Pennsylvania

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Federal public health report highlights contaminants in Dimock’s water

Hydraulic fracturing opponents, including Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pa., front, demonstrate before Gov, -elect Tom Wolf takes the oath of office to become the 47th governor of Pennsylvania, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, at the state Capitol in

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Hydraulic fracturing opponents, including Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pa., front, demonstrate before Gov. Tom Wolf takes the oath of office to become the 47th governor of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, January, 2015.

A federal public health report on Dimock’s much-publicized water woes found threatening levels of chemicals in 27 private water wells, and explosive levels of methane in 17 private water wells during a six-month period in 2012. The results were based on samples taken four years ago, while a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the area was in place. The chemicals include cancer-causing levels of arsenic in 13 wells. Other substances include potentially toxic levels of cadmium, copper, iron, lead, lithium, manganese, potassium, sodium and 4-chlorophenyl phenyl ether.

The report, a “health consultation” by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control, looked at data from 64 private drinking water wells and also found an immediate risk of explosion in five homes due to high levels of methane in their water, and potential threats to another 12 homes. None of the information is new to the resident’s themselves, who each received a toxicology report from the EPA and ATSDR back in 2012. Some residents requested and received visits by federal researchers and experts at the time to explain the results.

The report does not analyze current water samples, and makes no conclusions about the status of the well water today. It does not identify the source of these chemicals, some of which could be naturally occurring. The authors of the report say some issues with the water-quality remain, but this is most likely the result of anecdotal information from residents themselves, not new data. Continue Reading

Deepening the Delaware: Windfall or boondoggle?

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D) speaks at a press conference regarding the dredging of the Delaware to increase shipping traffic to the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal.

Brad Larrison / WHYY

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D) speaks at a press conference touting the benefits of the dredging the Delaware to increase shipping traffic to the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal. Philadelphia Congressman Bob Brady (D) stands to the left.

On a recent afternoon, local politicians and business leaders gathered at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia. Standing in front of a giant blue and white crane used to lift containers off cargo ships, U.S. Senator Bob Casey told reporters he’s confident Congress will approve the last chunk of federal funding needed to deepen the Delaware River’s shipping channel this year.

“It’s a great sense of satisfaction because it allows this region to be much more competitive and to chart its own course for the future,” said Casey.

That course for the future is the promise of lots of good-paying jobs. A controversial, $400 million project to deepen the Delaware River’s shipping channel will wrap up next year.

The project to dredge the river to a depth of 45 feet was held up for nearly three decades by state officials across the river in New Jersey and Delaware who didn’t think it was worth spending millions in taxpayer dollars, and by environmentalists worried about its impact on the Delaware River. Dredging proponents say it will be a boost to the local economy.

Here’s the email that led to the resignation of Wolf’s environmental secretary

Former Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley.

Emma Lee/WHYY

Former Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley resigned last week following controversy over an email he sent to environmental advocacy groups, criticizing them for not pushing back against legislative efforts to stall or block environmental regulations.

StateImpact Pennsylvania has obtained a copy of the email sent by Governor Tom Wolf’s environmental secretary, John Quigley, that led to his resignation Friday.

“I’ve slept on this but can no longer hold back,” Quigley wrote. “Where the f*ck were you people yesterday? The House and Senate hold Russian show trials on vital environmental issues and there’s no pushback at all from the environmental community? Nobody bothering to insert themselves in the news cycle?”

Quigley sent the profanity-laced note to several environmental groups the day after state House and Senate panels voted to reject oil and gas regulations, which he had championed in his job at the helm of the state Department of Environmental Protection. The same day, a Senate committee had also approved a bill to give lawmakers more oversight in efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

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Dredging the Delaware has scientists worried about the impact of climate change

The Drillboat Apache sits in the Delaware River near Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. From December 2015 to March 2016, the crew on this boat was blasting rock outcroppings on the river bottom. It’s one of the last stages of a controversial project to deepen the river’s shipping channel by five feet.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

The Drillboat Apache sits in the Delaware River near Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. From December 2015 to March 2016, the crew on this boat was blasting rock outcroppings on the river bottom. It’s one of the last stages of a controversial project to deepen the river’s shipping channel by five feet.

The Delaware River is getting deeper thanks to a joint federal and state effort to dredge the shipping channel to make way for larger boats. It’s the culmination of a multi-million dollar project stalled for years by doubts over economic benefits and fears of environmental damage.

In the long fought battle over dredging the Delaware, environmentalists lost. They were worried about a laundry list of potential impacts to the endangered Atlantic sturgeon, oysters, horseshoe crabs, as well as what to do with all the potentially hazardous muck dredged from the river bottom. But there is one impact nobody at the time was talking about — climate change. Six years after the first shovels started scooping up the riverbed, reporter Katie Colaneri takes a look at how the deepening project could impact the health of the river, which provides drinking water for 16 million people.

 

Click here for more on our series about dredging the Delaware.

Wolf’s environmental chief is out, following email controversy

john quigley

Emma Lee / WHYY

DEP Secretary John Quigley resigned Friday afternoon, following controversy over an email he sent to environmental groups.

State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley resigned Friday afternoon, following several news reports about a controversial email he sent last month to environmental groups.

