Pennsylvania

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Longwall mining bill becomes law, angering environmentalists

A group of coal miners listen to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during his visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company's Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., Thursday, April 13, 2017.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

A group of coal miners listen to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during his visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company's Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., Thursday, April 13, 2017. Gov. Wolf refused to veto a bill that would make it easier for Consol to develop a coal mine beneath a Greene County state park. Supporters say it will create jobs.

Gov. Tom Wolf declined on Friday to veto a bill that makes it easier to develop a long-wall coal mine beneath a state park in Greene County, allowing it to become law despite pressure from environmentalists who say it will damage streams.

Senate Bill 624 allows the Department of Environmental Protection to issue permits for the expansion of the Consol Energy mine at Ryerson State Park on the assumption that the mining would not cause permanent damage to waterways that flow above the coal face.

The bill’s sponsors, led by Republican Senator Joe Scarnati, argue that the law will facilitate mine development and create jobs while requiring the operator, or other mine owners, to restore any stream to its original condition after it is blocked or diverted during the mine work. Continue Reading

DEP issues few violations, one fine for Sunoco’s pipeline construction spills

Workers cleared trees to make way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County, where school officials are seeking assurances on safety.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

Workers cleared trees to make way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County in March. The company has spilled at drilling mud in dozens of incidents.. DEP has issued four violations, and one fine.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has issued four Notices of Violation, one consent order and one fine to Sunoco Pipeline for dozens of drilling mud spills that occurred along the length of the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction project. The DEP released a statement on Friday describing its efforts to manage Sunoco’s construction of the 350-mile long pipeline where drilling has caused water-contamination incidents in recent weeks.

DEP also provided a link to a list of 49 incidents, as well as copies of the Notices of Violations, one of which was issued on Thursday.

The agency fined Sunoco $87,600 and issued a consent decree on June 27 for 13 separate drilling mud spills that occurred between May and June in Cumberland County. The Notices of Violations report 552,000 gallons of bentonite mud spilled into LeTort Spring Run, an Exceptional Value wetland in Cumberland County. Exceptional Value waterways are those that are clean enough to support fish and wildlife, such as wild trout streams, or those that have high value recreational use.

In response to a Notice of Violation, Sunoco said on June 7 that it had “contained, captured and recirculated” the fluid back to the drill rig, and that it was not “discharged throughout the wetland.”

But the consent decree, dated about three weeks later on June 27 reports that Sunoco had not yet remediated the problem, and had shut down operations at DEP’s request on June 9. Up until Friday’s release, no public notification had been made of this incident. Continue Reading

Delco township hires Sunoco consultant to do risk analysis of Mariner East 2

Mitch Trembicki, a Middletown opponent of Sunoco's Mariner East 2 pipeline project, which is subject to a risk assessment by a Sunoco contractor..

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Mitch Trembicki, a Middletown opponent of Sunoco's Mariner East 2 pipeline project, which is subject to a risk assessment by a Sunoco contractor..

Delaware County’s Middletown Township is hiring a Sunoco contractor to do a risk assessment of the company’s plan to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline through the community, prompting critics to accuse the township of using a contractor with a conflict of interest.

Mark Kirchgasser, chairman of the township’s Board of Supervisors, confirmed that it has agreed with Det Norske Veritas (DNV-GL), a Norway-based consultant to energy and other companies, to assess the risks of Sunoco’s planned pipeline in the town.

DNV last year helped defend Sunoco against federal charges that it used unqualified welders and unauthorized welding procedures on a Texas pipeline, Permian Express II, leading to a spill of more than 300,000 gallons of hazardous liquids, according to documents from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Continue Reading

DEP staffers warned superiors of dangers to private water wells from pipeline construction

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski / StateImpact PA

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection official waved a red flag to higher ups in January over potential issues with Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline construction on private water wells.

“Though we don’t regulate it, this private well issue has the potential to really blow up…,” wrote Domenic Rocco, waterways and wetlands program manager for the DEP’s Southeast regional office. Rocco sent the email detailing his conversation with a worried resident of Delaware County who lived near the pipeline route. He also sent a long list of concerns DEP program staff had regarding the agency’s permit reviews of Sunoco’s construction plans.

The email recipients included Ann Roda, director of the office of program information, John Hohenstein, DEP chief of dams and waterways, and Donald Knorr, a water pollution biologist with the Southeast regional office. It was released as part of ongoing litigation challenging Sunoco’s permits.

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Natural gas industry wastewater pollution may linger for years

The before, during and after of the fracking fluid recycling process

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The before, during and after of the fracking fluid recycling process

A new study finds the treated wastewater from Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry may pollute rivers, lakes, streams and creeks for longer than previously thought.

Penn State environmental engineering professor Bill Burgos and his colleagues analyzed sediment samples from the Conemaugh River, a dam-controlled reservoir in western Pennsylvania. The reservoir is downstream from two centralized waste treatment plants, which contaminants from hydraulic fracturing operations can pass through. The study, published this month in Environmental Science & Technology, shows the highest concentrations of pollutants were deposited in the reservoir’s sediments five to 10 years ago, during the peak of Marcellus Shale activity; they include endocrine disrupting chemicals and carcinogens.

Burgos says it’s not yet clear how the pollution may affect human health or the broader environment.

“How dangerous is that material? That’s still an open question,” he says. “That’s difficult to know.”

