Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Wolf still searching for new environmental chief

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell says he wants the state's top environmental post, but Gov. Tom Wolf has not officially nominated him, despite a recent deadline to submit a name for the job.

More than three months have passed since the controversial resignation of Pennsylvania’s environmental secretary, John Quigley, and Governor Tom Wolf is still looking for a permanent replacement.

The law requires the governor to nominate someone to fill the vacancy within 90 days. In order to comply, the administration submitted a placeholder name, Thomas Yablonski Jr., to the state Senate last week. Yablonski is a staffer in the governor’s office, and his name was used for 24 different appointments. Although placeholder names are submitted sometimes, it’s unclear why there is a delay in this case.

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Nearly 4,000 tons of gas drilling waste to be used for road project

Waste

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Drill cuttings are the waste dirt and rock associated with gas development. The state Department of Environmental Protection has allowed the waste to be reused as construction material under a special research and development permit.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators have green-lighted a proposal to use 3,950 tons of natural gas drilling waste for an experimental road construction project at a Lycoming County hunting club.

This approval marks the first time the waste– known as drill cuttings– can be re-purposed as construction material at an area that’s not an industrial site. The work is being done by Clean Earth, the same firm that backed out of controversial plans to put 400,000 tons of drilling waste near Pennsylvania’s “Grand Canyon” last year amid a public backlash.

Drill cuttings are the waste dirt and rock that come up from deep underground in gas development and may contain naturally-occurring radiation and chemicals. Usually, cuttings are disposed of in landfills.

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Why pipeline safety is one of Pennsylvania’s next big energy challenges

First responders block the access to the area where a natural gas explosion at a pipeline burned one person and damaged houses on Friday, April 29, 2016, in Salem Township, Pa. The explosion caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural area, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, and prompted authorities to evacuate businesses nearby.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

First responders block the access to the area where a natural gas explosion at a pipeline burned one person and damaged houses on Friday, April 29, 2016, in Salem Township, Pa. The explosion caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural area, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, and prompted authorities to evacuate businesses nearby.

On the morning of April 29, a natural gas transmission line exploded in a field in Salem Township in western Pennsylvania. The blast was so powerful it ripped a 12-foot crater into the landscape, burned a section of the field with a quarter-mile radius and threw a 25-foot section of the 30-inch steel pipeline 100 feet away. At the time of the explosion, a 26-year-old man was in his house, a few hundred feet away. He was badly burned, and his home destroyed.

When local fire chief Bob Rosatti arrived at the scene, the flames were so hot, he had to stay in his truck.

“They were massive—I would say 300 feet at the least,” Rosatti says. “That was the biggest fireball I’d ever seen in my life. Thank god it was in a rural area. It could have been a lot worse if it had been in a more populous area.”

Investigators think external corrosion on the pipe is to blame for the blast. But they are still poring over a decade’s worth of pipe inspection reports to determine exactly what caused it.

The explosion comes as the federal government is undertaking a new effort to make gas transmission pipelines safer. It has become an even more urgent issue now that the country is building more pipelines, especially in the Northeast. The fracking boom in the Marcellus and Utica shales is a big reason for that. The Department of Energy predicts Pennsylvania and Ohio will nearly double their natural gas production by 2030. Read more at The Allegheny Front.

New study links gas drilling to migraines, fatigue and chronic sinus symptoms

The DEP recently made changes to proposed regulations governing the  state's oil and gas industry.

AP Photo David Smith

A new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows an association between heavy gas drilling and migraines, fatigue and nasal symptoms.

A new study published today in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives shows an association between living near heavy gas drilling activity and common ailments like chronic nasal and sinus symptoms, severe fatigue, and migraines. The report is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Geisinger Health System and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“These three health conditions can have debilitating impacts on people’s lives,” says Aaron W. Tustin, MD, MPH, a resident physician in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “In addition, they cost the health care system a lot of money. Our data suggest these symptoms are associated with proximity to the fracking industry.”

The researchers used health surveys gathered from almost 8,000 patients of Geisinger Health System from 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania and divided the results into two groups. One group reported no symptoms, while the other reported two or more. This data was then matched with the proximity of respondents to heavy gas drilling activity. The researchers used gas drilling locations and intensity of shale gas production provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and satellite imagery from the group SkyTruth. Continue Reading

Construction begins on Sunbury pipeline

The coal plant in Shamokin Dam, Pa., is a local landmark that delivered electricity to this region for more than six decades. It closed in 2014. Next to it, a brand new natural gas power plant is under construction. The Sunbury Pipeline will feed Marcellus Shale gas into that plant.

Jeff Brady/NPR

The coal plant in Shamokin Dam delivered electricity to the region for more than six decades. It closed in 2014. Next to it, a new natural gas power plant is under construction. The Sunbury Pipeline will feed Marcellus Shale gas into that plant.

State and local officials attended a ceremony Wednesday morning to celebrate the groundbreaking for a 20-inch pipeline that will deliver Marcellus Shale gas to a new power plant in central Pennsylvania.

