Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

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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West Goshen says Sunoco violated Mariner East agreement

The Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. The Mariner East line brings natural gas liquids to the facility. West Goshen Township says the company has reneged on its agreement.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

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

Atlantic Sunrise pipeline opponents begin encampment

Protesters gathered in January to ceremonially burn the environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

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.

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Judge denies appeal for temporary halt to Mariner East 2 construction

A sign marks a water crossing on land in Huntingdon County where Sunoco wants to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Although Sunoco still has to acquire water crossing and earth moving permits, the company has already cleared the area of trees.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

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

Environmental board hears appeal of Mariner East 2 permits

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–propane, ethane, and butane–from the Marcellus Shale region of Western Pennsylvania. Sunoco Logistics is spending roughly $2.5 billion on the Mariner East projects, which will connect the western part of the state to the port at Marcus Hook.

Matt Slocum / AP Photo

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.

Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Mountain Watershed Association said construction of the line, if completed, would result in the deforestation of 1,500 acres and the disturbance of about twice that area, the groups said, in an appeal against the permits, issued by the Department of Environmental Protection on Monday. Continue Reading

Mariner East 2 pipeline still waiting on U.S. Army Corps permits

 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 permits to construct the Mariner East 2 pipeline across the state, but still need permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Nati Harnik / AP Photo

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

GOP lawmaker reintroduces controversial royalties bill

drill rig Tioga county

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Representative Garth Everett has called himself as a “sometimes marathoner” who is in it for the long haul. He’s now on his third attempt to pass legislation ensuring Pennsylvania landowners are paid a minimum royalty for natural gas development.

On Thursday Everett (R- Lycoming) introduced House Bill 557– an effort to address complaints that some gas companies are cheating leaseholders out of money. Mineral owners have accused drillers of abuses including charging exorbitant fees, misreporting the sale price of gas and volume produced, and failing to adhere to lease language.

Everett’s earlier bills cleared House committees twice, but he blames the GOP leadership for blocking a vote.

“I never had any doubt it would easily receive enough votes on the floor,” he says.

He hopes this year will be different.

“Sometimes leadership will run a bill they might not personally agree with, if there’s enough of the caucus and enough people in the legislature that want the bill run.”

The royalty disputes have led to numerous lawsuits, including one from the state Attorney General’s Office. The issue has also affected leases on public forest land. Last year, following an audit, the Commonwealth recovered more than $1.3 million.

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Mariner East 2 critics appeal new permits to Environmental Hearing Board

A sign protesting the building of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign protesting the building of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County. Environmental groups are challenging the permits in court.

Three environmental groups on Tuesday challenged newly granted permits to Sunoco Logistics for the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline, urging Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board to block work on the line while the case is heard.

Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the Mountain Watershed Association asked the board to issue a temporary order of “supersedeas” a legal mechanism that would freeze the project while the board hears their case.

The groups may apply for the supersedeas order if they could suffer “immediate and irreparable injury” before the board hears their case, according to a document filed with the board on Tuesday. The water-crossing and earth-moving permits granted by DEP after almost three years of negotiations and delays, due to Sunoco’s incomplete and deficient applications, are controversial because it means the company could start construction on a line that is still challenged in dozens of court cases over eminent domain.  Continue Reading

Lawmaker calls DEP methane strategy a ‘blatant disregard’ of the law

Rep. Daryle Metcalfe (R- Butler) is accusing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection of trying to sidestep a 1982 law.

Photo: Pa. Legislature

Rep. Daryle Metcalfe (R- Butler) is accusing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection of trying to skirt a 1982 law.

A Republican state lawmaker is accusing Pennsylvania environmental regulators of overstepping their authority, as they attempt to limit climate-damaging methane leaks from shale gas sites.

In a February 10 letter, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R- Butler) accuses Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell of trying to sidestep a 35-year-old law, known as the Regulatory Review Act. The law allows legislators to have more oversight in the rulemaking process, but DEP is instead seeking to control methane leaks at well sites and compressor stations through permit changes.

“This administration is acting like it’s above the law,” says Metcalfe. “They’re totally regulating. It shouldn’t be coming through a permit. They are operating in a pretty shady area.”

Methane is the main component of natural gas. Compared to carbon dioxide, it is a much more potent greenhouse gas, although it stays in the planet’s atmosphere for a shorter time period.

Metcalfe says at the moment he’s objecting to the DEP’s process, rather than the substance of the proposed changes. However, he calls them burdensome, costly, and job-killing.

In his letter to McDonnell, Metcalfe writes, “I would invite you to share with me and my colleagues at your earliest convenience your plan to rectify this blatant disregard for the law.”

He says he won’t rule out a lawsuit but hopes it doesn’t get to that point.

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Congress axed a rule to protect streams from coal pollution. Here’s what that means for Pennsylvania

Veronica Coptis shows pictures of the reconstruction of Polen Run, a Greene County stream undermined by Consol Energy.

Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Veronica Coptis shows pictures of the reconstruction of Polen Run, a Greene County stream undermined by Consol Energy.

Among the first accomplishments of the new Congress was undoing a regulation barely one month old — the Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule.

The agency finalized the rule in December, in one of the Obama administration’s final acts. But using a law called the Congressional Review Act, the new Congress quickly voted to take back the new rule, which would have made it harder for mining companies to bury or discharge mining waste in streams.

Coal companies said the rule would have jeopardized their already struggling industry. But just how would it have affected mines? One clue can be found up a wooded ravine in Greene County.

In Ryerson Station State Park, Veronica Coptis, of the Center for Coalfield Justice, shows off a warm-water trout stream called Kent Run. It’s a typical western Pennsylvania run, coursing off a hillside through a hardwood forest.

“It’s really pristine,” Coptis says. “It’s a beautiful place — it’s even more gorgeous in the summer.”

The stream runs right above Consol Energy’s Bailey Mine, the largest producing underground mine in North America. Consol had planned to mine beneath Kent Run, but Coptis’ group — along with the Sierra Club — stopped that plan, at least for now. The groups appealed Consol’s mining permit, and a state environmental hearing board judge sided with them — blocking Consol from mining within 100 feet of the stream. The judge called the Department of Environmental Protection’s permitting process for the mine “arbitrary, capricious, inappropriate and unreasonable.”

Consol recently announced 200 miners would be temporarily laid off because of the order. In court records, the company said it stood to lose $15.3 million because of the decision, as it would have to leave 360,000 tons of coal in the ground.

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