Pennsylvania

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Philadelphia Energy Solutions files Chapter 11, citing renewable fuels program

Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest oil refining complex on the Eastern seaboard. Half of all Bakken Crude traveling across the country by rail ends up at the PES plant.

Nat Hamilton/WHYY

Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest oil refining complex on the Eastern seaboard. On Monday, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to restructure its debt.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest refiner on the East Coast, says its operations will not be disrupted by its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings aimed at restructuring its debt.

The crude oil refinery in South Philadelphia blames its financial problems on a George W. Bush-era renewable fuels program that increases the amount of biofuels, primarily ethanol, in gasoline. Merchant refiners, or those that do not have a retail division, say the Renewable Fuel Standards put them at a disadvantage. Instead of using ethanol in their products, refiners like PES must buy credits, known as RIN’s, which are traded by financial speculators and energy companies.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions, along with other area refiners, have urged the EPA to reform the program.

The Chapter 11 filing states the company doesn’t have adequate funds to buy credits for this year.  PES CEO Greg Gatta said the plan to restructure its debt filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware “positions PES well for the future with a sustainable capital structure and additional liquidity.”

“In order to complete this process without delay, we will continue to work with the government to address the broken RFS system that is harming smaller independent merchant refiners like PES,” Gatta said in a statement. “This is a win for the region, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia.” Continue Reading

FERC approves PennEast, saying it would supply needed natural gas

Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner, protested plans to build the PennEast natural gas pipeline at a FERC 'listening session' near Jim Thorpe, Pa. in 2016. FERC has now approved the project.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner protested plans to build the PennEast natural gas pipeline at a FERC ‘listening session’ near Jim Thorpe, Pa. in 2016. FERC has now approved the project.

The PennEast pipeline project took a step forward late Friday when federal regulators decided the company could start construction and potentially use eminent domain to take private land in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Other permits from New Jersey and the Delaware River Basin Commission are needed before construction can begin.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the PennEast Pipeline Co. a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” to build the pipeline, and said it accepts that the company has obtained commitments from 12 named customers to buy about 90 percent of the natural gas that would be carried by the line.

The contracts show there is a need for the pipeline “given the substantial financial commitment required under these contracts by project shippers,” FERC said in an 84-page document that describes its evaluation of the project.

It rejected arguments by opponents including the New Jersey Rate Counsel, an advocate for utility ratepayers, who say there is no need for the approximately 120-mile line that would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale of Luzerne County, Pa. to Mercer County, N.J.

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TMI’s future, federal policy in spotlight on Smart Talk program

Three Mile Island

Jeff Fusco / Getty Images

Three Mile Island

If you missed it last week, here’s a snippet from WITF’s Smart Talk program on the future of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, and how that could be affected by a recent decision by federal regulators to reject a Trump Administration plan that would have propped up the coal and nuclear industries.

Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument said the administration’s plan addressed real issues, including the issue of whether power plants should have a 90-day supply of power on-site. Only coal and nuclear plants can do that.

“I’ve been very supportive of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania during the time that I’ve been in the General Assembly,” Aument said. “But I’m not rooting for the success of one industry over the other.”

It “kind of sounds that way,” Smart Talk host Scott LaMar said.

“I haven’t,” Aument responded. “But I’m not rooting for the failure … of the nuclear energy industry. ”

Later in the program, LaMar welcomed Carl Marrara, vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, and a member of Citizens Against Nuclear Bailouts Coalition, who recalled Aument’s comments about pitting one industry against another.

The manufacturing association, he said, is “not rooting against a nuclear industry or a specific nuclear plant to fail in any way. We are for all energy. We are for energy infrastructure. We spend a lot of our time advocating on behalf of pro production, pro energy. We are in favor of every megawatt hour, every rivet of infrastructure that can bolster Pennsylvania’s energy economy, because what that means for manufacturers is competitiveness.”

Go here to listen to the whole program.

Hearings for proposed ban on fracking in the Delaware basin start this week

The Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side at the Delaware Water Gap.

Catalina Jaramillo / StateImpact PA

The Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side at the Delaware Water Gap.

When the Delaware River Basin Commission proposed a ban on high-volume fracking for natural gas in the basin, arguing it “poses significant, immediate and long-term risks” to the watershed, one environmentalist called it “a huge and groundbreaking protection.”

But there weren’t only celebrations. Environmental leaders said the proposed rules don’t make sense because even though they ban fracking in the basin, they allow operations outside the watershed to treat wastewater in the river and to use water from the Delaware for fracking elsewhere.

Former DRBC executive director Carol Collier disagrees. She said the draft proposal, released in November, is positive for the basin’s water quality and quantity.

“One, it’s proposing to ban the high-volume fracking in the basin, so that takes care of the water quantity aspects that would be needed for fracking and also water quality because you don’t have that industry in the basin,” Collier said. “As far as the wastewater, this make the regulations stronger that what’s on the books now.”

Collier said the treatment of hydrologic fracking wastewater is not banned in the basin now, and that the new regulation includes strict requirements — such as treatability analysis and background characterizations — that are thought to discourage the industry.

“So these requirement say, ‘OK wastewater treatment plant, you need to tell us what’s in that Delaware River water or tributary right in front of your wastewater plant and the contaminants that you expect to be treating. And if you are above Trenton, there could be no measurable change on those parameters,’” Collier said. “So that’s really stringent, so I think it just might be easier for somebody who has to dispose of the wastewater from that drilling facility to go elsewhere than the Delaware.”

