Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

DEP unveils permit requirements to curb air pollution at gas sites

New draft permit requirements seek to curb harmful air emissions from oil and gas sites.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

New draft permit requirements seek to curb harmful air emissions from natural gas sites.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is taking steps to curb harmful air emissions from natural gas sites. At an advisory committee meeting Thursday, regulators unveiled new draft permit requirements.

“Shortly, we’ll be formally publishing the draft documents in the Pennsylvania Bulletin,” says Krishnan Ramamurthy, DEP’s acting Director for Air Quality. ”We’ll be opening it for a 45 day comment period for the public and industry.”

Earlier this year Governor Tom Wolf announced his administration would target methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas which contributes to global climate change. The DEP has created new draft general permit requirements for oil and gas exploration, development, and production facilities.

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Energy Hub vision challenged by Rinaldi’s departure from PES

Sunoco Logistic's plant in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. The site is undergoing construction to convert it from an oil refinery to a natural gas storage and processing plant.

Newsworks

Sunoco Logistics plant in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. The site is undergoing construction to convert it from an oil refinery to a natural gas storage and processing plant.

The Philadelphia Energy Hub, a grand idea that was always longer on rhetoric than reality, took another step back this week when its leading advocate said he will retire early next year as chief executive of the East Coast’s biggest refiner, Philadelphia Energy Solutions.

Phil Rinaldi, dubbed “fossil Phil” by environmentalists for his aggressive promotion of Philadelphia as a major East Coast center for the transmission, storage and use of abundant natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, said he will step down in March but will stay on as head of the Greater Philadelphia Energy Action Team, the principal cheerleader for the Energy Hub. Continue Reading

Climate-change-denier may be named to head EPA

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has reportedly been selected by President-elect Donald Trump to head the EPA.

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has reportedly been selected by President-elect Donald Trump to head the EPA.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, a source close to Pruitt has told The Associated Press.

Pruitt has been a booster of the fossil fuel industry and an outspoken critic of what he derides as the EPA’s “activist agenda.” The 48-year-old Republican also denies the overwhelming scientific evidence that the Earth is warming and that man-made carbon emissions are to blame.

Representing his state, Pruitt has repeatedly sued the EPA to roll back environmental regulations and public health protections, including opposing the Clean Power Plan that seeks to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. He also filed court briefs in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline project blocked by the Obama administration.

Rice Energy fined $3.5 million for wellsite and pipeline violations

drill rig cows

Kim Paynter/ WHYY / WHYY/Newsworks.org

State environmental regulators announced $3.5 million in penalties against gas driller Rice Energy, for violations related to its well sites and pipelines.

The state Department of Environmental Protection says the issues spanned several years and included failures to secure proper permits, maintain erosion and sedimentation controls, and wastewater releases.

“Minimizing the impacts that drilling activity has on Pennsylvania waterways is a key part of responsible development,” said DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. “While many of these violations have been corrected and remediated, they should have not happened in the first place. DEP will continue to hold responsible companies that act without permits and violate the rules and regulations of the Commonwealth.”

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DEP appeals court’s hold on sections of new drilling rules

DEP is appealing a court block on new rules that govern unconventional natural gas facilities such as this gathering line in Tiadaghton State Forest.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Natural gas gathering lines in the Tiadaghton State Forest. DEP is appealing a judge's decision to temporarily block sections of new rules governing unconventional natural gas development.

Pennsylvania is appealing a court ruling that temporarily blocked sections of new gas drilling regulations, saying they are “commonsense” rules designed to protect the public and took years to develop with the help of the industry.

The Department of Environmental Protection filed the appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday after a Commonwealth Court judge last month put a hold on some parts of the Chapter 78a regulations on unconventional natural gas development.

The DEP is urging the state’s highest court to allow implementation of regulations governing public resource protections, monitoring for orphaned and abandoned wells, well-site restoration, and standards for water storage impoundments.

Those sections were put on hold by Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson last month following a lawsuit from the gas industry’s trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which argued in its first-ever suit against the state that the rules are onerous, costly, and offer little environmental benefit.

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Audit criticizes local governments’ use of gas impact fee revenue

A natural gas rig in Washington, Pa. A 2012 law created the gas impact fees to mitigate the negative consequences of drilling to communities, but state auditors say millions of dollars where spent improperly.

