Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Pa. owed ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’ in royalties from forest drilling

A drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is owed “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in royalties from natural gas drilling on public forest land, according to an official with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

DCNR has leased 386,000 acres of publicly-owned forest land for drilling, and like private landowners, the government agency had problems getting paid properly.

Internal emails obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania through the open records law show DCNR staff questioning companies over issues including: misreporting the price of gas and the volume produced, failing to provide complete or accurate information on statements, and inappropriately withholding gas transportation costs.

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Townships accused of failing to enforce ordinances over Mariner East 2

A sign marks the path of the Mariner East 1 pipeline through Chester County.

Kim Paynter / Newsworks

A sign marks the path of the Mariner East 1 pipeline through Chester County. The Mariner East 2 project would expand the current right of way and carry natural gas liquids across Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook, Delaware County.

Opponents of the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline project are accusing two townships along the route of failing to enforce ordinances that would be violated by the pipeline in those locations.

West Goshen Township in Chester County and Thornbury Township in Delaware County have provisions in their zoning ordinances that could force the pipeline’s builder, Sunoco Logistics, to relocate the line if the municipalities chose to enforce the rules, according to the critics.

Eric Friedman of Glen Mills in Delaware County and Tom Casey of West Chester in Chester County have sent legal memos to the townships, urging them to enforce certain zoning provisions, and threatening legal action. Continue Reading

Forest drilling to generate $80 million this year

A drilling rig in Tioga State Forest.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drill rig in Tioga State Forest.

Natural gas drilling in state forests will generate about $80 million in royalties this year, according to an estimate by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. That’s up about $8 million over the previous year.

The money will be helpful as Pennsylvania grapples with a potential shortfall of nearly $3 billion, says DCNR Secretary, Cindy Dunn.

“It’s a tight budget time. It’s a scary time for state agencies,” she says. “But we are a revenue-producing agency.”

Royalties from oil and gas drilling in forests go into Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund. In recent years, DCNR– which manages state forests– has relied heavily on the fund to support its general operating expenses. There are currently 616 wells generating royalty revenue on state forest land– representing a little more than half of the 1,074 wells that have been permitted.

Revenue from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund, which includes rents, royalties, and other payments peaked in the 2013-2014 fiscal year at $148 million. The department’s reliance on the fund has introduced a level of volatility its budget, as the state’s drilling boom has expanded and contracted.

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Sunoco begins pipeline work at Raystown Lake

Crews working for Sunoco Logistics clear trees for the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Crews working for Sunoco Logistics clear trees for the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County.

The sounds of buzzing chainsaws echoed through the hills around Raystown Lake Thursday afternoon, as contractors for Sunoco Logistics cleared trees to make way for the new Mariner East 2 project.

The 8,300 acre lake in Huntingdon County is a popular spot for swimming, boating, hiking, and mountain biking. It draws about 1.5 million visitors annually.

Kathy Criswell, of Huntingdon was walking her dog on the unseasonably warm day and remarked on all the noise.

“We come out to the lake often– either walking, on the boat,” she says. “I don’t know a ton about the pipeline, but it is disappointing to see the number of trees that had to be cut down for it.”

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Judge denies latest call to halt Mariner East 2 construction

Trees cleared in Aston, Delaware County, were among the first results of pre-constuction work   on the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

Trees cleared in Aston, Delaware County, were among the first results of pre-constuction work on the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.

A Pennsylvania judge on Thursday rejected a request by opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipeline to reconsider his earlier denial of an order that could have halted construction of the line.

Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board said Clean Air Council and two other environmental groups had not presented information in their request for reconsideration that he had not previously considered or would justify taking another look at their case.

The judge also denied the plaintiffs’ call for an expedited hearing on the merits of the case to be held on March 13, saying that an accelerated schedule would create a disadvantage to the pipeline’s builder, Sunoco Logistics, and the Department of Environmental Protection, which issued its final permits for the project on Feb. 13. Continue Reading

A year later, pipeline report is largely ignored

A scene from one of the many contentious public meetings of the state's pipeline infrastructure task force.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A scene from one of the many contentious public meetings of the state's pipeline infrastructure task force.

Pennsylvania has rapidly become a hub for the development of new natural gas pipelines. In recent weeks, billions of dollars worth of projects have been approved by state and federal regulators. Shortly after he took office, Governor Tom Wolf convened a major task force to recommend ways to coordinate planning and best practices for this building boom.

But a year after the panel issued a report with 184 recommendations, it appears much of its work has been ignored.