In 2015, Pennsylvania’s unconventional gas wells produced nearly 1.7 billion gallons of wastewater. Oil and gas wells can contain various contaminants, including salts, metals, natural occurring radioactive material, and manmade organic compounds. The study shows elevated levels of contaminants as far away as 12 miles downstream from the treatment plants.

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Mariner East 2 construction has resulted in dozens of spills, documents show

An aerial view of Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Construction of the pipeline has resulted in dozens of incidents where drilling mud was released into surface water and groundwater aquifers.

Jeremy Long / Lebanon Daily News

An aerial view of Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Construction of the pipeline has resulted in dozens of incidents where drilling mud was released into surface water and groundwater aquifers.

Construction of Sunoco Pipeline’s $3 billion 350-mile long Mariner East 2 pipeline resulted in at least 61 drilling mud spills from April 25 through June 17, 2017, according to newly released documents. The spills have occurred in ten of the 12 counties along the route and range from minor releases of five gallons to larger more serious releases of tens of thousands of gallons. The documents, pasted below, include reports of “inadvertent returns,” and were released by the Department of Environmental Protection as part of ongoing litigation by the Clean Air Council challenging the department’s issuing of water crossing permits for the project last February.

The Council wants the Environmental Hearing Board to suspend construction while its case is pending review, but has so far been unsuccessful.

The spills primarily contain bentonite, a muddy clay substance used as a lubricant in drilling beneath waterways during horizontal directional drilling. Bentonite is non-toxic but can do damage to drinking water wells by clogging up an aquifer. A recent incident in Chester County forced 15 families to switch to bottled water and the company has since agreed to pay to hook residents up to the public water supply after some resident’s water wells went dry, and others experienced cloudy water.

If a large amount of the clay enters streams and wetlands, it can impact aquatic life. The drilling mud has entered trout streams, Exceptional Value wetlands, ponds, groundwater aquifers and uplands. Continue Reading

Lebanon County zoning board denies challenge to Mariner East 1

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.

Zoning officials in a Lebanon County township rejected an appeal against their permit allowing a pumping station to be built along the Mariner East 1 pipeline, rebuffing the latest challenge to the project’s public utility status.

West Cornwall Township’s Zoning Hearing Board on Tuesday denied the appeal by three residents and Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County, an anti-pipeline group that has been fighting the pumping station for the last two years.

The appellants argued against the township’s decision to exempt the pumping station from zoning rules on the grounds that the natural gas liquids pipeline is a public utility project.

Sunoco Pipeline also says the existing Mariner East 1 and Mariner East 2, which is now under construction, are both public utilities, citing rulings by the Public Utility Commission and a number of courts. But opponents including the Lebanon County group argue that most of the products carried by the pipeline are for export and so the pipeline is not legitimately a public utility. Continue Reading

Nuns sue federal agency over natural gas pipeline

A group of nuns in Lancaster County is suing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over its approval of a major interstate natural gas pipeline.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A group of nuns in Lancaster County is suing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over its approval of a major interstate natural gas pipeline.

A group of Roman Catholic nuns has filed a lawsuit against the federal agency that approved construction of a major interstate natural gas pipeline, planned to run through the nuns’ property in Lancaster County.

The suit, filed by sisters from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, targets the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline and alleges the project violates their religious freedom, which is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Atlantic Sunrise is $3 billion expansion of the Transco system. It’s designed to move Marcellus Shale gas from Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania southward to markets along the East Coast and to an export terminal under construction along the Chesapeake Bay.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave its approval to the pipeline in February. The pipeline company, Williams Partners, plans to install the line underground on the sisters’ property in West Hempfield Township. The company unsuccessfully tried to negotiated rights to the land, and is now authorized to use eminent domain, and would have permanent rights to a 50-foot-wide area on approximately one acre.

“We believe FERC’s decision to force the Adorers to use their land to accommodate this pipeline violates their religious beliefs,” says J. Dwight Yoder, the nuns’ attorney.

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Street construction poses hidden danger of lead-laced drinking water

Manuel Ortiz looks out his living room window to the street construction outside his home.

Catalina Jaramillo / StateImpact PA

Manuel Ortiz looks out his living room window to the street construction outside his home. Ortiz says he wasn't informed that replacing a water main could cause lead to leach into his tap water from the lead service lines delivering water to his house on the 3000 block of north Rosehill Street in North Philadelphia.

About five years ago, doctors found high levels of lead in the blood of Manuel Ortiz’s oldest son. Ortiz and his wife were surprised. They say Manuel Jr. acted like a normal kid.

Health inspectors told them the culprit was lead-based paint in their rented apartment. Ortiz says the landlord didn’t do anything to fix it, so the family moved out as soon as they could.

What Ortiz didn’t know, was that he moved into a house with a lead service line, which could mean he and his son were drinking water with lead in it. And now, the water department wants to do work on his street that could make the lead levels in his water spike.

But until a reporter showed up at his doorstep, Ortiz said nobody told him about the danger to Manuel Jr. lurking in their water taps.

“He doesn’t act like a normal kid,” said Ortiz. “He is 13 now, but he acts like a kid of 10. I feel sad….we’re a low-income family. A lot of people go through it, we’re not alone.”

Although lead-based paint and contaminated dust are the largest source of lead for children, water remains a constant and unpredictable threat for anyone living in a house with lead water pipes. And advocates say it’s an easy one to fix. Continue reading at PlanPhilly.

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