Pennsylvania

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False positive results of radioactivity suspected in Greene County stream

The DEP found high radium readings along Ten Mile Creek in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Reid Frazier

The DEP found high radium readings along Ten Mile Creek in southwestern Pennsylvania.

New test results from a Greene County stream show much lower levels of radioactivity than state samples revealed last year, leading one researcher to suspect the state came up with a false positive.

More tests are expected in the coming months to determine if high levels of radium are seeping out of an abandoned mine upstream of a major drinking water source.

Elevated levels of radium, a material found in abundance in the Marcellus Shale, were found in a mine discharge along Ten Mile Creek last year, triggering concerns that illegal dumping of drilling waste had occurred there.

A team of scientists at West Virginia University sampled the discharge six times in July and August. They found only small amounts of radioactivity, all within federal drinking water guidelines, said Paul Ziemkiewicz, a West Virginia University forest ecologist and director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute.

“I had to come to a conclusion there really is not a radioactivity problem coming out of Clyde Mine that I could find,” said Ziemkiewicz. Continue Reading

Plans scrapped for drilling waste in PA’s Grand Canyon

  A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

A waste disposal company has backed off its controversial plan to use 400,000 tons of natural gas drill cuttings to help expand an airport in Tioga County. The proposal would have put the waste, which includes dirt and rock displaced by shale gas well-drilling, on a steep embankment near a tributary to the Pine Creek Gorge, a pristine watershed also known as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.”

The Department of Environmental Protection says the Montgomery County company, Clean Earth, did not respond to the agency’s questions on a number of issues with the permit application, which the DEP calls “technical deficiencies.” So Clean Earth decided to withdraw an erosion and sediment control permit application for the first stage of the project. StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported on the project back in July.

The DEP sent a letter to the company in February, detailing the agency’s concerns and seeking answers from Clean Earth. Drill cuttings, which can originate hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface, often contain naturally occurring radiation, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals. But instead of responding to the requested information, Clean Earth agreed to abandon the project.

In the February 24 letter, DEP Chief of the Waterways and Wetlands Program James Kuncelman outlines concerns about the company’s proposal to stockpile the waste without protecting it from the elements, which would have posed a risk to the watershed. Rain and snow falling on top of the drilling waste could have created contaminated run-off, leaching into ground water or making its way into the nearby Pine Creek Gorge. The letter, which is copied below, lists ten separate points of concern. Continue Reading

Clean Air Council sues Sunoco over Mariner East 2 Pipeline Plan

Plaintiffs say Sunoco Logistics has no right to assert eminent domain to acquire land for its planned Mariner East 2 pipeline across Pennsylvania.

Courtesy: Sunoco Logistics

Plaintiffs say Sunoco Logistics has no right to assert eminent domain to acquire land for its planned Mariner East 2 pipeline across Pennsylvania.

An environmental group is suing Sunoco Logistics over its plan to use eminent domain to obtain land that would allow it to build a 350-mile natural gas liquids pipeline across southern Pennsylvania.

The Clean Air Council is asking the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to rule that Sunoco cannot assert eminent domain to seize land from uncooperative landowners because it is not a public utility corporation and so cannot assert eminent domain.

In the suit, filed Thursday, the plaintiffs argue that the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline that would run across the state to Marcus Hook near Philadelphia is an interstate entity because it would extend to Ohio, West Virginia and Delaware, and therefore is regulated by the federal government which does not confer public utility status. Continue Reading

Emails show how Wolf, DEP unfriended fractivist from pipeline group

Scott Cannon holding a letter of acceptance to the DEP's pipeline task force.

Lily Cannon

Scott Cannon holding a letter of acceptance to the DEP's pipeline task force.

Scott Cannon, an anti-fracking activist, says he wants to get to the bottom of why he was uninvited from Governor Wolf’s new Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force.

But he hasn’t gotten there yet.

Cannon, 51, of Plymouth, was originally told that he would be a part of the task force environmental protection workgroup.

But Cannon was informed a few days later by Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley that his services would not be needed. So he filed a Right-to-Know request, and recently got a slew of redacted emails.

But those that weren’t redacted reveal a flurry of interest about Cannon’s candidacy.

The first email came July 2 from Richard Fox, a staff member for Senate Minority Leader John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), asking Sarah Clark, DEP’s Legislative Affairs Director, “do you know if Scott Cannon is on the task force or one of the work groups?”

Clark responded that Cannon was on the environmental protection workgroup.

That would soon change. Two hours later, an email from a staffer for Gov. Wolf, Yeseñia Rosado Bane asked: “Can someone from DEP uninvited {sic} Scott Cannon to the task force?” Continue Reading

PA climate change report warns of hotter summers, destructive storms, floods

Amalio Medina sits in front of his un-air conditioned shop in the midday heat, Thursday, July 18, 2013, in Philadelphia. An excessive heat warning is again in effect for the Philadelphia region with highs expected to head up to the high-90s

Matt Rourke / AP

Amalio Medina sits in front of his un-air conditioned shop in the midday heat, Thursday, July 18, 2013, during a heat wave in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania's new Climate Change Assessment predicts more hot days like this one.

Prepare for longer, hotter summers, more rain, more destructive storms, and bankrupt ski resorts. That’s the conclusion of a team from Penn State on what Pennsylvanians can expect from climate change. By 2050, Philadelphia temperatures will be more like Richmond, and Pittsburgh will be like Washington, D.C. In fact, Pennsylvania has already warmed by 1° Celsius since the early 1900′s, and the future looks even hotter and wetter.

