Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Gov. Wolf signs bill that rejects conventional drilling regulations

Kimberly Paynter/Newsworks.org

Kimberly Paynter / Newsworks

Governor Wolf signed into law a new package of regulations for Marcellus Shale drillers that have been five years in the making.

Governor Wolf signed a bill that would scrap the conventional oil and gas regulations, while new rules for Marcellus Shale wells move forward. Wolf also approved a new climate change regulation that lengthens the time lawmakers get to review the administration’s plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to comply with Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The new drilling rules have been in the works since lawmakers updated the state’s oil and gas law back in 2012.

Environmentalists criticized Wolf’s decision to scrap the proposed rules for the conventional, more shallow gas wells, which are not necessarily produced with the use of fracking. Wolf’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan told StateImpact last week that the entire package of conventional and unconventional well regulations was in jeopardy unless the administration compromised and tabled the conventional drilling wells. Wolf said in a release that he was “pleased to have reached a bi-partisan agreement with the legislature” to enact the unconventional well regulations. Continue Reading

Appeals court clears way for eminent domain suit against Sunoco Logistics

Opponents of the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline argues that Sunoco Logistics has no right to obtain land along the route by using eminent domain.

Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Opponents of the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline argues that Sunoco Logistics has no right to obtain land along the route by using eminent domain.

A Pennsylvania appeals court on Wednesday rejected an attempt by Sunoco Logistics to throw out a challenge to its planned Mariner East 2 pipeline, clearing the way for the environmental group Clean Air Council to argue against the company’s use of eminent domain to build the pipeline.

The Commonwealth Court denied the company’s request for an immediate review of an earlier decision by the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which ruled in favor of the environmental group and two affected landowners.

Alex Bomstein, an attorney for the Clean Air Council, said the group now expects the case to go back to the Common Pleas court which will hear arguments on the eminent domain case. Continue Reading

DEP launches investigation into Doylestown-area private water well contamination

The former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and present day Horsham Air Guard Station is shown Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Horsham, Pa. The military is checking whether chemicals from firefighting foam might have contaminated groundwater at hundreds of sites nationwide and potentially tainted drinking water, the Defense Department said.

Matt Rourke

The former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and present day Horsham Air Guard Station where the military is checking whether chemicals from firefighting foam might have contaminated groundwater at hundreds of sites nationwide and potentially tainted drinking water. The DEP is investigating whether the same chemicals are present at dangerous levels in the Doylestown area.

Last month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency instituted more rigorous health advisory levels for chemicals called polyfluorinated compounds or PFCs.

Suddenly, a well on Easton Road in Bucks County known to contain PFC’s was above the new, stricter cutoff.

As of 2016, the new recommended lifetime exposure level in drinking water for two PFCs — known as PFOS and PFOA — is no more than 0.07 part per billion. The contaminated well near the Cross Keys Place shopping center clocked in at 0.24 ppb.

“That well was taken offline almost immediately,” said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Virginia Cain, later confirming that the contaminated well served 240 connections, most of them businesses. According to the Bucks County Courier-Times, that well was known to register high levels of PFCs as early as 2015.

The DEP announced Tuesday it will fan out and test the approximately 250 private wells in a 1-mile radius from the contaminated water source.

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Former environmental secretary hired by University of Pennsylvania

john quigley speaks

Emma Lee / WHYY

Former DEP Secretary John Quigley was hired by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

A month after his controversial departure from the state Department of Environmental Protection, former Secretary John Quigley has landed a new job as a Senior Fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.

“It’s exciting. I am very happy to be at Kleinman,” Quigley tells StateImpact Pennsylvania. “There are a lot of really talented, smart people.”

Quigley left DEP in May, following controversy over a profanity-tinged email he sent to environmental groups, criticizing them for not doing enough to support tougher environmental regulations for the oil and gas industry.

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Beaver County ‘upskills’ to prepare for Shell plant

This 2015 photo provided by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development shows a former zinc smelting site where Shell Chemical Appalachia plans to build a petrochemical plant in Potter Township in Beaver County near Monaca, Pa. Shell Chemical Appalachia announced its formal commitment to the project on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, saying the plant will process ethane from Marcellus and Utica shale wells to create plastics used in food packaging and auto parts. The company said construction would begin within 18 months with the goal of bringing the plant online early in the 2020s, creating up to 6,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs.

Larry Rippel/Allegheny Conference on Community Development via AP

This 2015 photo shows a former zinc smelting site where Shell Chemical Appalachia plans to build a petrochemical plant in Potter Township, Beaver County near Monaca, Pa.

In early June, after years of waiting and negotiating, Shell Chemical Appalachia signed on to build a multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker plant in Potter Township, Beaver County. The plant will turn ethane, which the Marcellus Shale creates an excess of, into a compound that is used in the creation of plastics. With heavy tax incentives, Pennsylvania beat out Ohio and West Virginia to attract the plant, which will create an estimated 6,000 temporary construction jobs and then 600 full-time plant jobs once it’s up and running.

In a statement, Governor Tom Wolf said this “game-changing” plant is the largest investment in Pennsylvania since World War II, and the first major plant built outside the Gulf Coast in 20 years.

Wolf told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ”The feedstock is here. The workforce is here. Let’s go.”

Inspiring words at an exciting time for the region. But is it true?

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Report: gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pa. legislature in 2015

A new analysis finds the gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pennsylvania politicians in 2015.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A new analysis finds the gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pennsylvania politicians in 2015.

