Energy. Environment. Economy.

As pipelines proliferate, Pennsylvania sees next phase of gas boom

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline cuts through the woods in Lycoming County. More than $10 billion in pipeline projects have been announced for Pennsylvania.

The surge in drilling has meant trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are being pumped out of Pennsylvania every year. And now billions of dollars are flooding into the state for new pipeline projects to move that gas to market.

It’s the next phase of the fracking boom: energy companies are building their own sort of interstate highway system—a network of pipelines.

“A sense of urgency”

Matt Henderson, of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, says more than $10 billion in pipeline projects have already been announced for Pennsylvania.

“Production has outpaced anybody’s wildest expectations,” he says. “The operators were found in a position where, ‘We need to get this out.’ So there’s a sense of urgency.”

Industry representatives say undoubtedly not all of the proposed pipelines will get built. But there’s still a race to get gas to customers.

Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas has been able to ship its gas out of northeastern Pennsylvania on three existing interstate pipelines. Company spokesman Bill DeRosiers says Cabot is partnering with other companies on new projects to ease bottlenecks in the system, like the $700 million Constitution pipeline. It was recently approved by federal regulators to carry Marcellus gas to New York and New England.

And there’s an even bigger one on the horizon.

“The Atlantic Sunrise is another pipeline project that will actually head south,” says DeRosiers.

The $3 billion line would cut through 10 central Pennsylvania counties. If it’s approved by regulators, it could be operational in two years. It would start near Cabot’s operations in Susquehanna County and go as far south as Alabama.

“It will actually bring gas along the eastern seaboard markets as far south for Cabot’s interests to Cove Point which is an exportation terminal, where Cabot’s looking forward to exporting to Japan,” says DeRosiers.

Fetching a higher price for its gas overseas would obviously be good news for Cabot. But this surge in gas infrastructure has also sparked a new round of fracking-related fears and concerns.

Protesters linked arms and blocked entrances to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters in Washington D.C. last summer. Twenty-four people were arrested.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters blocked entrances to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters in Washington D.C. last summer. Twenty-four people were arrested.

Two dozen protesters were arrested last summer outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The commission oversees interstate pipelines and export facilities—like the Cove Point terminal, located along the Chesapeake Bay. The protesters argue sending more gas abroad will mean more environmental harm from drilling back home.

Local opposition

It’s not hard to find passionate opposition to pipelines elsewhere, particularly in southeastern Pennsylvania, which has been largely untouched by the drilling boom so far.

Many people fear gas companies will use eminent domain to seize their property. New York landowners along the route of the Constitution pipeline recently received letters threatening exactly that.

Because siting interstate pipelines is a federal decision, it’s unlikely Pennsylvania’s State Supreme Court ruling on Act 13—which affirmed the right of local governments to zone gas development—will have much effect.

Attorney Jordan Yeager represented local governments in the case. He believes there’s still a chance the ruling could play a role.

“One of the components that FERC looks at is whether what’s being proposed is going to be consistent with and respect state and local laws and ordinances,” he says. “So with that, it’s not necessarily a trump card, but it’s part of what needs to be considered.”

After Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics said it wanted to retrofit an existing pipeline to carry natural gas liquids across the state, it met with community resistance. The company recently announced plans for second, $2.5 billion pipeline to run parallel to the first.

Mark Clatterbuck’s home in Lancaster County is along a proposed route for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. He’s doubtful federal regulators will listen to his concerns about safety and environmental degradation.

“I have essentially zero hope that FERC will take that seriously,” he says.

It’s true that FERC often approves pipelines, but the agency says it doesn’t track how often.

“A much bigger economic story”

But industry representatives argue the public’s fears are overblown. There are already about 2.6 million miles of gas pipelines in the United States.

Fatal accidents do happen, but they’re relatively rare. According to federal data, 362 people have died over the past 20 years– 25 of those were in Pennsylvania. Those figures include all kinds of pipelines: transmission, distribution, gathering, and hazardous liquid.

Still, environmental groups complain they get left out of the planning process. Katy Dunlap of Trout Unlimited says she feels like they missed the boat when the drilling boom began seven years ago.

“We have tried to have discussions with companies about getting involved in the planning upfront,” she says. “And what we’ve been told time and time again is that most of this planning has already been done.”

Anthony Cox works for UGI Energy Services– the company behind the proposed $1 billion PennEast pipeline which would carry gas from the northeastern Pennsylvania into New Jersey.

He understands many people may not like a new interstate transmission line in their backyard, but argues there are other economic benefits—like ensuring the flow of gas to cut down on price volatility.

“But it goes beyond that to talk about increased natural gas, which leads to increased competitiveness for local businesses which increases jobs and lowers taxes for everybody,” says Cox. “There’s a much bigger macroeconomic story to be told here.”

