Pennsylvania

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Energy and climate change discussions at the DNC

Thousands marched for clean energy and against fracking ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Thousands marched for clean energy and against fracking ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.

It’s not simply activity on the convention floor that make up a political convention. In addition to the speeches, caucuses and roundtable discussions are all part of the DNC this week in Philadelphia.

Leaders of environmental groups, politicians and business people gathered at a hotel in Center City Philadelphia to discuss how the Democratic Party could be pressed further to address climate change. The event was sponsored by Bloomberg News.

Elizabeth Thompson, a lobbyist for the Environmental Defense Fund, credited the Bernie Sanders supporters for bringing energy and focus to climate issues.

“It used to be climate change, or addressing these issues was sort of the political loser like, why would you do that? That’s going to hurt you. But I think a lot of people understand its about new jobs, it’s about clean energy revolution, it’s about the future.” Continue Reading

Clean energy advocates urge DNC to ban fracking, promote renewable fuels

Opponents of the Algonquin Pipeline cheer speakers at a rally after the clean energy march in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.

Jonathan Wilson / Newsworks

Opponents of the Algonquin Pipeline cheer speakers at a rally after the clean energy march in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.

Thousands of campaigners for clean energy marched through the center of Philadelphia on the eve of the Democratic National Convention on Sunday, urging the party to adopt policies that would ban fracking and promote the use of renewable energy.

In an event that mixed national politics with local opposition to specific energy projects, some demonstrators called on the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, to step up her support for renewable energy, while others – many of them backers of Clinton’s former rival, Senator Bernie Sanders — vowed never to support Clinton even if that increased the chances of the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, becoming president.

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PennEast pipeline environmental impacts would be minimal, say federal regulators

Part of the proposed PennEast pipeline could run through this stretch of land in Bucks County, Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Part of the proposed PennEast pipeline could run through this stretch of land in Bucks County, Pa.

A plan to build the controversial PennEast natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey took a step forward on Friday when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said the project’s environmental impacts could be reduced to “less than significant levels” if it adopts certain mitigation measures.

The proposed 119-mile pipeline from Luzerne County, PA to Mercer County, NJ could have “some adverse environmental impacts,” but those could be overcome if the builder and operator, PennEast Pipeline Company, takes steps recommended by itself and by FERC staffers, the federal agency said.

The commission said the decision was based in part on the fact that about a third of the route is along existing rights of way; that PennEast would control erosion, contamination and other negative effects, and that FERC staff would make sure the project complies with federal laws on endangered species and historic preservation. Continue Reading

Wolf: Ethane cracker will bring jobs for years

Gov. Tom Wolf hosted a roundtable discussion in Beaver County Thursday to tout the benefits of the ethane cracker plant Shell is planning to build.

Reid Frazier/ The Allegheny Front

Gov. Tom Wolf hosted a roundtable discussion in Beaver County Thursday to tout the economic benefits of the ethane cracker plant Shell is planning to build.

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

Governor Tom Wolf was in Beaver County Thursday to tout the economic benefits of Shell’s multi-billion dollar ethane cracker and discuss the challenges ahead in building it.

Wolf spoke at what his office called a “roundtable” with local elected leaders and economic development officials.

The governor said the project will mean that Pennsylvania isn’t just an exporter of raw materials to other states, but will be using its own natural gas to build a new manufacturing base.

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Philly faces four-foot flooding in some areas as seas rise, study warns

Philadelphia

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Rising seas and future storms are likely to flood some areas of greater Philadelphia to a depth of four feet or more above the current high tide line by 2040, according to a new climate report released on Thursday.

The report by Climate Central, a Princeton, NJ-based research group, said the projected floods would be the highest since records began in 1900, and would inundate nine square miles of land – most of it in the City of Philadelphia – that lies less than four feet above the high-tide line.

The largest facility that would be flooded under the scenario would be Philadelphia International Airport where property worth an estimated $250 million would be exposed to the rising waters, the report said. Across the whole exposed area, the value of property that would be flooded in the scenario was estimated at $686 million, and would affect about 5,000 people living in 2,000 homes. Continue Reading

Feds order more testing, following pipeline explosion

The April 29 explosion, which burned one person, caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, and prompted authorities to evacuate homes and businesses nearby.

Kerry Jobe via AP

The April 29 explosion, which burned one person, caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, and prompted authorities to evacuate homes and businesses nearby.

