Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Legislature OKs bill requiring more frequent gas production reports

A natural gas well in Lycoming County. Under current law, companies report gas production figures twice a year. This bill would require monthly reporting.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

A natural gas well in Lycoming County. Under current law, companies report gas production figures twice a year. This bill would require monthly reporting.

A bill approved by the state House and Senate would change the way drillers report gas production figures. The measure now awaits Governor Corbett’s signature.

Under current state law, gas companies have to file reports twice a year with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). House Bill 2278 would require monthly production reports– a common practice among other major gas-producing states.

Transparency around gas production figures has become a sore point for some landowners who have questioned the accuracy of their monthly royalty payments. Since royalty checks are typically distributed on a monthly basis, it has been difficult for landowners to verify the information they receive from gas companies with the bi-annual gas data posted on DEP’s website.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (the statistics arm of the federal Department of Energy) has also said monthly reporting in Pennsylvania would make its job easier.

Continue Reading

First responders in Philadelphia prepare for oil train accidents

Philadelphia's first responders react to a simulated oil train derailment during an exercise at the Philadelphia Fire Academy.

Emma Lee/NewsWorks

Philadelphia's first responders react to a simulated oil train derailment during an exercise at the Philadelphia Fire Academy.

Officials from at least seven government agencies, the railroad CSX and the refinery in South Philadelphia responded to a faux fiery train accident on a rail bridge in the city’s downtown Friday morning.

While there was no real emergency, the scenario was based on a minor derailment that happened in January that left six tanker cars intact, but leaning across the Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge.

The Philadelphia Fire Academy buzzed with activity as officials wearing badges from a variety of local, state and federal agencies made radio calls and worked in units to evacuate residents within a half mile of the hypothetical accident scene.

A picture of a crude oil tanker engulfed in flames was displayed on a screen at the front of the room. A coordinator with a microphone called out new details and told officials to stand by for more information.

It was one of several training exercises that have taken place in Pennsylvania and across the country as an increase in accidents involving these oil trains has prompted emergency officials to make sure first responders are prepared. According to a spokesman for CSX, a similar training is planned for next week in Bucks County.

“It’s critically important that we do it here in a simulated scenario rather than try to figure all of this out in an actual emergency,” said Joe Sullivan, Chief Inspector of Homeland Security and Counterterrorism with the Philadelphia Police Department.

As many as 75 trains hauling crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota roll through Pennsylvania each week on their way to refineries on the East Coast.

Continue Reading

Attorneys advise landowners to get involved in pipeline plan

Pipeline construction in Butler County.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pipeline construction in Butler County.

More than 200 people turned out for a meeting in Lancaster Thursday night to discuss a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline. The forum was aimed at educating landowners about how to handle a pipeline on their property.

The project has sparked significant controversy. Attorneys were on hand to discuss ways landowners can negotiate with a pipeline company and deal with regulatory agencies.

Oklahoma-based Williams Partners is seeking to build 177 miles of new pipeline through 10 Pennsylvania counties in an effort to bring Marcellus Shale gas southward to markets along the East Coast. Williams needs the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to go forward with the project.

Washington D.C.-based attorney Carolyn Elefant represents landowners in pipeline cases and says it’s important for people to educate themselves and get involved early in the process. She spoke with StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Continue Reading

Fracking in Texas helps the state’s public school fund top Harvard’s endowment

Lenny Rodriguez works on a Choice Exploration Inc. natural gas rig near Devers, Texas. Drilling on state lands has helped create the largest public school endowment in the country.

Mike Fuentes / AP

Lenny Rodriguez works on a Choice Exploration Inc. natural gas rig near Devers, Texas. Drilling on state lands has helped create the largest public school endowment in the country.

A fund that collects rents and royalties from oil and natural gas development to Texas public schools recently became the largest education endowment in the country.

The publicly run endowment, called the Permanent School Fund, is worth $37.7 billion dollars. That’s $1.3 billion more than Harvard University’s $36.4 billion endowment. Jim Suydam, a spokesperson for the Texas General Land Office, says a big part of the story is the shale gas boom.

“We’re making a ton of money off natural gas,” said Suydam. “We made over a billion last year. The shale plays are huge down here. You can see them from space.”

Suydam says that from 1874 to 2003, $7.9 billion was deposited into the fund.  Since 2003, just before the shale gas boom began, oil and natural gas has helped increase the endowment by $8.1 billion. These deposits have generated enough return on investments to bring the grand total close to $40 billion. The Permanent School Fund doesn’t cover all expenses for Texas school children, but Suydam says it contributes an average of $400 per student per year. It also backs bonds by local school districts, allowing them to get a triple-A rating. Continue Reading

Environmentalists seek to halt construction at Cove Point LNG export plant

Dominion's offshore loading platform at Cove Point. Lusby, Maryland. Dominion wants to start exporting LNG from this platform.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

Dominion's offshore loading platform at Cove Point. Lusby, Maryland. Dominion wants to start exporting LNG from this platform.

Environmental groups have filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to stop the current construction of Dominion’s liquefied natural gas export facility in Cove Point, MD. The groups also want FERC to reverse their recent decision approving the plant. 

Last month FERC approved Dominion Energy’s plan to transform the Cove Point plant from an import terminal to an export facility, which will ship out 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.

Opponents of the plan say the plant will stimulate natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, thereby increasing pollution in shale gas communities. Jocelyn D’Ambrosio is an attorney with Earthjustice.