“The findings of this assessment report are stark,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley on a call with reporters. “The entire state will experience the effects of climate disruption. I personally find this report profoundly disturbing. Science is showing us that we are not only changing and disrupting our climate significantly, but these changes are occurring alarmingly fast.”

The Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update estimates that just 35 years from now, the average temperature in the state will be 3° Celsius, or 5.4° Fahrenheit, warmer than it was in 2000.

That’s 2° C higher than what climate experts and policy makers say is the threshold for dangerous impacts. A global average temperature rise of 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels is considered the tipping point for catastrophic change.

“That is a startling number,” said Dr. James Shortle, lead author on the report.

Shortle says the 3° C figure, which is based on continued rates of rising present-day CO2 levels, stems from new information released by the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC scientists predicted that without significant reductions in CO2 emissions, global climate change impacts would be “irreversible” by the end of this century. Continue Reading

Shale gas production expected to decline

Ethan Eckard, 23, a test technician at Schramm, Inc. in West Chester, sits in the control room of the T500XD drill rig.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Ethan Eckard, 23, a test technician at Schramm, Inc. in West Chester, sits in the control room of the T500XD drill rig.

For the first time since the shale gas revolution began, natural gas production from shale formations in the U.S. will decline next month, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The federal government predicted Wednesday that gas production in the country’s largest shale formations will decrease in September to 44.9 billion cubic feet per day. That’s a drop of 1.5 percent below a peak of 45.6 billion cubic feet per day in May.

The Utica Shale in Ohio is the only major shale region expected to see an increase in natural gas production.

The reason for the overall dip is a decline in drilling rigs in gas-rich areas like the Marcellus Shale. Continue Reading

Environmentalists threaten to sue EPA over oil & gas waste-disposal law

IMG_4620

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Drilling waste at a site in Tioga County.

Seven environmental groups on Wednesday threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly failing to update a law on the disposal of oil and gas waste to reflect the fracking boom of recent years.

The organizations, which include Pennsylvania’s Responsible Drilling Alliance, said they sent an Intent to Sue notice to the EPA and will file it in 60 days’ time if the agency does not review and revise regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a 1976 law that requires the agency to review the regulations every three years but which, the environmental groups say, it has failed to do.

Existing regulations under the Act are too weak to prevent the spread of toxic waste materials such as benzene and mercury that are produced by the fracking boom of the last 10 years, and which are still classified as non-hazardous waste which includes household trash, the groups said. Continue Reading

Mayors call for city climate action amid Congressional ‘gridlock’

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter joined with other U.S. mayors to call for action to combat climate change.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter joined with other U.S. mayors to call for action to combat climate change.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter joined with his counterparts in Houston and Los Angeles on Tuesday to call on other cities to implement climate action plans in the run-up to global climate talks in Paris in December.

The three mayors urged other cities to set carbon emission targets, establish a U.S. template for climate action plans, and set a protocol for carbon offsets in municipalities.

In a joint statement, the mayors praised recent federal climate-change initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from power plants, and measures to cut methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure, but said cities, which generate 70 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, can do more. Continue Reading

Marcellus Shale drillers fined for methane migration

Workers at a natural gas site in Bradford County.

AP Photo/Ralph Wilson

Workers move a section of well casing into place at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa. in Bradford County, April, 2010.

State environmental regulators say three natural gas drillers contaminated 17 separate drinking water wells in north central Pennsylvania and together the companies have paid close to $375,000 in fines. The Department of Environmental Protection blamed well construction for methane migrating into drinking water supplies. If methane builds up in an enclosed space like a house, the colorless, odorless gas can cause an explosion. The pollution incidents in Bradford, Lycoming and Tioga counties date back to 2011 and 2012.

“These were complex and lengthy investigations that took a considerable amount of time to resolve,” said DEP Director of District Oil and Gas Operations John Ryder in a release. “But the department was able to conclusively determine that methane gas from natural gas wells had migrated off-site and impacted private wells serving homes and hunting clubs.”

Ryder was not available to explain why the investigations took three to four years to complete.

On May 17, 2011 a citizen complaint led to an investigation of XTO Energy operations in Lycoming County. DEP says “casing and cement issues” led to methane contamination in seven private water wells, as well as leaks in Little Muncy Creek and German Run. XTO paid a $95,753 fine. Continue Reading

Penn State wins federal grant to develop solar technology in national initiative

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Penn State researchers will help to develop solar technology in a national  initiative.

EPA/Michael Reynolds/Landov

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Penn State researchers will help to develop solar technology in a national initiative.

Researchers at Penn State University will share $24 million in federal funds to develop new solar panels to capture sunlight more efficiently, contributing to a package of measures to improve energy efficiency and boost the Obama administration’s climate goals, government officials said on Monday.

The $2.9 million Penn State project is one of 11 around the country that are working on ways to use thousands of small lenses to concentrate light on to photovoltaic (PV) cells to allow them to convert sunlight to electricity at a higher rate.

The national initiative is designed to overcome the high cost, large size and expensive solar tracking systems of existing concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) technology, and so encourage the wider adoption of solar energy as part of the Obama administration’s effort to increase the use of renewable fuels.

The project was announced by U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz during a White House conference call with reporters, as the latest in a string of climate-related initiatives by the Obama administration.

Funding for the CPV projects is in addition to $1 billion in federal loan guarantees for commercial-scale distributed-energy projects such as rooftop solar with storage and smart-grid technology, also announced by the administration on Monday. Continue Reading

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