Governor Tom Wolf issued a statement thanking Quigley for his service, without offering any details about the nature of his departure.

“The email is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says a source close to the Wolf administration. “[Quigley] has no relationships with the legislature and has angered a lot of people within the administration. It’s a long line of things that have become a problem.”

Capitolwire first reported Thursday Quigley sent an email chastising the environmental groups for not doing enough to support DEP’s revised oil and gas regulations, as well as new federal clean air regulations. The drilling rules have faced stiff opposition from the industry and the Republican-led legislature.

DEP Director of Policy Patrick McDonnell will serve as Acting Secretary for the department.

Quigley did not immediately respond to requests to comment Friday afternoon.

Delaware River ports fight for market share as dredging project nears completion

Bigger ships and more cargo flowing through the ports of Philadelphia and South Jersey should mean more jobs and greater economic activity when the Delaware River deepening project is completed next year, but the benefits may not be a slam-dunk for the region as expected.

Fierce competition from other East Coast ports for an expected trade bonanza resulting from the widening of the Panama Canal means that the $392 million project to dredge another five feet of mud and rock from the bottom of the river near Philadelphia does not automatically mean that more ships will call at the local ports, experts said.

What’s more, environmentalists warn that the dredging project will harm the health of the river and will likely bring saltwater closer to Philadelphia’s drinking water intakes.

Even to reap the expected benefits of the long-delayed project – now six years into the dredging project and 24 years since its first funding was appropriated by Congress – ports on both sides of the river will have to play to their strengths. Continue Reading

Wayne County landowners sue DRBC to allow gas drilling along the Delaware

A view of the Delaware River from Morrisville, Pa.

Kim Paynter / WHYY

A view of the Delaware River from Morrisville, Pa.

A new lawsuit seeks to jump start natural gas drilling in Northeast Pennsylvania along the Delaware River where a defacto moratorium on Marcellus Shale gas production has been in place for six years. The federal suit filed by the Wayne Land and Mineral Group challenges the authority of the Delaware River Basin Commission to regulate natural gas drilling. The DRBC, a four-state agency that includes a federal representative, oversees water quality for the Delaware River based on a compact signed back in 1961. The lawsuit argues the DRBC has overreached its authority.

“The Commission, relying on the enormous power that it contends has been delegated to it by Section 3.8 of the Compact, and seeking to placate those State governments and special interest groups opposed to natural gas development, has declared that all natural gas well pads and related facilities targeting shale formations in the Basin are “projects” that it will review under Section 3.8 of the Compact.”

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Pennsylvania still working on Clean Power Plan, but won’t meet deadline

Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley speaks to members of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Emma Lee/WHYY

Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley speaks to members of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

While President Obama’s initiative to get states to cut carbon emissions — known as the Clean Power Plan — is being challenged in federal court by 24 states, Pennsylvania is still moving forward with its plans.

Speaking to members of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning, state Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said his agency will not submit a formal plan to the federal government until the court battles are over. A court ruling on the controversial initiative may not be issued until next year.

“The rule isn’t final and we can’t shoot at a moving target,” he told reporters after the event. Continue Reading

Pipeline opponents target FERC in a week of actions

Pipeline opponents and climate activists protest outside the home of FERC commissioner Clark. The activists say FERC is a captured agency that rubber stamps pipeline projects.

courtesy of Beyond Extreme Energy

Pipeline opponents and climate activists protest outside the home of FERC commissioner Tony Clark. The activists say FERC is a captured agency that rubber stamps pipeline projects.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the target of a week-long series of protests by pipeline opponents who say the agency is a “rubber stamp” for industry. Seven people were arrested blocking the driveway entrance to the agency on Monday, while others plan to picket the homes of FERC commissioners, and disrupt the agency’s monthly meeting on Thursday. But the disruption will have to take place outside of FERC headquarters. On Wednesday, FERC decided the public will only be able to view the agency’s proceedings via webcast.

Melinda Tuhus is a spokeswoman for the group Beyond Extreme Energy and was one of those arrested on Monday as part of what the group is calling the “Rubber Stamp Rebellion.”

“The reason we’re going to the commissioner’s homes is, they don’t listen and they need to be held accountable,” said Tuhus. Continue Reading

State revives energy efficiency loans for homeowners

Lizzie Rottweil stands outside her house in South Philadelphia, where energy efficiency improvements helped reduce her winter energy bills by about $40 a month.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Lizzie Rothweil stands outside her house in South Philadelphia, where energy efficiency improvements helped reduce her winter energy bills by about $40 a month.

Pennsylvania has revived a program that helps homeowners secure low interest loans to make energy efficiency improvements. KeystoneHELP is a public private partnership between the Pennsylvania Treasury Department, Renew Financial, and the nonprofit Energy Programs Consortium. Through the program, Pennsylvania homeowners can get up to $20,000 to make home improvements including more efficient HVAC equipment, water heaters, air conditioning, roofing, insulation and windows.

Philadelphia architect Lizzie Rothwell says she and her husband used the energy efficiency loan to install new roof insulation and replace the duct work in their 2-bedroom South Philly home. She says this reduced their winter energy bills by $40 a month.

“We talk about the energy use of our cars but I don’t think people think about their homes that much and its really important,” she said. “It’s a huge huge percentage [of total energy use].” Continue Reading

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