It’s a story that will continue to unfold as the shale gas boom enters another phase in Pennsylvania.



  • JimBarth

    What a lousy idea. Declare eminent domain, take thousands of people’s property (against their will), expose those people to danger, so Cabot and other extraction companies can extract the gas from PA, and export it to Japan, China, or, Europe? Meanwhile, drill tens of thousands of wells in PA and W.VA into the Marcellus and Utica shale, find locations to transport and dump the toxic waste, or inject it into injection wells, causing huge amounts of yet to be accounted for environmental contamination? What a lousy solution for our 21 century energy needs, and, what a lousy deal for PA. I didn’t even mention that the industry doesn’t want to pay an extraction tax.

  • Jim Foster

    I am a certified tree hugger, and I bow to no one in my support of the environment. But,…I simply do not see why so many environmentalists are fanatically against pipelines such as Keystone XL. First, whether or not they are built, Marcellus & tar sands oil WILL be exploited, but IF and ONLY IF, it is profitable. That depends on the price of oil, NOT on pipelines. Second, if the pipelines are not built, the oil will be shipped by other means, including a lot by rail. Shipping oil by rail is MUCH, MUCH more dangerous than sending it by pipeline. Ask the good people of Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, where half the town was destroyed by a rail car oil spill last year. Environmentalists should be for KXL and other pipelines, because they are safer than rail. Environmentalists should instead focus on promoting non-fossil fuels like wind and solar.

    • KeepTapWaterSafe

      I agree wholeheartedly about focusing on non-fossil fuels, Jim. I think we need a real energy plan, though, not more pipelines.

      • Wetback

        That’s the problem with folks like you.

        You think in one blink of an instant, we can somehow replace our fossil fuels with identical renewable resources.

        The energy density, distribution, not to mention engineering and economics are NOT there at all for such an undertaking.

        Take your head out of the sand and take an organic chemistry class.

        • KeepTapWaterSafe

          You have no idea what I think. Anyway, I was hoping for a more civil discussion.

      • Jim Foster

        KTWS, two things can be true at the same time. Yes, we need a real energy plan. Yes, as long as we need to use fossil fuels, we should transport them via pipelines, because they are safer than rail cars and trucks. Sorry about the other jerk.

    • disqus_rh61KtQq3S

      You make too much sense. Some people just want to be against anything. It’s in their DNA.

    • Awesome_Mom

      The land and valuable resources belong to the people of the Commonwealth of PA…..NOT the Governor and his pals!

  • paulroden

    I thought we needed this gas as a “transition fuel” until renewable energy technology was ready for the US? With all the pipelines and compressor stations, the environment will be harmed. Why are we trying to export this gas? I thought we needed this gas for our “energy independence?” The gas companies are rushing to drill and extract the gas to export it to increase their profits and inflate the price of natural gas. There is also radioactive radon in the gas from the Marcellus Shale and from the Eagle Ford gas play in Texas. Most of the natural gas in the Northeast comes from fracking. I doubt the gas companies are storing the gas for 38 days before sending it to market. Ten half lives are what the radon in the gas would have to be stored in order for it to decay enough to be safely used. The radioactive half life of radon is 3.8 days. The gas industry will dismiss any health concerns about radon in the gas. Even though you and I can’t sell or buy a house in this region without testing and mitigating for radon. There is no safe level of radiation. The impact of radiation is culminative. So any of us who use natural gas in the Northeast are guinea pigs in a giant public health experiment without our consent. And as our watershed, landfills, water treatment and sewage treatment plants are all contaminated with fracking wastes both liquid and solid, our climate will be changed by the carbon dioxide from the burning of and leaking of methane in the natural gas. Ah, “better things for better living through chemistry.”

    • Wetback

      Most of what you said is marginal fear mongering.

      • paulroden

        If it is “marginal fear mongering”, why did the Governor of New York State ban fracking in his state? If he can listen to the science on fracking from his environmental and public health advisors, why can’t Governor elect Tom Wolf and you do the same? You can start here: After doing your research and visiting you will see why I and many others have come to the conclusion that fracking is too dangerous, too expensive to be conducted safely and is totally unnecessary for our energy needs.

        • Wetback

          Didn’t read the article I suppose?

          The health commissioner flat out said they would ban frac’ing because there were no studies completed on the matter that weren’t from the O&G industry. They decided to err on the side of extreme caution.

          I find frac’ing to be a great process, cool stuff.

