, ‘Ban fracking now.’” says Henry, ”I felt like I have a Constitutional right to address grievances.”

Henry, a 61-year-old organic farmer from Butler County, says the gas industry has ruined her way of life.

“We tried everything I know of to get in touch with Wolf. We want him to visit the shalefields and see what’s going on, while he’s having his cake and eating it too,” she says, referring to a comment he made after New York banned fracking. “It’s like running into a brick wall.”

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