Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Mariner East 2: Sunoco’s public utility status trumps local regulation, court says

An aerial view of Sunoco Pipeline's Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Plans for a new construction technique in some locations have prompted a new round of community resistance.

Jeremy Long / Lebanon Daily News

An aerial view of Sunoco Pipeline's Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania.

Sunoco won a court battle over the siting of its Mariner East 2 pipeline on Tuesday when a panel of judges ruled against an effort to assert local control over where the pipeline can be built.

The Commonwealth Court rejected an appeal by four plaintiffs who argued that Sunoco is violating a zoning ordinance in Chester County’s West Goshen Township that sets the distance a pipeline can be built from houses, and that the ordinance should not be overridden by state regulations.

But the court upheld a county court ruling last fall that the local regulations are pre-empted by the pipeline’s status as a public utility project, as determined by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

“We hold that the Township lacks authority to zone out a public utility pipeline service or pipeline facility regulated by the PUC,” the court wrote in an majority opinion.

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Philadelphia Energy Solutions: A giant polluter looms over the lives — and health — of its neighbors

Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest refiner on the East Coast, taking Bakken Shale oil from North Dakota and turning it into gasoline. The company is the largest stationary emitter of particulate matter in the city.

courtesy of Peter DeCarlo

Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest refiner on the East Coast, taking Bakken Shale oil from North Dakota and turning it into gasoline. The company is the largest stationary emitter of particulate matter in the city.

Zalaka Thompson lives less than a mile from the largest oil refinery on the East Coast, which turns crude oil from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota into gasoline. The Schuylkill Expressway, a major interstate highway, separates her home from Philadelphia Energy Solutions, and she says the facility impacts her family daily.

Her 14-year old son has asthma and carries an inhaler with him at all times. Some mornings, she can’t keep her windows open for long without smelling something akin to sulfur or gas.

“I like to open my windows for fresh air, but sometimes I have to close them,” she says.

The refinery is Philadelphia’s single largest stationary source of particulate pollution, according to city data. Particulate matter includes a mix of tiny particles that can damage lungs and cause respiratory diseases. In the 19145 zip code, which Thompson and her son call home, asthma is common among children, and the rates of hospitalization for the ailment are among the highest in the city.

Earlier this month, after years of financial strain caused by a drop in global oil prices, PES filed for bankruptcy. It blames its most recent financial problems on federal biofuel requirements, which mandate ethanol comprise a percentage of refined gasoline. PES CEO Greg Gatta describes the bankruptcy filing as a restructuring of debt that “positions PES well for the future with a sustainable capital structure and additional liquidity.”

But even as PES moves toward financial sustainability, neighbors like Thompson say the refinery isn’t doing enough to reduce its environmental impact locally. She hopes the bankruptcy will inspire the company to rethink how it does business across the board. Continue Reading

Landowners brace for eminent domain loss in PennEast pipeline cases

From the porch of her Palmerton farmhouse, Albertine Anthony looks out on the rolling hills of lower Carbon County. She believes the PennEast pipeline's proposed route through her 124-acre farm threatens her water supply.

Emma Lee / WHYY

From the porch of her Palmerton farmhouse, Albertine Anthony looks out on the rolling hills of lower Carbon County. She believes the PennEast pipeline's proposed route through her 124-acre farm threatens her water supply.

Albertine Anthony has been living in the same picturesque Carbon County farmhouse since she was born 93 years ago, and she’s not going anywhere even if PennEast builds a natural gas pipeline across her land.

Anthony, a tiny figure with a slight stoop and a shock of white hair, was offered $37,000 by the company as compensation for building the pipeline across a corner of her 124-acre farm that was first purchased by her grandfather, and where tenants now grow crops including corn and oats.

She might have gotten used to the idea if the company hadn’t changed its plans and redrawn the pipeline route so that it crossed a wetland containing the spring that has supplied her house with water for three generations.

The idea that pipeline construction might destroy the spring that provides fresh, clear water by gravity – even to the second floor of her house – has set her firmly against PennEast’s plans and led her to tell them that she’s not accepting their compensation at any price.

“You can give me any amount of money but you can’t replace that spring, and you can’t replace the good taste that it has,” she said in an interview at her kitchen table. “If they hit that vein when they are going down, then everything is finished.” Continue Reading

Chester County township adds to local challenges on Mariner East 2 siting

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.

Chester County’s Uwchlan Township mounted the latest local challenge to Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline this week when its supervisors voted unanimously to enforce an ordinance that requires any hazardous liquids pipeline to be set back from buildings further than the distance currently under construction.

The three-person board, elected last November on a platform of protecting the public from any threat to safety from the pipeline, instructed the township solicitor to file suit against Sunoco, saying that the current construction would violate setback provisions in the ordinance. Continue Reading

DEP extends comment period for Shell’s ethane pipeline

Environmental groups at a rally against Shell's Beaver County petrochemical complex in Pittsburgh. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Environmental groups at a rally against Shell's Beaver County petrochemical complex in Pittsburgh. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will extend the public comment period for Shell’s 97-mile Falcon pipeline, which will carry ethane to the company’s $6 billion petrochemical plant in Western Pennsylvania.

