A view of the Delaware River where it separates Northeast Pennsylvania on the right with New York State on the left.
Federal lawmakers on Tuesday stepped up efforts to conserve the Delaware River Basin when they reintroduced a bill that would enhance federal protection for the 300-mile watershed between upstate New York and the mouth of the Delaware Bay.
The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act would charge the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with coordinating the activities of an array of federal, state and local environmental groups, and would provide $5 million in grant funding to support conservation projects.
The Fish and Wildlife Service would identify and implement conservation activities without setting new regulations, while the funding would require a 50 percent non-federal match, meaning that the governmental support would be doubled.
Existing watershed organizations include the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate agency that oversees water quality and usage, and which has welcomed the legislation as a way of defending environmental quality in ways that are outside of its operations.
The DRBC, which represents the basin states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware, as well as the federal government, has operated without its designated federal funding for most of the last 20 years, and has experienced several reductions in state funding. Continue Reading →
“We want to hear facts and science, but we’re seeing disrespect for the law in many ways,” says Kevin Moody of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA). “We are considering legal action.”
PIOGA objects to an effort by the administration to add four new, non-voting members to a technical advisory board that is guiding the Department of Environmental Protection on a major update to oil and gas regulations. The new members include representatives from academia and environmental groups.
“Pennsylvania has gone from pretty much nowhere on the map in terms of natural gas production to now second in the country behind only Texas,” says McGinty.
When drilling rigs started showing up, McGinty says residents worried the good jobs would go to out-of-state workers, leaving locals with nothing but the environmental consequences of drilling.
“In the early days, those concerns were exacerbated by too many people seeing nothing but Texas and Oklahoma license plates,” says McGinty. That’s changing, she says, as more locals learn the skills necessary to work in the gas business.
The latest figures show more than 31,000 people in the state have jobs related to extracting natural gas. That’s nearly double what it was five years ago. State officials say the rate of employment growth in the gas fields has slowed recently, but for now it’s still growing.
Pipes carry liquefied natural gas at Dominion Energy's Cove Point LNG Terminal in Lusby, Md. Moody's expects projects already under construction--like this one-- will continue as planned.
Lower global oil prices, coupled with new gas supplies in Australia will cause the cancellation of most liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects planned for the U.S. and Canada, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Services.
“The winners in the U.S. LNG industry are the projects that are already in construction,” the report’s authors write. “They face medium-term financing and execution risks, but longer term these facilities will be a significant new revenue source for their sponsors.”
A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.
Radon levels in buildings near unconventional natural gas development in Pennsylvania are higher than those in other areas of the state, suggesting that hydraulic fracturing has opened up new pathways for the carcinogenic gas to enter people’s homes, according to a study published on Thursday. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University analyzed radon readings taken in some 860,000 buildings, mostly homes, from 1989 to 2013 and found that those in rural and suburban areas where most shale gas wells are located had a concentration of the cancer-causing radioactive gas that was 39 percent higher overall than those in urban areas.
It also found that buildings using well water had a 21 percent higher concentration of radon than those served by municipal water systems.
And it showed radon levels in active gas-drilling counties rose significantly starting in 2004 when the state’s fracking boom began.
Overall, 42 percent of the buildings analyzed had radon concentrations at over 4 picocuries per liter, the level at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends remediation, and which is about three times the national average for indoor air. According to the EPA, there are about 21,000 radon-related lung cancers per year in the U.S.
The new study was based on data collected from the DEP which requires the reporting of radon tests, many of which are done when houses are bought or sold. The project was conducted with the Geisinger Health System, and is the first part of a long-term investigation of the health effects of unconventional gas development being done by Geisinger, based in Danbury, northeastern Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has about 30,000 direct oil and gas jobs, but the way the state publishes the jobs figures has allowed industry boosters to credit shale with supporting nearly a quarter million jobs.
Under a new administration, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry is continuing to publish gas industry jobs figures that have been repeatedly questioned by independent economists.
Tim Kelsey is co-director of Penn State University’s Center for Economic and Community Development and spends much of his time studying the economic impact of the Marcellus Shale boom.
“I think very obviously [the state jobs figures] can be misleading, and they are misused,” he says.