The Sunbury Pipeline is being built by UGI Energy Services. It will begin in Lycoming County and travel 35 miles to feed into the Hummel Station power plant, which is under construction at the site of the former Sunbury coal plant in Shamokin Dam, Synder County.

Construction on the pipeline is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The plant is projected to come online in early 2018 and power approximately 1 million homes. The project is part of a broader, ongoing national trend away from coal, as natural gas takes up an increasing share of electric power generation.

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Gas company fined for building pipelines in the wrong place

A natural gas gathering pipeline in the Loyalsock State Forest.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A natural gas gathering pipeline in the Loyalsock State Forest. Gathering lines are not regulated in rural areas but they do need permits from DEP for construction.

A natural gas company and a pipeline builder in southwestern Pennsylvania will be paying a combined $184,000 for constructing gathering lines outside the bounds of their permits. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says in one case, the pipeline was constructed several hundred feet from where the line was supposed to be installed. In another case, the pipeline crossed a waterway several hundred yards away from the permitted stream crossing. These gathering lines are the smaller pipelines that carry gas from the wellhead to larger transmission lines, or gas processing facilities.

DEP fined CNX Gas Company, a subsidiary of Consol Energy, $139,000, while CONE Midstream Partners has been assessed $45,000 for violating the state’s Clean Streams Law and the Oil and Gas Act.

DEP employees discovered the violations during a routine inspection in December 2015. Not only did the inspector find pipelines where they were not permitted to be, but DEP also discovered a gravel road and a pad for a pipeline valve that were not permitted at all. Continue Reading

DEP releases Climate Action Plan for Pennsylvania

Micro-wind turbines and solar panels installed at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia generate renewable energy. The state's Climate Action Plan recommends rooftop solar and more energy efficient buildings.

Mark Stehle/Invision / NRG/AP Images

Micro-wind turbines and solar panels installed at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia generate renewable energy. The state's Climate Action Plan recommends rooftop solar and more energy efficient buildings.

Pennsylvania’s climate change action plan reports the greatest potential reductions in the state’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions could also create new jobs and increase household income by reducing energy costs. The Department of Environmental Protection released its 2015 Climate Change Action Plan Update on Friday, which outlines the economic impact of steps the state could take to cut climate warming emissions. Organized into 13 work plans, it serves as a roadmap for reducing the state’s carbon footprint and details legislative recommendations.

Topping the list of carbon reduction strategies is making newly constructed buildings more energy efficient. The DEP recommends that new buildings be built to use 60 percent less fossil fuels on average, based on energy consumption by structures built in 2005. The DEP recommends energy consumption reductions of 80 percent in new buildings, and by 50 percent in existing buildings, by 2030. That work plan ranks 5th in terms of economic benefits.

The winner for economic gains, includes making simple, inexpensive changes to tractor trailers, such as “truck skirts” that reduce drag and help 18-wheelers become more fuel efficient. Although that plan includes the most economic gains, it has the least amount of impact regarding carbon reductions. The EPA recently announced new rules that would force the country’s trucking fleet to become more fuel efficient by 2027. Continue Reading

Carbon emissions from natural gas expected to surpass coal

A natural gas power plant under construction in Bradford County.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact PA

A natural gas power plant under construction in Bradford County.

Carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas are expected to exceed those from coal for the first time in more than 40 years, according to data released Wednesday from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The EIA projects energy-related carbon emissions from natural gas will be 10 percent higher than those from coal this year.

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Air pollutants from Pa. oil and gas sites continue to rise

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

Air pollutants from Pennsylvania’s natural gas production sites increased from 2013 to 2014, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Environmental Protection. The air inventory data for shale gas production relies on information submitted by the industry, and includes emissions from compressor stations that utilize gas from coal beds, conventional, and unconventional wells. Although the number of well sites reporting information to the DEP dropped by 2.7 percent from 2013 to 2014, the number of pipeline related infrastructure sites increased by 12 percent.

Sulfur dioxide emissions saw the greatest jump, increasing 40 percent over 2013 levels. Sulfur dioxide contributes to acid rain, and causes respiratory problems including asthma.  Other air pollutants that contribute to public health impacts also increased, including nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds.

Acting DEP secretary Patrick McDonnell said that despite a growth in production, he’s optimistic air pollution from these sites can be reduced. Continue Reading

Public weighs in on controversial gas liquids pipeline

Mariner 1

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign marks the Mariner 1 gas liquids pipeline in Cumberland County. Sunoco is planning to build another line, the Mariner 2, alongside it.

State environmental regulators held another public hearing Tuesday night to get public feedback on the proposed Mariner 2 natural gas liquids pipeline that would span 17 counties and cross 350 miles of southern Pennsylvania.

About 110 people turned out to the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. A conference room was filled with representatives from labor unions, extolling the job benefits of project, and environmental opponents criticizing the proposal. Compared to other recent public gatherings about pipelines, the evening was fairly tranquil, with members of each camp politely applauding for their spokespeople.

“We’ve seen the public support and listened to the concerns,” says Jeff Shields, a spokesman for Sunoco Logistics, the company behind the proposal. “That’s what we’ll continue to do.”

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