Federal regulators are requiring a natural gas pipeline company to conduct more testing and take corrective actions on three nearby lines, following an April 29 explosion in Westmoreland County that sent a man to the hospital with severe burns.

In May the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) found evidence of corrosion on the 30-inch gas pipeline, indicating a potential flaw in the coating material used in weld joints at the time of construction in 1981.

In the July 19 order, PHMSA now says three nearby lines buried underground “could potentially have been damaged or adversely affected by the explosion …  and pose a serious risk to life, property, or the environment if returned to normal operation” unless Spectra Energy Corporation conducts more testing and takes further corrective actions.

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State regulators unveil updated oil and gas map

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has unveiled an updated version of its interactive mapping tool for Pennsylvania’s oil and gas wells.

“Making such data available and easy to use promotes transparency and allows the public to generate the information they want on demand,” said DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement.

The updated oil and gas map comes with a 10 minute YouTube tutorial on how to use it. Other groups have already used DEP’s oil and gas data to build their own interactive maps over the years, including StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Shale Play map, which launched in 2011.

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DEP fines pipeline company $1.5 million for damaging Butler County wetlands

Natural gas gathering lines in Bradford County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Natural gas gathering lines in Bradford County. A company building a gathering line system in Butler County has agreed to pay $1.5 million fine for allowing sediment to run into a stream and wetlands.

A company constructing a pipeline system in Butler County to connect gas wells to a processing plant will pay $1.5 million for causing a landslide into a stream, and discharging sediment in to a wetland. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says Stonehenge Appalachia has entered a consent order with the agency and agreed to pay the fine.

“This type of man-made ecological impact is both egregious and avoidable, and never should have occurred,” said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “By this action, Stonehenge accepts both environmental and financial responsibility for their actions.”

Stonehenge incurred the violations while building an 18-mile gathering line for the State College based independent producer Rex Energy, which plans to transport the gas to MarkWest Energy’s Bluestone Processingfacility in Evans City.

DEP says between November 2015 and March 2016, Stonehenge allowed sediment to enter a stream and fill two wetlands. The company also discharged “significant drilling fluids, including bentonite clay” into waterways.

Health study shows connection between asthma attacks and gas drilling

Sixteen compression generators power a Cabot Oil & Gas hydraulic fracturing "fracking" site along with two "frack vans" that monitor the operations.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Sixteen compression generators power a Cabot Oil & Gas hydraulic fracturing "fracking" site along with two "frack vans" that monitor the operations.

People with asthma face a larger risk of asthma attacks if they live near heavy gas drilling activity in Pennsylvania, compared to those who don’t, according to research by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The report “Association Between Unconventional Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale and Asthma Exacerbations,” is the first to make use of extensive electronic health records from the Geisinger Health System, along with state well production data, to examine the impact on asthma.

“Ours is the first to look at asthma but we now have several studies suggesting adverse health outcomes related to the drilling of unconventional natural gas wells,” said Sara G. Rasmussen, the study’s lead researcher and a PhD candidate in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “Going forward, we need to focus on the exact reasons why these things are happening, because if we know why, we can help make the industry safer.”

Rasmussen and her colleagues looked at the health records of more than 35,000 Geisinger patients between the ages of 5 and 90 who had asthma. Geisinger has been keeping detailed electronic health records since the early 2000′s, which made for a large data set. The researchers looked at patients health records between 2005 and 2012. The healthcare system encompasses 40 counties in central and northeast Pennsylvania. Continue Reading

Commonwealth court upholds eminent domain in Sunoco pipeline case

A judge's ruling allows opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipeline to argue their case in court.

Dozens of eminent domain cases across the state have held up construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Commonwealth Court ruled Thursday that Sunoco was a public utility, granted eminent domain authority by the PUC.

A state appeals court dealt a blow to property owners fighting eminent domain takings by Sunoco Logistics on Thursday. Commonwealth Court ruled that in the case of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, Sunoco is a public utility subject to regulation by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which it says granted the company a certificate of public convenience that extends to all 17 counties along the hotly contested pipeline’s path. The majority 5-2 opinion cited the PUC’s decision:

[T]his authority [under existing CPCs] is not limited to a specific pipe or set of pipes, but rather, includes both the upgrading of current facilities and the expansion of existing capacity as needed for the provision of the authorized service within a certificated territory.

The Commonwealth Court decision, written by Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, determined that the Mariner East 2 pipeline is both interstate and intrastate, and therefore subject to jurisdiction by both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the PUC. Continue Reading

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