After it was brought to their attention by StateImpact Pennsylvania, the Wolf administration says it is looking into the possibility of changing how the numbers are presented.
“We’re reviewing the practice and methodology involved with getting the data and reporting it,” says Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan.
Pennsylvania began publishing the employment numbers in a booklet called Marcellus Shale Fast Facts under former governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat. It continued under his Republican successor, Tom Corbett.
The DEP recently made changes to proposed regulations governing the state's oil and gas industry.
The public has 45 days to weigh in on proposed changes to regulations governing Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has been revising the rules for the past four years. In December 2013, they became available for public comment. The agency held nine hearings across the state and received more than 24,000 comments.
Pennsylvania has leased thousands of acres of public land for Marcellus Shale drilling. Now that the gas is flowing, so is the money. But state agencies are taking a closer look at whether they're being paid properly.
People who leased their land for Marcellus Shale drilling have been complaining for several years that some companies are cheating them out of gas royalty money.
It turns out the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is having the same problem. But the issue is so complex and convoluted, the state doesn’t even know how much money it’s owed.
Gas drilling on state-owned land has sent hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties to Harrisburg. Private landowners have received millions more. But some companies have been accused of underpaying. Royalty disputes have led to several class action lawsuits and an ongoing investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
Towanda-based attorney Chris Jones says his clients don’t understand why the state hasn’t done more to protect them.
“Many times we’re being asked, ‘How come the state isn’t doing anything? How come there isn’t anything to stop what the gas companies are doing with our royalties–with our money?’”
Pennsylvania has its own problems– specifically two agencies managing drilling on public land: the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Game Commission.
“We’ve been conducting investigations for some time now,” DCNR chief counsel Richard Morrison told StateImpact Pennsylvania in January. “It’s an internal process. It’s complicated and will take some time.”
Worker breaks apart a brick of solid waste left over from a frack water recycling operation.
Pennsylvania’s environmental regulators are failing to keep pace with a growing volume of liquid and solid waste generated by the natural gas industry, and are allowing risky practices like open-air waste storage to continue, according to a study issued on Thursday.
The report by Earthworks, a nonprofit that highlights the adverse effects of mineral and energy development, says the volume of solid waste generated by companies active in the Marcellus and Utica Shales rose by 500 percent to some 5 million tons from 2011 to 2014, while that of liquid waste doubled to 130 million barrels.
Over the same period, the volume of waste reused or recycled grew by 47 percent, or less than half of the increase in waste generation overall, calling into question the claims of Marcellus operators that they are recycling more material from their operations, the report said.
It says companies that want to dump their drilling waste in landfills can get around a requirement to provide chemical and radiological analysis of the waste simply by stating that the waste hasn’t changed from the previous year.
And it accuses the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection of failing to ensure that all drilling wastewater is pretreated and analyzed before entering the wastewater stream. Continue Reading →
The most recent oil train derailment happened in February in Mount Carbon, West Virginia. It caused a large fire that forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.
A slew of recent accidents involving trains carrying crude oil has prompted city officials in Harrisburg to push for better oversight. City councilman Brad Koplinksi (D) is backing a resolution to urge federal officials to fast track new regulations on the trains.
“It is a situation that probably will never hit Harrisburg,” he says of the derailments. “But let’s at least be prepared and make sure our officials are working with state and federal officials, so people know of the danger.”
Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania
Harrisburg City Council listens to testimony on oil trains Thursday night.
The domestic fracking boom has unlocked huge amounts of oil in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. Trains have become a primary method of transport, and tanker cars pass through Pennsylvania every day. Nationwide crude oil rail traffic has increased 4,000 percent since 2008.
A recent report by the environmental advocacy group, PennEnvironment, ranked Harrisburg the eighth most vulnerable city in the state for an oil train derailment. In the past year and half, Pennsylvania has had three derailments, although none caused any injuries.
Koplinksi led a public hearing on the issue Thursday night and says he was frustrated the rail carrier Norfolk Southern declined an invitation to attend.
“We haven’t really had conversations with Norfolk Southern yet, and that concerns me,” he says. “What can we do to make the trains not run through the city? Or the most populated areas? That’s one of the biggest concerns.”