The natural gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pennsylvania politicians last year, according to a new analysis from the nonpartisan government reform group, Common Cause/PA, and the Conservation Voters of PA.

The project, called MarcellusMoney, is an ongoing effort to track the political influence of Pennsylvania’s gas drillers, who have spent $55.9 million on lobbying since 2007.

Last year drillers spent $733,635 on campaign contributions. Common Cause/PA Executive Director, Barry Kauffman says Pennsylvania is at “the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to campaign finance laws. It’s one of 11 states with no limits on campaign contributions.

“When industry comes in and gives tens of thousands of dollars to legislators, that would be illegal in most other states,” says Kauffman. “We really have to join the other states, which have recognized the power of political money and the influence it can have on determining public policy.”

He points to the legislature’s perennial failure to pass a gas severance tax to raise revenue and inaction on royalties legislation to protect mineral owners. Earlier this month, the conventional oil and gas industry successfully blocked new environmental regulations that were years in the making.

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Royalties bill makes very brief appearance at State Capitol

A bill aimed at ensuring royalty owners are paid fairly.

Scott LaMar / WITF-FM

"There's a reason everybody hates oil and gas companies," says Jackie Root, head of the National Association of Royalty Owners PA Chapter. "They got so outrageously greedy."

A bill aimed at ensuring oil and gas royalty owners are paid fairly made a fleeting appearance at the Pennsylvania Capitol this week.

“I succeeded in bringing attention to the issue and to the bill,” says Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), who on Tuesday attached, and then quickly withdrew, his royalties bill as an amendment to another measure that ultimately passed the House and Senate.

In the wake of the Marcellus Shale boom, leaseholders have been complaining for years that they’re getting cheated out of royalty money by some of the nation’s biggest gas drillers. Before withdrawing the amendment, Everett spoke on the House floor and urged his colleagues to support changes to the state’s royalties law. He says the maneuver was simply to raise the profile of the issue.

“I got immediate feedback from the the governmental affairs folks from the Marcellus Shale Coalition and other gas producers,” says Everett. “They disagree with the premise of the bill and said, ‘Why are you doing this again?’ I said, ‘I’m doing this because royalty owners aren’t getting paid fairly.’”

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Gas drilling impact fees fall to $188 million

A drill rig in Susquehanna County.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill rig in Susquehanna County. The county will receive $5.2 million in impact fees this year.

As expected Pennsylvania’s gas drilling impact fees fell to the lowest amount ever last year, according to figures released by the state Public Utility Commission Wednesday.

The fees brought in $187.7 million in 2015– down from $223.5 million collected the year before. Over the pas five years, the fees have brought in more than a billion dollars. Much of the money stays at the local level and is distributed to the the counties and municipalities with the most shale wells.

This year Washington County will receive the most money, $5.6 million, followed by Susquehanna and Bradford counties, which will get $5.2 million and $4.9 million respectively. Checks are expected to go out before July 1.

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Lawsuit accuses Range Resources and lab of doctoring water test results

This July 27, 2011 file photo shows a farmhouse in the background framed by pipes connecting pumps where the hydraulic fracturing process in the Marcellus Shale layer to release natural gas was underway at a Range Resources site in Claysville, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

This photo taken July 27, 2011 shows a farmhouse in the background framed by pipes connecting pumps where the hydraulic fracturing process was underway at a Range Resources site in Claysville, Pa.

A water testing company that worked with Range Resources to evaluate whether or not residential water supplies were contaminated is defending itself against a lawsuit that claims the company allowed the gas driller to alter a print out of the test results, which Range then submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP used the altered results, in part, to conclude that the Washington County residents’ drinking water was safe, and passed on the lab results to the residents. The family, John, Beth and Ashley Voyles, had also had their water tested as part of the EPA’s landmark fracking study, and say they agreed to the testing only if they would have access to the results. The EPA came to the opposite conclusion of DEP, advising the Voyles not to drink their water. Before receiving the test results, the Voyles had already stopped drinking their water, which they say made them sick.

The company, TestAmerica, has facilities across the U.S. and is a member of the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition. The company’s website declares itself “the leader in environmental testing.” TestAmerica is defending itself against a civil lawsuit brought by the Voyles who say the company conspired with the gas driller to defraud them of accurate test results, which would have revealed dangerous contaminants. The accusations are part of a larger case against Range Resources, and attorneys representing TestAmerica will be in Washington County Court of Common Pleas on Thursday, in an attempt to get the company dismissed from the civil suit. Continue Reading

Rift grows between Wolf and environmentalists

Governor Tom Wolf

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

"I don't know why he's caving on the environment," Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) says of Governor Tom Wolf. "But he clearly is caving."

As Pennsylvania’s July 1 budget deadline looms, Governor Tom Wolf is finding common ground with the Republican-led legislature on bills affecting climate change policy and regulations for the oil and gas industry.

But it’s leading to a growing rift between his administration and environmentalists.

“He’s caving on the environment”

“The environment has historically been the low man on the totem pole in budget negotiations,”says Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware).  ”It’s frequently been traded off by the Democrats to get other things.”

Last week Vitali called a press conference to blast Wolf for what he views as a failure to prioritize the environment. Vitali is particularly upset the governor is on board with a Republican-led effort to kill tougher regulations for the conventional oil and gas industry.

“I don’t know why he’s caving on the environment, but he clearly is caving,” Vitali says.

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