The DEP will also hold public hearings in each of the three counties the pipeline route traverses: Washington, Allegheny, and Beaver counties. Instead of the comment period closing on Feb. 20, it will be extended to April 17, the DEP said in a news release. Continue Reading

Sunoco can resume Mariner East 2 drilling at Chester County site, DEP says

Eric Friedman, right, who lives nearby, takes video of a Mariner East 2 pipeline work site at Shepherd Lane in Glen Mills on Wednesday. Because of permit violations, construction of Sunoco's Mariner East 2 pipeline was halted Wednesday by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which said the company must meet certain conditions before it will be able to resume work.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Because of permit violations, construction of Sunoco's Mariner East 2 pipeline was halted last month by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which said the company must meet certain conditions before it will be able to resume work. On Thursday, the DEP allowed Sunoco to begin construction in Chester County.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday that Sunoco can restart drilling for the Mariner East 2 pipeline at a Chester County site where some private well owners experienced cloudy water last summer.

DEP issued a statement saying Sunoco had met requirements to resume horizontal directional drilling at the Shoen Road site, where officials halted drilling in July after it impacted some private water supplies in West Whiteland and Uwchlan Townships. Continue Reading

Environmental group: Methane pollution higher than PA thinks

Scientists from Carnegie Mellon use mobile labs to detect methane leaks from the natural gas industry.  Photo: Reid Frazier

As part of a research effort in 2016, scientists from Carnegie Mellon use mobile labs to detect methane leaks from the natural gas industry. Photo: Reid Frazier

An environmental group says that Pennsylvania’s gas drilling industry is releasing much more methane into the atmosphere than the state is reporting.

Scientists at the Environmental Defense Fund calculated Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale industry is emitting twice as much methane as companies are reporting to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The analysis, posted to the group’s website, is based on 16 peer-reviewed studies funded in part by EDF, including some involving oil and gas companies.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, and is a powerful greenhouse gas. Over the course of 20 years, methane is as much as 86 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

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Sierra Club, Brunner Island agree: Plant will move from coal to natural gas

PPL's Brunner Island  coal-fired plant located on the west bank of Susquehanna River.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

PPL's Brunner Island coal-fired plant, on the west bank of Susquehanna River, plans to stop burning coal by 2029.

A coal-fired power plant in York County has agreed to burn cleaner natural gas under a settlement reached with the Sierra Club.

The Brunner Island Power Plant had come under fire by environmentalists for air and water pollution.

The Sierra Club and Talen Energy, which operates the plant, have reached an agreement to avoid a lawsuit. Under the settlement, the plant by 2023 will burn gas instead of coal during the summer when ozone is at its worst. The facility will run solely on natural gas by 2029.

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In New Jersey, opponents of offshore drilling gear up for a fight

Fisherman Jim Lovgren says drilling off the Jersey coast is not worth the risk. The Trump administration has proposed opening up the entire eastern seaboard to offshore drilling.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Fisherman Jim Lovgren says drilling off the Jersey coast is not worth the risk. The Trump administration has proposed opening up the entire eastern seaboard to offshore drilling.

Jim Lovgren is a third-generation fisherman and captains the Shadowfax. At the Fisherman’s Coop in Point Pleasant New Jersey recently, he watched as about a half-dozen men sorted freshly caught scup — or porgies — into bins.

“These fish they’ll be put in a cooler by tonight,” he said. “There could be 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of fish on the docks today. They will all be on their way to New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. We ship anywhere from Canada down past North Carolina.”

Lovgren grew up trawling the waters off Sandy Hook. He says the fishery is already stressed from rising ocean temperatures. While there used to be dozens of fishing boats here, Lovgren said today there’s only a handful. He worries that if oil and gas companies drill offshore, he’ll be put out of business.

“Blackback flounders are just about extinct in this area here,” he said. “That was a major fishery. yellowtail flounders, codfish, lobsters are disappearing off the Jersey coast and it’s all because the water’s getting too warm.”

Lovgren knows that burning fossil fuels is connected to climate change, warming oceans and his disappearing fish. Still, he said, he needs fossil fuel to trawl the ocean floor.

“Look, a fishing boat, it runs on diesel fuel. You have to have energy. We have to have energy.”

But President Trump’s offshore drilling proposal is an immediate threat to his livelihood, and he’s gearing up to fight it.

Lovgren, along with other fishermen, environmentalists, realtors, and local business owners, descended on a hotel near Trenton Thursday voicing their unified opposition to drilling for oil and natural gas off the coast of New Jersey. Continue Reading

13,500 PA homes still without safe heating source this winter

A pipeline moves natural gas through the Mid-Atlantic region during frigid winter months when many homes rely on gas for heat. This winter in Pennsylvania, more than 13,000 households lack a safe home heating source.

A pipeline moves natural gas through the Mid-Atlantic region during frigid winter months when many homes rely on gas for heat. This winter in Pennsylvania, more than 13,000 households lack a safe home heating source.

As Pennsylvania moves into the latter part of winter, 13,500 households that started the season without a safe source of heat still don’t have one.

Data released Wednesday by Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission shows there are fewer homes without a utility heating service this winter compared to last year. But when money’s tight, many families still turn to heating sources that pose fire risks.

“Typically when you’re looking at a home that’s using unsafe heat, it would be using things like fireplaces and space heaters in lieu of their central heating systems,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a spokesperson for the commission. Continue Reading

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