At a June 2015 press conference, GOP House Speaker Mike Turzai voiced his opposition to a severance tax while reading directly from a booklet of talking points prepared by EQT, a major drilling company near his home district in southwestern Pa.
Over the years, both Republicans and Democrats in Harrisburg have wanted to raise revenue by passing a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drillers. Polls have consistently shown a majority of Pennsylvania voters support it. Last year, the idea helped propel Democrat Tom Wolf into the governor’s mansion.
But now, as Wolf and the Republican-led legislature struggle to reach a budget deal after a nearly five-month long standoff, the severance tax is once again off the table.
The tax has been debated since the shale boom took off, so why hasn’t it happened?
There are two main reasons: lawmakers who loathe raising taxes– and lobbyists.
Nichole Mazurek, of Middlesex Township, at an anti-fracking protest with her three children, Samantha, 8, Ian, 3, and Alyson 6.
Environmentalists attacked a county court ruling that backs one township’s change of zoning rules to promote natural gas development, saying the decision is likely to encourage other municipalities in Pennsylvania to open up more of their land to the gas industry.
Opponents of a Middlesex Township measure to increase the amount of land that can be zoned for industrial uses such as natural gas development said that the decision by the Butler County Court of Common Pleas last week could set a precedent among some other townships that are planning similar changes.
The ruling, by Judge S. Michael Yeager, represents a setback for advocates of local control over gas drilling after the landmark Robinson Township ruling in December 2013 in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that townships have a constitutional responsibility to establish zoning to protect the health and safety of their residents. Continue Reading →
Governor Wolf says the tentative budget deal he'd reached with Republicans is now starting to fall apart.
A tentative outline for a state budget looks like it could crumble this week, dealing a bitter reality check to Governor Tom Wolf and the top lawmakers who said they could deliver a spending plan by Thanksgiving.
“Unfortunately, that work looks like it’s in peril, deep peril,” said Wolf on Monday. He made his remarks at the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon, a monthly event attended by reporters, lobbyists, and other Capitol observers.
Two weeks ago, Wolf stood beside top Republican and Democratic lawmakers to announce the outline of a budget deal – something to end the standstill that has cut off state funding for schools and many social services since July.
Both sides tell different stories about why the precarious pact is faltering.
A Cabot Oil and Gas well in Northeast Pennsylvania. Production in the Marcellus Shale helped boost the country's proven gas reserves to record levels in 2014.
Nationwide, the amount of gas that producers can afford to get out of the ground, broke records in 2014, topping 388 trillion cubic feet, according to a new report from the Energy Information Administration. A big chunk of these proven natural gas reserves came from Pennsylvania’s operators, who added 10.4 trillion cubic feet of gas to 2014’s totals. For the first time, natural gas from shale formations represents more than half of all proven U.S. gas reserves.
Shale oil drillers in North Dakota and Texas contributed to the bump in proven reserves of oil, which were greater than 39 billion barrels, making 2014 the fourth highest year on record.
Fadel Gheit is an energy analyst with Openheimer. He says horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing as a technology drove the increased proven reserves for both oil and gas.
“We thought we could only get the low hanging fruit because we couldn’t reach the fruit at the top of the tree,” Gheit told StateImpact. “But now we have a ladder, now we have a crane. We can get anything we want.” Continue Reading →
In this photo taken April 9, 2015, people play with their dogs in view of train tank cars with placards indicating petroleum crude oil standing idle on the tracks, in Philadelphia. With the drop in crude oil prices worldwide, Philadelphia area refineries are starting to take more shipments from abroad.
The drop in global oil prices means the number of black crude-by-rail tank cars may become less prominent along the state’s rail lines. Philadelphia area refiners have begun to import more crude from abroad. And oil train traffic has leveled off for the first time this fall, after rising dramatically between 2012 and the early part of 2015. Shipments from the Midwest to the East Coast peaked in March of this year at 13,336 barrels, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. But since then the flow of Bakken crude to the Delaware Valley has declined. The American Association of Railroads reports a 10.1 percent reduction in crude-by-rail during the first nine months of 2015, compared to the same time period in 2014.
Feidel Gheit, senior energy analyst with Oppenheimer, says the curb in oil train traffic is simple supply and demand.