“Put on a shelf somewhere”

The Governor’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force had problems from the beginning

For one thing, it was really big, with 48 members and another 100 volunteers on workgroups. They also had a hard time agreeing on anything. There were representatives from the gas industry, government, academia and environmental groups, and they weren’t exactly all on the same page.

Finally, the public meetings were often disrupted by protesters. At the last meeting, about a year ago, seven people were arrested. The whole effort was spearheaded by then-secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, John Quigley.

At the group’s final meeting, he said the report was just a first step, and state’s work on pipelines should continue.

“This is the start of a conversation,” Quigley told the group. “This is fertile ground. I do believe this is a very fertile document that can generate a lot of positives.”

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State funding to DEP is inadequate, says advisory panel

DEP

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

DEP's Harrisburg headquarters at the Rachel Carson State Office Building.

An advisory panel to the state Department of Environmental Protection warns consistent cuts to the agency over the last 20 years have reached an “unsustainable level.”

In a letter sent Tuesday to state Senate Appropriations Committee chairs Patrick Browne and Vincent Hughes, DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council chairman William Fink says the cuts are threatening the agency’s ability to do its job.

“General Fund appropriation for the Department has decreased steadily from a high of $245.6 million in [fiscal year] 2002-03 to the current $152 million in the proposed FY 2017-18 budget.”

Fink also cites the recent warning Pennsylvania received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying it lacked the staffing and resources to enforce clean water standards. The shortage caused the number of unaddressed Safe Drinking Water Act violations to nearly double in the past five years, from 4,298 to 7,922. These failures could be grounds for taking primacy away– costing Pennsylvania millions of dollars in federal funding.

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DEP to hold meeting on decades-long effort to rebuild crumbling DelCo dam

Third Street in Media, Delaware County, which passes over the Broomall Lake Dam, is closed to traffic.

Emma Lee/WHYY

Third Street in Media, Delaware County, which passes over the Broomall Lake Dam, is closed to traffic.

Pennsylvania environmental officials are holding a public meeting Wednesday to discuss developments on a decades-long effort to rebuild a crumbling dam in Delaware County.

It comes just over one week after concerns about eroding infrastructure at the Oroville Dam in Northern California forced more than 180,000 people to evacuate their homes.

The Broomall Lake Dam in Media, Pa. was built in the early 1880s for harvesting ice from the lake upstream. One hundred years later, in 1980, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned it had become unsafe. In 1996, the Third Street Bridge that runs above it was closed to vehicles. The bridge is still open to pedestrians.

Decades later, efforts to repair the dam have been held up by legal battles over who owns it and whether to change the roadway above to a one-way street. The bridge is maintained by the borough of Media, while the land on the lake side is owned by Broomall Lake Country Club and the downstream side is a 33-acre county park. Continue Reading

Sunoco clears trees, builds drill pads for Mariner East 2 pipeline

The Mariner East 2 pipeline has officially broken ground in the Delaware County town of Aston. The beginning stages of the pipeline includes clear cutting trees and preparing makeshift roads for the heavy machinery to traverse.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

The Mariner East 2 pipeline has officially broken ground in the Delaware County town of Aston. The beginning stages of the pipeline includes clear cutting trees and preparing makeshift roads for the heavy machinery to traverse.

Preliminary construction work for the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline took place in Delaware and Huntingdon Counties on Monday, a week after state officials issued the final permits for the controversial cross-state project.

Workers cleared trees and built drill pads in Aston in Delaware County and Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County, the first two sites to see construction activity along the 350-mile route from southwest Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook near Philadelphia, according to Jeff Shields, a spokesman for Sunoco Logistics, which will build and operate the line.

Monday’s activities followed some preparatory work last week, Shields said. Continue Reading

Pennsylvania confirms first fracking-related earthquakes

A natural gas drilling rig in Greene County, Pennsylvania.

Mark Schmerling via FracTracker Alliance

A natural gas drilling rig in Greene County, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania officials say they’ve confirmed the state’s first fracking-related earthquakes took place last year in Lawrence County, northwest of Pittsburgh. As a result, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is stepping up its requirements for drilling in that part of the state, which is known for seismic activity.

In April 2016, Texas-based Hilcorp Energy Company was fracking a pair of wells in the Utica Shale near New Castle, Pennsylvania when seismic monitors nearby detected five tremors, measuring between 1.8 and 2.3 on the Richter scale. Quakes that small are too faint to be felt on the surface. But they were significant, if only because fracking-induced earthquakes had never been recorded in the state.

“At least within Pennsylvania, this is the first time that we have seen that sort of spatial and temporal correlation with [oil and gas] operator activity,” says Seth Pelepko, chief of well-plugging and subsurface activities for DEP’s oil and gas management program.

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