Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

NJ officials say they need more information on PennEast pipeline project

A yard sign opposing the planned PennEast pipeline. New Jersey officials said they need much more information before making a decision on permits.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A yard sign opposing the planned PennEast pipeline. New Jersey officials said they need much more information before making a decision on permits.

New Jersey officials underlined their concerns about the controversial PennEast natural gas pipeline project in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission highlighting several areas where the pipeline’s builders have yet to submit information needed to obtain permits.

Bob Martin, Commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, told FERC on Thursday that the PennEast Pipeline Co. has obtained access to land in less than 35 percent of the New Jersey section of the route, which would run about 118 miles from Luzerne County, Pa. to Mercer County, N.J. Continue Reading

Judge rules that environmental group can challenge Sunoco over pipeline eminent domain

Huntingdon County landowner Ellen Gerhart (L) at her property with her daughter Elise Gerhart. The Gerharts lost an appeal against Sunoco Logistics' use of eminent domain on their land, but the company will now have to defend its policy in a Philadelphia court, the court ruled on Thursday.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Huntingdon County landowner Ellen Gerhart (L) at her property with her daughter Elise Gerhart. The Gerharts lost an appeal against Sunoco Logistics' use of eminent domain on their land, but the company will now have to defend its policy in a Philadelphia court, the court ruled on Thursday.

Sunoco Logistics’ use of eminent domain to take private land to build its Mariner East 2 pipeline came into question again on Thursday when a Philadelphia court ruled that an environmental group can argue that the practice is unconstitutional.

Judge Linda Carpenter of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas denied the company’s request to summarily dismiss a complaint by the Clean Air Council, clearing the way for a trial, possibly at the end of this year. Continue Reading

Friends and foes of gas industry converge on state Capitol

David Spigelmyer (left) heads the gas trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition. He testified Wednesday, along with Thad Hill, President and CEO of Calpine, a natural gas power company.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

David Spigelmyer (left) heads the gas trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition. He testified Wednesday before a joint Senate commitee, along with Thad Hill, President and CEO of Calpine, a major natural gas power company.

Two starkly different versions of reality were on display Wednesday morning at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Inside the building, a joint hearing by Republicans from the Senate Majority Policy Committee and Environmental Resources and Energy Committee examined the economic benefits natural gas production has brought Pennsylvania– with skyrocketing production, tens of thousands of new jobs, and more than a billion dollars in impact fee revenue. Outside, environmental groups and concerned citizens railed against the industry’s harmful air emissions, which exacerbate global climate change and can contribute to localized health effects.

At the Senate hearing, David Spigelmyer, president of the gas trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, described the game-changing role the gas industry has played in Pennsylvania– noting the state has surged to become the number two producer of gas in the nation, after Texas, and attracted $10 billion in investment toward new or converted natural gas power plants.

“We are at a povitol moment in Pennsylvania,” says Spigelmyer, “We have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage our indigenous resources to create a manufacturing resurgence and that could drive our economy, provide job opportunities, and establish a stable tax base for generations.”

Thad Hill of Calpine Corporation– the nation’s largest generator of electricity from natural gas and geothermal resources– told lawmakers that competitive electric market policies are working, noting the shift away from the dominance by coal, toward more natural gas.

“My key message today is that the market-driven competitive electric sector here in Pennsylvania is on a path to transition,” says Hill. “From one supported by older, less efficient and more costly power plants to one supported by newer, more efficient, less expensive and cleaner natural gas plants.”

Protesters hold large black balloons symbolizing the methane pollution from Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters hold large black balloons symbolizing the methane pollution from Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry.

After the hearing, about 40 people gathered on the Capitol steps, holding up large black balloons to symbolize the methane pollution created by the oil and gas industry. Nadia Steinzor, of the environmental group Earthworks, said she was disappointed the Senate hearing only focused on the benefits of the gas boom.

“I think it’s a real shame they only hear from one side, and not from the folks who are actually living the in gas fields,” she says.

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Older Pa. gas storage wells threaten methane leaks, study says

An academic study raised questions about the safety of underground storage of gas from wells like this in Dimock, Pa.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact PA

An academic study raised questions about the safety of underground storage of gas from wells like this in Dimock, Pa.

Pennsylvania has hundreds of underground natural gas storage sites that are vulnerable to methane leaks because they were built at least 60 years ago, and were probably never designed to store gas, according to a Harvard University study released on Tuesday.

The national study said Pennsylvania has 830 such sites that are in active use for gas storage, 370 of which are older wells that likely have design deficiencies such as only one casing.  One hundred twenty-three of them were built more than 100 years ago. Continue Reading

State senate confirms McDonnell as environmental secretary

The state senate has confirmed Patrick McDonnell as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The state senate has confirmed Patrick McDonnell as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

The state senate unanimously approved Governor Tom Wolf’s pick to head the state Department of Environmental Protection on Monday.

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell has been at the helm of the agency for nearly a year. He was appointed last May after the abrupt departure of his predecessor, John Quigley, who was ensnared in controversy over an angry email he sent to some environmental groups.

The cabinet position is undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs in Harrisburg, requiring the political skills needed to handle the often conflicting agendas of environmental groups, citizens, and the business community. The job has recently been marked with high turnover. McDonnell is the fifth person to lead the department in as many years.

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Senate advances controversial coal mining bill

 A state senate committee has approved a bill that targets an ongoing legal challenge over coal mining in a western Pa. state park.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A state senate committee has approved a bill that targets an ongoing legal challenge over coal mining in a western Pa. state park.

The state senate has advanced a bill that could upend an ongoing legal challenge by two environmental groups seeking to restrict coal mining beneath a western Pennsylvania state park.