          • paulroden

            I read the article and Zucker’s study report. I will ask you the same question Zucker asked himself in his report to Cuomo’s Cabinet, “Would you want your children to live near, go to school and play near a fracking operation, drink water from a water supply downstream or eat food stuffs from agricultural area near a fracking operation?” “And the answer is no.” And I will as will others will not rest until fracking is outlawed here in the United States and everywhere on this planet. Do want to eat, drink and breath in benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene? Why don’t you look up the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) from OSHA(Occupational Safety and Health Administration) on these chemicals in the fracking fluid and then Google the health impact of this “cool stuff”. Fracking is a crime! It is unnecessary for our energy needs. Any way you look at it is unsafe and unnecessary for our energy needs. Only the dirty energy companies will profit from it. So far New York and Vermont have banned it. Only 48 more states to go. There are more of us than there are of these dirty energy companies. They may have a lot of money but we outnumber them. They may buy off the politicians, so we will have to step in just like we did in curtailing nuclear power. You don’t seem to understand social movements and its impact on democracies.


          • Wetback

            Again, you concerns are very marginal and fear provoked.

            Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl benzene, and Xylene are present in oil naturally as well as being introduced in frac’ing fluid for their chemical properties.

            We already have the infrastructure in place to easily handle this stuff.

            I live in Colorado,Denver. They’ve been frac’ing here for the past 50 years.

            It remains the healthiest US metro for a few years now.Where’s all this disease and filth you are speaking of?There’s tons of farms and grazing land right next to gas wells as well as frack sites.

            Again, your information is mostly circumstantial and statistically insignificant.One or two screw ups over a few thousand wells is nothing.

            Nuclear?Nuclear is a perfect source of energy. Enough said.

          • Awesome_Mom

            Lies do not make it right.

          • Awesome_Mom

            You’re obviously from the South and DO NOT CARE about the people of PA. Profit monger.

          • Wetback

            Actually, I’m from Colorado, a much wealthier and might I say, beautiful state than Pennsylvania.

          • Awesome_Mom

            Then go back to where you belong. You’re like a dog that poops on the neighbors’ lawns but never on your own.

      • Awesome_Mom

        Greedy profit mongering is WORSE!

    • subdividingNYstate

      Apparently you do not believe God created the heavens and the earth…if so you would realize there is a reason gas was put in the earth (so it don’t float away before we can use it) and he gave us brains enough to figure out how to extract it. You are a fear monger and since population growth is the biggest problem what do you propose we do about that? I say we should feed, cloth and provide all the creature comforts known to man to the entire human race no matter where they live. Methane, and radon are not something to fear they have been around since the beginning of time. The only reason Radon became a problem is a thing called “a finished basement” the only reason methane is a problem is less plants more pavement…again population growth.

      • Awesome_Mom

        You would probably frack in cemeteries if you could create a way to justify it. NO morals.

  • AlSever

    As a grouse hunter, I like anything that opens up our biological deserts of pole timber here in NC PA. Lot of trees up here, but not a lot of wildlife in those woods.
    Tree huggers should read this weeks issue of the New Yorker. Great article about the 4,000 environmental groups in NZ working together to KILL ALL Mammals in NZ.

  • gary

    I wouldn’t put a pipeline into new York. let those moron politicians freeze. get rid of the rest of the dems in 2016.

  • subdividingNYstate

    I say PA should ship nothing to NYS since they are “fracking fear mongers” send it all to Japan, I spent 6 years there in the US NAVY, they are over crowded but very nice people and can use it. NYS who banned fracking should not get any fracked gas or oil imports from other states!. To all the whiners who are against gas and oil…population growth is the biggest reason the environment is destroyed think about it…No you don’t want to take action on the true cause so you whine when people want the necessities of life Gas Oil Electric!

  • subdividingNYstate

    NYS just cut off it’s legs and will continue to flounder. The only economy they have in NYS is overtaxing people and then giving tax incentives to people who are
    willing to start businesses where Albany wants them to. Pshyco.
    Run by people who obviously can’t discern truth from fiction. People voted in by people that apparently “fear” industry. Something I might add, built this nation and is now building other nations. Fear, is a pitiful thing. The majority of NYers who
    vote proved they are fearful and actually think Government will care for them
    by voting for Cuomo, Power corrupts and that is what Albany is. Talking to our local Senator and he asked me if I would run for Senate, only If wanted hang out with criminals and kill myself slowly. I could go to prison, and start smoking and accomplish that much. Subdivding the farm and moving on, it will take 10 years to sell it as there are no jobs and no hope of jobs in NYS, can’t even imagine who in their right mind would buy it. Maybe a fear monger environmentalist happy to pay more for everything in NYS because of their perceived view that 25 houses on my farm will make their air and water cleaner. Gentleman farmers 25 lots of prime NY farmland to park your fancy
    car and solar panels on!

  • subdividingNYstate

    Good for PA, keep the gas a flowing. I wish they would send it all to Japan and to hell with sending any to the fear mongers in NYS.

  • Awesome_Mom

    The sad part is that NOBODY will receive a benefit from all of this toxic fracking! The gas drilling companies will EXPORT ALL of the LNG and make sinful profits, while raping PA of its valuable land and resources.

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