Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Ahead of Wolf’s budget plan, Republicans discuss Marcellus tax bills

State Rep. Kate Harper (R- Montgomery) holds up a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer with a story about the downturn in drilling.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Rep. Kate Harper (R- Montgomery) holds up a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer with a story about the downturn in drilling.

A day before Governor Tom Wolf is expected to unveil another attempt at taxing Marcellus Shale drillers, House Republicans were discussing their own proposals.

The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held an informational meeting Monday to look at two Republican-backed severance tax bills. Rep. John Maher (R- Allegheny) chairs the committee. He says he wants to make sure any new tax won’t hurt the state’s business climate.

“This industry that was once in a boom, is now in a bust,” he says. “And ultimately, we need to have a safe environment, but we need to be the best place for the drilling and production of natural gas.”

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Landowners brace for start of tree-felling by Constitution Pipeline builders

Shale gas pipeline like this in Zelienople is scheduled for construction across Susquehanna County.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

Workers install a shale gas pipeline in Zelienople, Butler County.

Landowners in Susquehanna County prepared for a last-minute confrontation with tree-felling crews who were expected to begin clearing forest on Friday to make way for the planned Constitution Pipeline to take natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale into New York State.

Opponents of the tree-clearing plan said three landowners in New Milford Township have not accepted offers of compensation from the pipeline operators, and have lost their challenges to the company’s assertion of eminent domain to build the pipeline on their land.

The tree-felling, which critics said was due to begin at 7 a.m. Friday, was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on January 29 as part of an implementation plan for construction of the 124-mile pipeline, which begins in Northeast Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County. Most of the line would be built in New York State. Continue Reading

Board approves state’s new oil and gas regulations

A view of active fracking operations in Susquehanna County.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A view of active fracking operations in Susquehanna County.

The state has moved one step closer to finalizing new oil and gas regulations. The Environmental Quality Board voted Wednesday to approve the Department of Environmental Protection’s updates to Chapter 78 and 78A, the regulations that oversee everything from permitting wells to waste handling and restoration. A majority of the Board (15-4) approved the proposal despite opposition from some lawmakers and even two of DEP’s own advisory boards. The new rules are the first comprehensive updates to oil and gas regulations since drilling in the Marcellus Shale began.

Several lawmakers offered amendments, but all were rejected by the Board. The proposals result from a four-year process following the 2012 legislative overhaul of the state’s oil and gas law known as Act 13. The proposals garnered nearly 30,000 public comments to DEP.  The new rules have irked both environmental groups and industry, which view the regulations as either too timid, or too far-reaching.
DEP Secretary John Quigley defended the new rules.

“These updated rules are long overdue and it’s time to get them across the finish line for the protection of public health, for industry certainty, and for the protection of our state’s environment,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “The changes are incremental, balanced, and appropriate, and are the result of one of the most transparent and engaged public processes in the history of the agency.”

The proposed rules will now be reviewed by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committees.

Low gas price cuts impact-fee revenue for Pa. counties and municipalities

The impact fee has helped fund rural road repairs resulting from drilling related truck traffic.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A fracking waste water truck runs along a backroad in Northeast Pa. The impact fee has helped fund repairs to rural roads damaged by drilling related truck traffic. But the drilling and the traffic slowed down in 2015, leading to reduced payments.

Pennsylvania’s local authorities will lose millions of dollars in fees from the natural gas industry this year because of lower gas prices in 2015.

The Public Utility Commission announced on Jan. 30 that mostly because of the sharp fall in gas prices, it would be reducing the amounts paid to municipalities and counties from impact fees charged to operators under Act 13, Pennsylvania’s wide-ranging gas industry law.

The fee paid for an unconventional well in its first year will be reduced by $5,000, or about 10 percent, to $45,300, the PUC said. It noted that the average price of natural gas at the Henry Hub dropped to $2.66 per million BTUs in 2015 from $4.37 in 2014. Continue Reading

Fracking in the forests: environmental groups ask for more public input

After nearly 500 angry people packed a DCNR meeting about drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest in 2013, the department said it did not keep a record of their comments. Environmental groups are now asking the department to create a  formal public participation process for major land-use decisions.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

After nearly 500 angry people packed a DCNR meeting about drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest in 2013, the department said it did not keep a record of their comments. Environmental groups are now asking the department to create a formal public participation process for major land-use decisions.

A coalition of 11 Pennsylvania environmental groups is urging the state to create a more formal public participation process when it comes to major land use decisions involving state forests, such as leasing mineral rights for oil and gas development.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is currently finalizing an update of its State Forest Resource Management Plan. The document is a strategic road map for the DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry.