With the backing of senate GOP leadership, SB 624 was approved by a committee Monday in an 8-4 party line vote. The measure takes aim at a pending court case, which was first brought three years ago by the Center for Coalfield Justice and Pennsylvania Sierra Club. The two environmental groups are challenging Consol Energy’s 3,000-acre Bailey Mine extension. They argue it would damage 14 streams in and around Greene County’s Ryerson Station State Park.

Senate President Pro Tempore, Joe Scarnati (R- Jefferson) is the prime sponsor.

“I understand the environmental groups and their opposition to mining, their opposition to gas and oil extraction,” he says. “But Pennsylvania’s jobs and economy are built on this.”

SB 624 says that if the state Department of Environmental Protection approves an underground mining plan, it shall not be considered “presumptive evidence” the mine could cause pollution. In other words, any plan approved by state regulators would automatically be presumed to not cause permanent damage to streams.

Scarnati says the bill reaffirms what DEP has been doing for many years.

“To follow current law is not blazing a new trail here,” he says.

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Gas production increased in 2016, as number of new shale gas wells decreased

A natural gas well behind a house in southwestern Pennsylvania.

courtesy of FracTracker Alliance

A natural gas well behind a house in southwestern Pennsylvania. Gas production reached 5.1 trillion cubic feet in 2016.

Pennsylvania’s shale gas drillers continued to break records for production in 2016, tapping about 5.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Although the increase in production was not as high as in previous years, it still represents an upward trend, while the number of new well permits are declining, according to data published this week by the Department of Environmental Protection. Pennsylvania still ranks second behind Texas in total volume of natural gas production.

The state’s annual oil and gas report is in electronic form for the first time as part of the department’s efforts to put more drilling data online in a publicly accessible format. It includes GIS information on well sites, and charts outlining trends over the past ten years. Continue Reading

Philadelphia aims to cash in on solar job boom

Dennis Hajnik installs solar panels on a roof in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Dennis Hajnik installs solar panels on a roof in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County. Philadelphia has a plan to bring those panels to 500 city rooftops by the end of 2018, which it says will create 75 new jobs.

On a rooftop in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County, four men are working to install 18 solar panels on top of a four-bedroom house. They wear safety harnesses and helmets, lowering down one solar panel at a time onto metal frames. One is 21-year-old Thomas Glenn. Several years ago, Glenn dropped out of high school and was living with his parents in the Kensington section of North Philadelphia.

“You know, I was playing video games all day, listening to music,” Glenn said. “At the time I was waiting until I turned 18 so I would become a security guard or I was going to work at McDonalds.”

Glenn says solar helped turn his life around. After getting his G-E-D, he ended up in a training program for city youth, which led to this job with a small solar company.

“The money’s good, you get nice long hours and you’re doing something good,” he said.

He’s now living on his own, making $15 an hour. The more experienced crew members are making between $20 and $25 an hour.

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Commonwealth Court rejects appeal on Mariner East 2 pipeline

Elise Gerhart stands with a protest sign by an area of tree-clearing on her parents land. The Gerhart's lost their appeal to the Commonwealth Court. Although trees have been cleared, construction has not yet begun.

courtesy of Elise Gerhart

Elise Gerhart, daughter of Ellen and Stephen Gerhart, stands with a protest sign by an area of tree-clearing on her parents land. The Gerharts' lost their appeal to the Commonwealth Court. Although trees have been cleared, construction has not yet begun.

A Huntingdon County family who have become vocal opponents of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline project has lost an appeal to Commonwealth Court over the company’s taking of their land through eminent domain. The appeal by Stephen and Ellen Gerhart of Union Township is just one of about a dozen cases pending before the Commonwealth Court challenging takings by Sunoco for the 350-mile natural gas liquids pipeline project.

Sunoco Logistics spokesman Jeff Shields said the ruling is consistent with prior court decisions.

“The court’s recognition that Sunoco Pipeline is a public utility providing public benefits through its Mariner East 2 project is consistent with its prior ruling and every decision rendered by the lower courts,” he wrote in an email.

Given the number of cases and the issues involved, it’s hardly the last word from the court system on whether Sunoco should have been granted eminent domain authority in building a pipeline to carry natural gas liquids, most of which will be exported. Continue Reading

Sunoco’s pipeline construction releases drilling mud into Delco Creek

Sand bags placed to contain a leak of bentonite clay into Chester Creek in Brookhaven, Delaware County. Mariner East 2 pipeline construction resulted in an estimated 575 gallons of bentonite, used as a lubricant for horizontal directional drilling, in May.

courtesy of Middletown Coalition for Community Safety

Sand bags placed to contain a leak of bentonite clay into Chester Creek in Brookhaven, Delaware County. This month Mariner East 2 pipeline construction resulted in the release of an estimated 575 gallons of bentonite, which is commonly used as a lubricant for horizontal directional drilling.

Pipeline construction of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 has caused three separate releases of drilling mud in May, with two incidents resulting in a combined total of 575 gallons of bentonite clay entering Chester Creek in Brookhaven, Delaware County, according to Sunoco Pipeline spokesman Jeff Shields. Bentonite is a non-toxic substance commonly used as a lubricant in horizontal directional drilling. Substantial amounts of bentonite released into waterways can impact aquatic life, especially organisms that live on the bottoms of streams and wetlands.

No fish were killed as a result of the leaks, referred to as “inadvertent returns,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Sunoco Pipeline spokesman Jeff Shields says the company doesn’t “anticipate any harm to the environment” resulting from the releases.

“Inadvertent returns of bentonite mud are an occasional component of directional drilling operations,” wrote Shields in an email. “Due to subsurface conditions and other geologic conditions of the locations, drilling mud is sometimes able to migrate through naturally occurring fractures in the soils and return to the surface.” Continue Reading

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