Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Study: Low birth weights linked to fracking sites

A natural gas well pad in central Pennsylvania.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact PA

A natural gas well pad in central Pennsylvania, with a home in the foreground. A new study shows infants born to mothers living within a half mile of active fracking sites have a higher risk of low birth weights compared to those living further away.

Infants born to mothers who live very close to natural gas fracking sites have a higher risk of low birth weight, according to a new peer-reviewed study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. 

The study is the largest of its kind, and was conducted by researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and Princeton University. It builds on previous research that also found health impacts to infants born near gas wells in Pennsylvania.

The report, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Infant Health: New Evidence from Pennsylvania” used data from 1.1 million births in all Pennsylvania counties during a ten year period between 2004 and 2013. The time frame begins before fracking for natural gas took off in the state, and includes the height of the gas boom. Researchers were able to know addresses of mothers as well as the birth weight of their babies, and combine that information with data that included the location and dates of fracked gas wells. Continue Reading

Federal regulators won’t reconsider approval of Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

Construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Lancaster County.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Lancaster County.

Federal regulators won’t revisit their decision to approve a major natural gas transmission pipeline through Pennsylvania.

In a December 6 order, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied a rehearing request by landowners, anti-pipeline activists, environmental groups, Native American tribes and the public service commissions of North Carolina and New York. They were challenging FERC’s approval of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

Construction on the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline began in September. It is being built to carry Marcellus Shale gas from northeastern Pennsylvania southward to markets along the East Coast.

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Residents concerned proposed mine could hurt water quality

Somerset County residents examine a map of the proposed Keyser mine Tuesday at a meeting with officials from the Department of Environmental Protection.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Somerset County residents examine a map of the proposed Keyser mine Tuesday at a meeting with officials from the Department of Environmental Protection.

The company behind a new coal mine in Somerset County intends to open another in the area, and some residents worry the new operation could hurt their water quality.

The Keyser underground mine would produce metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel. Wilson Creek Energy, a subsidiary of Corsa Coal Corp., is seeking permits from the Department of Environmental Protection to begin operations. Continue Reading

Cabot Oil wants money from homeowner for critical claims following settled lawsuit

Ray Kemble of Dimock, displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo. The EPA included Dimock as a case study in its recent fracking report.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Ray Kemble of Dimock, displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo.

A gas driller argued in court Monday that it’s entitled to monetary damages from a Pennsylvania homeowner who continued bad-mouthing the company after settling his water-contamination lawsuit against it more than five years ago.

Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. claims Dimock resident Ray Kemble and his former lawyers tried to extort the company through a frivolous federal lawsuit that recycled already-settled claims against Cabot. The lawsuit, which was filed in April but withdrawn two months later, accused Cabot of polluting Kemble’s water supply anew.

Cabot says the claims in Kemble’s suit were the subject of a 2012 settlement between Cabot and dozens of Dimock residents, including Kemble. Cabot’s suit also claims Kemble has repeatedly breached the 2012 agreement by publicly talking about the company.

The company is seeking monetary damages against Kemble and his former lawyers. The first hearing in the case was held Monday.

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Time running out to save Three Mile Island from early closure

Exelon's Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Dauphin County.

Joanne Cassaro/ WITF

Exelon's Three Mile Island nuclear plant outside Harrisburg is slated to close in September 2019, 15 years before its operating license expires.

There are multiple efforts underway at the federal, state, and regional levels to try to boost the nuclear power industry. If they all materialize, Exelon might reverse its decision to close its Three Mile Island plant outside Harrisburg.

But the stars would have to align for that to happen, and time is running out.

Visiting Three Mile Island is like entering a fortress. There are heavily armed guards. Past a set of metal turnstiles, it feels a bit like an airport– bags go through an x-ray machine and visitors step into a body scanner.

Beyond the security checkpoint, there’s big banner with an American flag declaring that Three Mile Island is powering America’s future.

But that’s an open question.

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Lawmakers consider breaks for oil, gas in tax bills

Stock photo of a natural gas well pad. Photo taken Dec. 1, 2017 in Washington County.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Stock photo of a natural gas well pad. Photo taken Dec. 1, 2017 in Washington County.

As lawmakers hash out differences between the tax bills in front of Congress, they must decide whether to keep a proposed tax break for oil and gas investors — and just how big the reduction should be.