“We have reached cruising altitude and we are about to descend,” said Gheit. ”It has been increasing every year for the last five years, now it is coming into a plateau and the EIA data supports the fact that we are seeing more demand for West African crude. It’s more competitive, it’s as simple as that.”
A crew works on a well site in Zelionople, Pa. 2012.
The owners of five Pennsylvania natural gas processing plants have reached a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly failing to take measures to guard against spills and leaks on their sites in McKean and Warren Counties, the EPA said on Thursday.
Elkhorn Investments and Elkhorn Gas Processing, both based in Oklahoma, have agreed to pay a penalty of $50,221 and correct defects at the plants that could have had major environmental impacts if they had led to spills or leaks of oil and gas, and related products, the federal agency said.
Although no such incidents occurred, the company failed to take measures to prevent them from happening, the EPA said. It said the company violated regulations that require it to build drainage and spill containment areas, ensure proper venting on waste oil tanks, and install barriers to prevent trucks hitting storage tanks.
DEP Secretary John Quigley at Wednesday's Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force meeting.
At a recent press conference, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley joked with reporters that he’d assembled “the world’s largest committee” to try to deal with the state’s building boom of natural gas pipelines.
He was in a decidedly less jovial mood Wednesday as he tried to corral the 48-member group. Quigley didn’t want them to parse every word of the committee’s 335 page draft report, which contains 184 separate recommendations.
“Folks need to take a breath and realize these are broad recommendations,” he said.
The Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force is comprised of people from government, industry, and environmental groups. The idea is to bring planning and best practices to pipeline projects that move Marcellus Shale products to new markets. Some industry representatives were reluctant to endorse recommendations they viewed as too specific. Continue Reading →
Southwest Philadelphia resident Teresa Hill speaks at a community meeting organized by opponents of the proposed “energy hub” plan.
As business and political interests in Philadelphia push to make the city an “energy hub” for processing and utilizing Marcellus Shale gas, opponents lashed out against the idea at a community meeting Tuesday night.
The lack of community involvement regarding energy hub plans was among the complaints aired at Grace Christian Fellowship Church in Southwest Philadelphia where about 50 people turned out to voice objections. One of them was neighborhood resident Teresa Hill.
“We’re asking them what is going on with this expansion plan and to stop it,” Hill said. “Who cares? We care… [L]et’s unite and fight. This is our community and let’s take it back.”
The meeting organizers said their goal was to build momentum against the “energy hub” by involving residents who live near the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) oil refinery. However, organizers seemed to confuse longstanding pollution concerns emanating from the refinery with plans for an energy hub.
PES CEO Phil Rinaldi is leading the charge to bring more shale gas to Philadelphia, which would mean building new pipelines to transport the cheap natural gas from Northeast Pennsylvania to the city, and revive its manufacturing sector.
Turning the idea into actual plans, however, has yet to materialize. And the vagueness of the project was illustrated by the confusion and misinformation expressed by several participants at the meeting. Continue Reading →
A Lancaster County schoolteacher and opponent of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline had a disorderly conduct conviction against her thrown out by a county judge Tuesday.
In April, 54-year-old Kimberly Kann was arrested for failing to follow special meeting rules in Conestoga Township, which permitted people to ask questions but barred them from making statements. During the meeting Kann stood up to correct what she viewed as misstatements about a ballot initiative to study home rule. Pipeline opponents had been pushing for the measure in an effort to block the Atlantic Sunrise project.
Although the disorderly conduct conviction was $325 between a fine and court costs, Kann spent about $3,000 appealing it.
“I’ve had a lot of crap thrown at me over this,” she says. “But if you’re not willing to deal with that, and spend the money, it ends with people who speak up getting thrown out of the room. That’s scary to me.”
Things were already pretty bad for Pennsylvania’s coal industry, and the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan will make things worse. That’s the message from industry to a joint hearing of the state’s House and Senate coal caucuses on Tuesday.
“We talk about the perfect storm, what we are in the midst of is the perfect nightmare for coal,” said Emily Medine, a coal consultant with Energy Ventures Analysis.
Medine said the coal industry has taken a hit from low natural gas prices, which has displaced coal in electric power generation, and the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which has led to a large number of domestic coal-plant closures. Since 2010, six Pennsylvania coal powered electric plants have announced plans to close.
Overseas, the strong U.S. dollar has also made coal uncompetitive, to the point where Pennsylvania coal exports have screeched to a halt. And this year’s predicted mild winter won’t help demand.