“In neglecting to prepare a thorough review of the environmental impacts of Dominion’s controversial project, FERC is prioritizing the desires of a powerful company over the health and safety of the people of Calvert County, Marylanders, and communities throughout the Marcellus shale region,” wrote D’Ambrosio in a release.  Continue Reading

Senate OKs bill allowing legislators to weigh in on carbon plan

The state Senate has passed a measure that will require legislative approval of a state plan to cut carbon emissions.

Under proposed rules recently put forth by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania will have to cut its carbon emissions by 32 percent over the next 15 years. The federal climate policy will mean major changes for the state’s energy industries. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for coal production and third for carbon dioxide emissions.

Continue Reading

Lancaster groups to hold meeting on proposed pipeline

An interstate pipeline in Susquehanna County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

An interstate pipeline in Susquehanna County.

An informational meeting will be held in Thursday night in Lancaster to discuss a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that would cut through 35 miles of the county.

The proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline would run through 10 Pennsylvania counties, but it’s faced its fierce opposition from people in Lancaster County, who have raised concerns about how it will effect the environment, public safety, and property values.

The pipeline’s initial route would have cut through several of the county’s nature preserves, but in response to public criticism, the Oklahoma-based pipeline company, Williams proposed an alternate route to federal regulators.

The informational public meeting tonight is hosted by the Lancaster County Conservancy and Lancaster Farmland Trust. It’s aimed at helping landowners along the proposed route learn more about the issue.

Continue Reading

Pa. legislature passes bill changing buffers for cleanest streams

Valley Creek is a prized trout stream that feeds into the Schuylkill River and runs through Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Valley Creek is a prized trout stream that feeds into the Schuylkill River and runs through Valley Forge National Historical Park.

A bill eliminating a requirement for 150-foot buffers between new developments and Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams is now headed to Governor Tom Corbett’s desk.

The House passed HB1565 late Wednesday, which makes forested stream buffers an optional tool to other “substantially equivalent” practices that would preserve water quality and prevent erosion and sedimentation in specially protected watersheds. An amendment approved by the Senate earlier this week also requires developers to offset disturbances within 100 feet of a stream by planting a replacement buffer elsewhere in the same watershed.

The law only applies to projects that require stormwater discharge permits and that are adjacent to one of Pennsylvania’s “high quality” or “exceptional value” streams – a small percentage of waterways.

Continue Reading

Mind ‘the gap’: why more gas means more pipelines

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Pennsylvania is producing more gas than it knows what to do with. Amid a push to export gas to foreign markets, there’s also a shift away from coal toward gas at electric power plants. Right now the state gets about 20 percent of its electricity from gas, but that’s expected to increase significantly.

All these changes are leading to an ongoing expansion of gas-related infrastructure– primarily pipelines.

Anthony Cox, of UGI Energy Services, spoke with StateImpact Pennsylvania Tuesday during Penn State’s Natural Gas Utilization Conference in Cannonsburg.

He describes the need for pipelines as an “infrastructure gap” problem that causes supply to be out of balance with demand.

Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is this infrastructure gap?

A: I’d describe it as a dumbbell. One side of the dumbbell—you have a major source of production and supply. And on the other end you have a major source of demand.

And in the middle you have a thin bar, and that bar is the infrastructure gap. That needs to be built, basically, to bridge the two ends of the dumbbell.

Q: What happened last winter with electricity prices spiking?

A: Last winter, simply, the middle—in between the two [ends of the dumbbell]– was just too small. We saw unprecedented demand, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York. There was certainly enough supply, but it couldn’t get to where it was needed.

Continue Reading

Corbett says taxing natural gas may be a future option

Governor Corbett discussing his budget proposal on witf's Smart Talk Friday.

Heather Woolridge/ witf

Governor Corbett speaking at WITF.

Governor Tom Corbett says he’s thinks taxing natural gas could be an option. Just three weeks before the election, the governor is battling for his political future. In an exclusive interview with StateImpact Pennsylvania, Corbett said he thinks rather than the extraction tax advocated by his Democratic opponent Tom Wolf, it may be better to tax the transport of the gas within the state.

“Maybe the tax instead of being at the wellhead, should be in the transmission line,” said Corbett. “Now we can probably only tax it in the transmission line that is intrastate because if it goes into interstate, that is a Washington issue.”

Back in 2012 Governor Corbett enacted the impact fee, which charges Marcellus Shale gas drillers $50,000 per well.  Critics, including his Democratic opponent Tom Wolf, say that method leaves a lot of money on the table. Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state without a severance tax, which taxes the value of the gas extracted. Wolf has proposed a five percent severance tax. Corbett continues to oppose this kind of tax for now, saying it would cut too much into the drillers bottom line, causing them to move out of state. But he’s no longer calling it “un-American.” Instead, he says once the vast majority of the wells are drilled, it may be time to enact a tax.

“If this industry was 10-15 years old already, I think we’d be having a different conversation,” said Corbett.

Corbett gave no details of what a transmission gas tax would mean. But pipelines that cross state lines are regulated by the federal government, so the state would be limited to the transmission lines within Pennsylvania. Pipeline companies may be an easy taxation target because they already benefit from tax breaks. Natural gas transmission companies are exempt from both federal corporate income tax and Pennsylvania’s gross receipts tax. Continue Reading

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »

Economy
Education