A letter from the Save the Loyalsock Coalition urges DCNR to model public participation on the federal government’s process. The coalition includes groups such as PennFuture, PennEnvironment, the PA Forest Coalition, and Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter.

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House Republicans to revive gas royalties bill

Rep. Garth Everett (R- Lycoming)

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

House Republicans unveiled the new royalties bill at a June 2015 press conference. They want to revive the effort this spring.

Republicans in the state House are reviving a bipartisan bill aimed at preventing natural gas companies from shortchanging people on royalty money.

HB 1391 was introduced last summer and has 37 co-sponsors from both parties. Rep. Garth Everett (R- Lycoming) is the prime sponsor and says he held back on pushing the measure during the state’s nearly six-month-long budget stalemate, but he continues to hear from people all over the state who are upset they’re not being paid fairly.

“I’m going to try to re-energize it,” he says of the bill. He’s working to organize a legislative hearing in Bradford County next month. The date is still to be determined.

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Gas royalties from state forest land drop sharply

Low natural gas prices mean the state will receive less royalty money from drilling in public forests this year.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Low natural gas prices mean the state will receive less royalty money from drilling in public forests this year.

Pennsylvania is getting a lot less royalty money from Marcellus Shale drilling on state forest land this year due to the low price of natural gas, according to a new analysis from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office.

“We’re seeing a large drop off, year-over-year, in the royalty payments,” says IFO director Matthew Knittel. “For the first six months of this fiscal year, royalty payments are about $31 million. That’s down 52 percent from the same six-month period last year.”

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PUC gives Philadelphia utility green light on raising fee to replace leaky gas mains

Kevin McDonald, PGW Senior Pipe Mechanic uses a compressor to back fill soil covering main and service pipelines in North Philadelphia.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Kevin McDonald, PGW Senior Pipe Mechanic uses a compressor to back fill soil covering main and service pipelines in North Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Gas Works customers will soon be paying a little bit extra to help speed up replacement of the utility’s old, leaky gas mains.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has given PGW the green light to raise its customer infrastructure surcharge by 2.5 percent. For the average consumer, that means paying about $1.65 more on their monthly gas bill. For the utility, spokesman Barry O’Sullivan said it means cutting the time it will take to replace less than 1,500 miles of old gas mains down from 88 years to 48 years.

“So in one stroke of the pen or in one considered ruling, we’ve been able to take 40 years off a length of time we anticipate it will take to replace the older elements of PGW’s infrastructure across Philadelphia,” O’Sullivan said.

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Shale gas boosts Delaware River port traffic

INEOS plans to begin exporting ethane to Norway and Scotland in mid-February. Eight new ships have been built for the project.

courtesy of INEOS

INEOS plans to begin exporting ethane to Norway and Scotland in mid-February. Eight new ships have been built for the project.

Ship traffic up and down the Delaware River is bouncing back after a slump that began in 2008 due to the Great Recession. In addition to the improved economy, a new export product has driven much of that growth — natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale.

Dennis Rochford leads the Maritime Exchange, which acts as a chamber of commerce for the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. He says propane and ethane from the Marcellus Shale are increasingly heading to Europe.

“This is going to be a growth of cargo on the river that will help expand overall the number of vessels arriving on the river.”

Rochford says ship traffic jumped ten percent between 2010 and 2015. Propane exports more than doubled from 2014 to 2015, jumping from 28 to 75. In mid-February, the first ships full of ethane are expected to leave the port of Philadelphia for Europe.

Rochford says at its peak, the river’s ports handled 2500 ships a year.

“It appears that the trend line now is going to move our port back up to the 2500 vessel arrivals, which is what the norm was prior to the recession,” he said. Continue Reading

Fuel oil spills into Schuylkill River

Oil and snow mix on the surface of the Schuylkill River in Center City Philadelphia. DEP says a total of 4200 gallons leaked from a nearby building. About 200 gallons have made it into the river.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Oil and snow mix on the surface of the Schuylkill River in Center City Philadelphia. DEP says a total of 4200 gallons leaked from a nearby building. About 200 gallons have made it into the river.

Environmental clean up crews continue to remediate the site of a 4200-gallon heating oil spill, some of which has contaminated the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. A strong hydro-carbon odor is present in the area of contamination, which appears as a reddish sheen of oil.

The City’s Office of Emergency Management says the leak resulted in between 200 to 250 gallons of home heating oil leaking into the river beginning Saturday night. The Philadelphia Water Department was alerted to the incident via Twitter and sent a crew over to investigate.

PWD spokesman John DiGiulio says the spill is downstream of the city’s water intakes, and poses no threat to drinking water supplies.

“PWD visited the site and investigated the report that night with a follow up visit Sunday and today,” said DiGiulio in an email. Continue Reading

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