Industry groups such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition have said water is protected from any fracking contamination by multiple layers of steel and concrete at well sites, and that the proposed regulations deny Pennsylvania citizens the right to benefit economically from their own property rights.

The Delaware River Basin Commission extended the written comment period on the proposed regulations to March 30, and added two hearings to the ones happening this week in Waymart on Tuesday and Philadelphia on Thursday.

Hearings are set for:

  • Tuesday, 1 p.m.-4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to as late as 9:30 p.m. at the Performing Arts & Recreation Center Pavilion at the Ladore Camp, Retreat and Conference Center, 287 Owego Turnpike, Waymart, Pa.
  • Thursday, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 to as late as 9:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Philadelphia Airport, 4509 Island Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa.

Here is how you can register to attend.

Study: Conventional drilling waste responsible for radioactivity spike in rivers

Treated oil and gas wastewater flows into a western Pennsylvania stream. (Photo: Avner Vengosh, Duke)

Treated oil and gas wastewater flows into a western Pennsylvania stream. (Photo: Avner Vengosh, Duke)

Treatment plants that handle conventional oil and gas waste water are causing a buildup of radioactive materials at the bottom of three Western Pennsylvania waterways, according to a new study from researchers at Duke.

“We concluded that recent disposal of treated conventional (oil and gas waste) is the source of high (radium concentrations) in stream sediments at (waste) facility disposal sites,” the authors wrote. Continue Reading

EPA employees spend uneasy Friday bracing for potential government shutdown

A former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regional director is under consideration to lead EPA's Region 3 Office, which oversees Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The EPA said Friday it can operate for a week if there's a federal government shutdown.

As the federal government nears a shutdown, frustration is mounting among federal employees tasked with overseeing the Mid-Atlantic region’s environment and energy-related programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that it has enough money to stay open for a week in the event of a shutdown.

But a shutdown could ultimately force more than 600 of the 700 Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 3 employees to stay home, estimated Gary Morton, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3631, the union representing the region’s EPA workers.

“We will not be able to work, and this is very frustrating because projects stop, enforcement actions stop,” he said.

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Nuns want court to hear their religious objections to Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

Protesters blocked pipeline construction equipment on the property of The Adorers of the Blood of Christ, an order of Catholic nuns, in Lancaster County in October. On Friday, the nuns asked an appeals court to allow them to make their religious objections to the pipeline in a lower court.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters blocked pipeline construction equipment on the property of The Adorers of the Blood of Christ, an order of Catholic nuns, in Lancaster County in October. On Friday, the nuns asked an appeals court to allow them to make their religious objections to the pipeline in a lower court.

A group of Catholic nuns took their fight against a natural gas pipeline to an appeals court on Friday, urging three judges to send the case back to a district court that earlier refused to hear it.

An attorney for the Adorers of the Blood of Christ asked the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to order the lower court to hear the nuns’ case against the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, part of which is being built on their land in Lancaster County’s Hempfield Township.

Attorney Dwight Yoder said the nuns should be allowed to argue that their rights have been violated under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and that they should make that case to the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which said last year that it had no jurisdiction to hear it.

“Our argument is that the Adorers still had the right under the plain language of the act to make a claim,” Yoder told the appeals court hearing, which was attended by about 50 of the nuns’ supporters.

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Settlement: No longwall mining beneath state park stream in Greene County

Polen Run in Ryerson Station State Park, Greene County. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Polen Run in Ryerson Station State Park, Greene County. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Consol Energy has agreed not to conduct longwall mining beneath a section of a southwestern Pennsylvania stream, as part of a settlement it reached with environmental groups.

In addition, the company discontinued an appeal of a court decision that blocked it from mining beneath another nearby stream with longwall mining, a method of coal removal that shears off long sections of rock. The technique can cause the ground above it to fall in, or subside, which can cause problems for buildings and waterways on the surface. Continue Reading

Delaware residents tell Washington they oppose offshore drilling

Bill Clenes, a retired probation officer, attended a public meeting Jan. 18 in Dover, Delaware on the Trump Administration's plan to open 90 percent of America's coastline to drilling. Clenes said he was there "to save the ocean from the drilling." After attending information panels, he said he had little hope. "They act as if we have people power, but the deck is stacked," he said.

Catalina Jaramillo / WHYY

Bill Clenes, right, a retired probation officer, attended a public meeting Jan. 18 in Dover, Delaware on the Trump Administration’s plan to open 90 percent of America’s coastline to drilling. Clenes said he was there “to save the ocean from the drilling.” After attending information panels, he said he had little hope. “They act as if we have people power, but the deck is stacked,” he said.

Charlotte Reid used to work in Washington D.C. as a federal attorney. But seven years ago she retired to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

“Because I’ve always loved the beach,” Reid said. “I always loved coming to Rehoboth.”

But Reid said President Trump’s draft proposal of a five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan is threatening her retirement dream.

The National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program includes 47 potential lease sales, 9 of them in the Atlantic Region. Delaware officials and residents have said that will put in risk their environment and 24,000 jobs coming from tourism and fishing.

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Hearing will scrutinize use of money in special environmental funds

Harrisburg Capitol

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

As state lawmakers continue to search for ways to plug an estimated billion-dollar budget hole, they are taking a renewed look at state agencies’ use of special funds, including money dedicated to environmental programs.

A House hearing scheduled for next week will examine how the state Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are using special funds. These include things like cleaning up industrial sites and recycling.

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