AAP Photo/Michael Rubinkam

A natural gas rig in Washington, Pa. A 2012 law created the gas impact fees to mitigate the negative consequences of drilling to communities, but state auditors say millions of dollars where spent improperly.

Pennsylvania counties and municipalities mishandled millions of dollars meant to offset the negative effects of the Marcellus Shale gas boom, according to a report published Tuesday by the state Auditor General.

In one notable example, auditors say North Strabane Township, Washington County, spent $32,602 on recreational events and parties– including $7,500 on fireworks, $1,200 for a performance by former American Idol contestant Adam Brock, and $4,250 on inflatable party rentals.

“I’m pro-people having fun at the holidays,” says state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D), “But the impact fee was used for a bouncy house. Come on, that’s crazy.”

 

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Federal government blocks Dakota Access oil pipeline route

A crowd gathers in celebration at the Oceti Sakowin camp after it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't grant easement for the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.

AP Photo/David Goldman

A crowd gathers in celebration at the Oceti Sakowin camp after it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't grant easement for the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.

CANNON BALL, N.D. (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Sunday that it won’t grant an easement for the Dakota Access oil pipeline in southern North Dakota, handing a victory to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters, who argued the project would threaten the tribe’s water source and cultural sites.

North Dakota’s leaders criticized the decision, with Gov. Jack Dalrymple calling it a “serious mistake” that “prolongs the dangerous situation” of having several hundred protesters who are camped out on federal land during cold, wintry weather. U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer said it’s a “very chilling signal” for the future of infrastructure in the United States.

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DEP says Greene County stream poses ‘no radiation concern’

Ten Mile Creek

Reid Frazier/ The Allegheny Front

Testing at a Greene County stream once suspected of contamination shows it has “no radiation concern,” the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced Thursday.

In April 2014, tests taken by the state showed Ten Mile Creek had high levels of radium, a radioactive material that is naturally occurring. But in a study released in December 2015, the DEP said those tests produced “a false positive” and found the radium levels in the water to be safe. Tests taken this year confirmed the levels were within federal safety standards.

“All water samples were below the EPA drinking water limit of 5 picocuries per liter (pC/L) for radium-226 and radium-228,” the DEP said in a statement. “Any radiation that was detected was consistent with background levels for southwest Pennsylvania.”

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Gas power plants face $97,000 in fines for water use

An aerial shot of the former Sunbury coal plant. A new natural gas powered plant will be constructed to replaces the shuttered facility.

Courtesy of Panda Power

An aerial shot of the former Sunbury coal plant along the Susquehanna River in Shamokin Dam, Synder County. A new natural gas powered plant is being constructed to replaces the shuttered facility. It is one of three plants facing fines over its water usage from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is considering $97,000 in penalties against a Dallas, Texas based private equity firm building three natural gas power plants in Pennsylvania.

At its December 8th meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, the SRBC will consider proposed settlement agreements with Panda Power Funds, for mishandling water usage at its plants in Lycoming, Bradford, and Synder counties. The commission is the regulatory body managing water resources in the Susquehanna River Basin and was created by a compact between the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the federal government.

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Marketplace: EPA’s last minute changes to fracking report downplayed risks

A protester urges EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to intervene in Dimock's water woes last December.

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

A protester urges then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to intervene in Dimock's water contamination during a visit by Jackson to Philadelphia in 2012. While leading the EPA, Jackson initiated the study on fracking.

New documents have emerged that show the EPA downplayed the risks of fracking in a landmark report on the process used to extract oil and gas from shale. The last minute changes made by the EPA are documented in a story by the public radio show Marketplace and APM Reports. The news outlets obtained documents that showed the EPA had changed language in the executive summary six weeks before its release to the public, which stated the agency did not find shale gas drilling resulted in “widespread systemic impacts” to drinking water. The documents also revealed similar changes to the accompanying press release.

Questions remain on who made the changes and why.

The EPA’s long-awaited report was supposed to settle the question once and for all on whether or not fracking for oil and gas damages water supplies, using science not politics. In Pennsylvania, there were already more than 250 documented cases in which fracking damaged private drinking water supplies.

But when the EPA’s draft report was issued in June of 2015, the executive summary read that fracking did not cause “widespread systemic impacts” on drinking water. The report was cheered by industry, and spurned by environmentalists.

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