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.
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.”
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.
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 whet her 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 →
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 →
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.
The Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. The Mariner East line brings natural gas liquids to the facility through the Mariner East 1 pipeline, which runs through West Goshen Township. The township says the company has reneged on its agreement.
Chester County’s West Goshen Township filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Friday, alleging that Sunoco Logistics is violating an agreement on a section of its controversial Mariner East pipeline project that runs through the municipality.
The complaint says Sunoco has failed to install a remote-control valve on the existing Mariner East 1 pipeline that runs beneath the township, contrary to a settlement agreement that the company signed with a local citizens group in 2015, setting conditions for construction of a pump station.
The company agreed to build two of the valves but has only installed one, exposing residents to a “clear and present danger” if the pipeline leaks or ruptures, the complaint says. Continue Reading →
Protesters gathered in January to ceremonially burn the environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.
Opponents of the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline are officially launching an encampment in Lancaster County this weekend.
The pipeline was approved by federal regulators earlier this month, although it still awaits permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Williams, the company behind the project, expects construction to begin in the second quarter of this year, with the pipeline coming online by mid-2018. It has already begun condemnation efforts to obtain rights of way and temporary easements.
The $3 billion dollar pipeline is designed to carry Marcellus Shale natural gas southward to markets along the east coast and to an export terminal near the Chesapeake Bay. It will go through 10 Pennsylvania counties, but the most intense opposition has come from Lancaster.
A sign marks a water crossing on land in Huntingdon County where Sunoco wants to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Pennsylvania DEP granted Sunoco to start work on the line and that was upheld Friday morning by the Environmental Hearing Board. The company still needs Army Corps permits to start in some areas.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect a request for the judge to reconsider his decision.
A Pennsylvania judge on Friday denied a request to temporarily halt the start of construction of the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline.
Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board did not give a reason for denying the request from three environmental groups who sought to stop Sunoco Logistics from starting work on the cross-state line, pending a full hearing on the issue in early March.
The Clean Air Council and two other groups argued in a hearing on Thursday that early work on the line, including tree cutting and horizontal drilling, would risk water contamination and result in “irreparable harm.”
But a Sunoco attorney said the company needed to start work right away in some locations in order to complete tree felling in time to meet a deadline that’s designed to protect a threatened species of bat. Continue Reading →
This photo taken on July 11, 2012, shows the Marcus Hook Refinery in Marcus Hook, Pa. The facility, which is owned and operated by Sunoco Logistics, is an international hub for natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale region of Western Pennsylvania. Sunoco Logistics wants to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline, which will transport more natural gas liquids from the western part of the state to the port at Marcus Hook, Delaware County..
Update: The Environmental Hearing Board rejected a temporary halt on the start of construction Friday morning, updates will be forthcoming.
Three environmental groups urged a Pennsylvania judge to temporarily block the start of construction on a controversial pipeline just three days after it received its final permits from state officials.
The groups said construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline would cause “irreparable harm” by cutting down trees and threatening public and private water wells and aquifers with contamination if it went ahead.
In this May 9, 2015 file photo, pipes for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline are stacked at a staging area in Worthing, S.D. Sunoco Logistics received state permits to construct the Mariner East 2 pipeline, but the company still needs permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.
As the issue over construction of the Mariner East 2 plays out in court, Sunoco is also waiting on a number of permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps requires permits under section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act whenever dredging material would be discharged into waterways or wetlands. The Army Corps also has to approve plans for horizontal directional drilling that runs beneath navigable water ways like rivers and harbors.
Wade Chandler, chief of the Pennsylvania section for the Army Corps of Engineers, says the Corps is still reviewing Sunoco’s applications for permits, and says there’s no required timeline associated with issuing them. Chandler didn’t know exactly how many permits were awaiting approval, but said it’s in the hundreds, and they’ve been working closely with the DEP on the project. He says the majority of the permits under review are classified as “general”, meaning the activity would have minimal impact.
Individual permits include impact that covers more than an acre of land. They require more scrutiny, including a public comment period, which has since closed. Continue Reading →
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