Both the House and Senate versions cut the tax rate for owners of oil and gas companies that operate as publicly traded partnerships. These companies, such as Shell and Energy Transfer Partners operating in Pennsylvania, span many aspects of the industry, from drillers to pipeline operators to gas processors and oil refiners.

Publicly traded partnerships don’t pay corporate income taxes, so lawmakers have to decide how to tax the income they pass through to their owners. Continue Reading

Trump administration coal plan could have big impact on Pennsylvania

The Elrama Power Plant near Pittsburgh was closed in 2012. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

The Elrama Power Plant near Pittsburgh was closed in 2012. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

The Trump administration’s plan to prop up money-losing coal and nuclear plants could have a big impact on how Pennsylvanians get their electricity. Federal regulators will now decide what to do with it.

The Department of Energy has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act on its proposed “Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule.” The plan would likely help a few energy companies in the mid-Atlantic, but it would just as likely make ratepayers in the region pay more for their electricity. State utility commissions, grid operators, and the oil and gas and renewables industries have all voiced opposition.

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New York’s heralded fracking ban isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Roz Gitt from Warwick, New York, protests outside of the natural gas refinery in Wawayanda.

Kimberly Painter / WHYY

Roz Gitt from Warwick, New York, protests in front of the construction site for the new CPV natural gas plant in Wawayanda. The plant would run on Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale gas.

In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a bold statement by banning hydraulic fracturing in the Empire State, declaring alongside his health commissioner that “no child should live near” a shale-gas well because of its potential harm.

The governor’s proclamation made him a hero among environmentalists and persona non grata in the oil and gas industry. Energy in Depth, an industry-funded website, criticized Cuomo for basing the moratorium on dubious science “to kowtow to Yoko Ono, Mark Ruffalo, and all of the environmental pressure groups in New York.”

In truth, though, the picture is murkier, and Cuomo’s ban is less than absolute. Moratorium notwithstanding, New York is still reaping the rewards of fracking, importing shale gas from neighboring Pennsylvania and preparing to process it in a mammoth power plant under construction 65 miles northwest of New York City.

Listen: New York bans fracking but gobbles up Pennsylvania’s shale gas, Susan Phillips, StateImpact Pennsylvania.

“It goes to the heart of the apparent irony that New York State would say, ‘No shale gas coming out,’ but we’re allowing any amount of shale gas into the state,” said Anthony Ingraffea, an engineer at Cornell University whose work has tied fracking to various environmental ills, including climate change. By his calculations, drillers outside the state would have to tap 130 wells each year, on average, to supply the plant with enough gas to operate. That translates into thousands of fracked wells over the 40-year lifetime typical for such a facility. Continue Reading

Severance tax could be close, but it doesn’t mean what it used to

Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state in the country without a severance tax. It’s been a hot topic in Harrisburg for nearly a decade. Now, as the year winds down, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and Republican legislators look like they might get a deal done on a modest severance tax.

Capitol Reporter Katie Meyer and StateImpact Pennsylvania reporter Marie Cusick have more on how this is all playing out.

Take a listen:

Ethics complaint filed against Wolf aide who’s married to gas industry lobbyist

FILE: Governor Tom Wolf's deputy chief of staff Yesenia Bane, speaking at natural gas industry conference in 2016.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

FILE: Governor Tom Wolf's deputy chief of staff Yesenia Bane, speaking at natural gas industry conference in 2016.

A complaint filed with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission alleges a senior aide to Governor Tom Wolf might have illegally blurred the lines between the public’s business and her own.

StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported a year ago that Wolf aide Yesenia Bane could be running afoul of state ethics law, when a review of her 2016 daily calendar showed she was regularly involved in meetings and travel related to her husband’s natural gas industry clients.

At the time her husband, John Bane, was a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Harrisburg. Among his clients were gas driller EQT, refiner Philadelphia Energy Solutions, and pipeline company Williams. He joined EQT full time as a senior government relations manager in late 2016.

The ethics complaint was filed last week by Caroline Hughes, a Chester County resident. Last spring Hughes got involved with Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, a coalition of concerned citizens groups in suburban Philadelphia. She just recently learned about Ms. Bane’s potential conflicts of interest and decided to file the complaint.

“The ethics law is very clear. I’ll let the commission make the conclusion, but there is a strong argument this is worthy of an investigation,” Hughes said. “As [Bane] has positioned herself in meetings regarding energy initiatives and projects her husband and his clients can benefit from, she then benefits from that.”

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