Delaware County EMS personal try to find a way to get their vehicles to the site of an oil train incident during a practice run.
The increasing number of rail cars carrying crude oil through Pennsylvania means a rising risk of accidents. Recent derailments caused trains to explode and incinerate areas along tracks in Illinois and West Virginia, threatening waterways. So far, Pennsylvania has been lucky. Within the past year and a half, oil trains traveling through the state derailed in Philadelphia, Vandergrift and McKeesport, but none of them exploded.
Back in the sumer of 2013, that wasn’t the case in the Quebec village of Lac Megantic, where an oil train crash killed 47 people. Five bodies were never recovered, having been incinerated.
Nationwide, oil train traffic has increased 4000 percent since 2008. And Philadelphia is a top destination for these trains, which haul millions of gallons of volatile crude oil from the Bakken Shale fields in North Dakota to area refineries each week. With the increase in oil train traffic from North Dakota, the Department of Transportation predicts an average of 10 of these trains will derail each year.
While activists and politicians push Philadelphia’s emergency planning operation to disclose their response plans, neighboring Delaware County has forged ahead with practice runs.
About 150 first responders, from local, state, and federal agencies gathered at the Lazaretto Ballroom in Tinicum Township Delaware County last week. The training exercise was for this new danger – crude-by-rail shipments. The room was full of uniformed first responders from some of Delaware County’s 80 separate volunteer fire companies. Continue Reading →
Jim Welty is vice president of government affairs for the trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
“The MSC submitted extensive and detailed comments, the vast majority of which appear to have been ignored,” he said. “In our view [these regulations] are designed to increase costs and threaten continued development of this industry.”
Adapted from the National Energy Technology Laboratory / Environmental Protection Agency
Diagram of a deep well injection disposal site.
The Department of Environmental Protection took the unusual step of reversing its approval of a frack waste water disposal well in Indiana County this week. The decision took both the energy company and the opponents of the disposal well, by surprise.
“This is novel, this has not happened previously,” Pennsylvania General Energy vice president Lisa McManus told StateImpact. “So it came as a complete surprise to us.”
Pennsylvania General Energy, or PGE, received the green light from the DEP in October to convert a former gas producing well in Grant Township into a disposal well. This came after the Environmental Protection Agency approved the project last spring. The EPA has overseen deep injection wells in Pennsylvania since 1983. Those wells are designated as Class 2 wells and are regulated by the underground injection control program, via the Safe Drinking Water Act. Although about 1,860 Class 2 wells are permitted in Pennsylvania, less than ten of them are approved for oil and gas waste disposal.
Still the DEP needed to sign off on the conversion of the Grant Township well’s function. DEP issued PGE a permit in October, but two residents of Grant Township appealed the decision.
President Obama’s plan to combat climate change relies heavily on replacing coal with natural gas as a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide electric power plants pour into the atmosphere. But natural gas comes with it’s own climate problems.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is also a powerful greenhouse gas, which can be 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide within twenty years. And with so many opportunities for unburnt methane to escape on its way from the wellhead to the power plant, those leaks could offset any benefits from burning natural gas instead of coal. Scientists have just begun to try to measure those leaks. One team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, spends their days chasing methane plumes. Continue Reading →
Attorney General Kathleen Kane began investigating gas royalty complaints more than a year ago.
State Attorney General Kathleen Kane says her investigation into allegations of underpaid gas royalties will be concluded in the near future.
“I can’t comment on where it is right now,” she told a Senate Appropriations committee Tuesday. “But I can tell you we’re almost wrapping it up.”
More than a year has passed since former Governor Tom Corbett and state Sen. Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) asked Kane to investigate Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy, after leaseholders complained the company was cheating them out of gas royalty money.
“Both the anti-trust and bureau of consumer protection is working very hard,” said Kane. “They’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with landowners. It took a little bit longer than we may have hoped.”
A CSX unit train delivers a load of crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to a refinery in South Philadelphia.
The head of the Federal Railroad Administration says oil companies need to do more to insure the safety of crude by rail shipments. FRA acting administrator Sarah Feinberg says that the railroad companies carrying the highly volatile crude oil from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota have done all they can do and the energy industry needs to step up. More from Reuters:
Sarah Feinberg, acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the energy industry must do more to control the volatility of its cargo.
“(We) are running out of things that we can put on the railroads to do,” she said. “There have to be other industries that have skin in the game.”
Recent oil train derailments and explosions in West Virginia and Illinois, which incinerated areas along the tracks, have created momentum in Congress to enact new rail safety laws. Senator Bob Casey has sponsored legislation that would create a new division within the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and provide new funds for training first responders. The RESPONSE Act was introduced by North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Casey was in Philadelphia on Monday, promoting the legislation, which he says has bipartisan support. Continue Reading →
Acting DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn talks with legislators at a House budget hearing Monday.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources expects to bring in $130 million from natural gas drilling royalties this year. Much of the money will be used to fund the agency’s general operating expenses.
Environmentalists complain it poses an inherent conflict of interest for DCNR– which is supposed to balance conservation with resource management. Governor Wolf’s spending plan would make the department slightly less reliant on royalties, but they would still make up over a third of its $342.6 million proposed budget.
“It’s not a good set-up to have the agency funded by extracted resources. Markets and prices go up and down. Things change,” said Dunn. ”Will we be off of it in the short term? I don’t think it’s realistic.”
Rep. John Maher (R- Allegheny) also asked about the problems some people have had with gas companies paying royalties properly.
“Has DCNR undertaken an organized effort to audit the statements you receive from drillers?”
In this undated photo, solar panels are installed on the Harrisburg, Pa. home of Tami and Randy Wilson.
Solar energy has taken a back seat to shale gas in Pennsylvania in recent years. But it’s getting renewed attention, thanks in part to a proposal from Governor Tom Wolf and new legislation aimed at funding the lapsed Pennsylvania Sunshine Solar, a rebate program for homeowners and small businesses. Investment from a large solar service provider could also bring more of this renewable energy, plus jobs, to southeastern Pennsylvania.
More than 33,000 Pennsylvania homes get their power from the sun, yet the state lags behind its neighbors in New York, New Jersey and Ohio, according to nonprofit The Solar Foundation. It doesn’t fare much better when it comes to jobs in this sector, offering just 2,800 compared to more than 7,000 in both New York and New Jersey.
State Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) said making this alternative energy more of a priority demands a two-fold approach: Relaunch Sunshine Solar and up the percentage of energy that companies like PECO must provide from renewable sources. “The Pennsylvania requirement is low relative to other states,” Vitali said. “Increasing our Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard would help.”
Vitali introduced House Bill 100 in February that would raise renewable energy requirements from 8 percent to 15 percent by 2023. He also authored House Bill 200, which puts $25 million a year toward Pennsylvania Sunshine Solar. Continue Reading →
Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley took questions from lawmakers at a House budget hearing Wednesday.
Governor Wolf’s pick to head the state Department of Environmental Protection spent much of Wednesday afternoon defending the new administration’s proposed gas drilling policies at a state House budget hearing in Harrisburg.
John Maher (R- Allegheny) began by questioning acting DEP Secretary John Quigley about why the administration quickly disbanded the agency’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB).
Shortly after dismissing the board, the agency issued new, more stringent draft regulations for the oil and gas industry. A newly formed TAB is scheduled to meet next week to review the changes for Marcellus drillers. Maher asked Quigley who the TAB members are and questioned whether they’d have enough time to review the rules.
Quigley said he wasn’t sure who the new members are.
“You’ve talked many times about integrity and transparency,” said Maher, who was recently appointed chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy committee. “What I’ve seen in this case doesn’t exhibit either.”