Pennsylvania

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DEP staffers warned superiors of dangers to private water wells from pipeline construction

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Construction has resulted in dozens of drilling mud spills across the state.

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection official waved a red flag to higher ups in January over potential issues with Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline construction on private water wells.

“Though we don’t regulate it, this private well issue has the potential to really blow up…,” wrote Domenic Rocco, waterways and wetlands program manager for the DEP’s Southeast regional office. Rocco sent the email detailing his conversation with a worried resident of Delaware County who lived near the pipeline route. He also sent a long list of concerns DEP program staff had regarding the agency’s permit reviews of Sunoco’s construction plans.

The email recipients included Ann Roda, director of the office of program information, John Hohenstein, DEP chief of dams and waterways, and Donald Knorr, a water pollution biologist with the Southeast regional office. It was released as part of ongoing litigation challenging Sunoco’s permits.

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Natural gas industry wastewater pollution may linger for years

The before, during and after of the fracking fluid recycling process

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The before, during and after of the fracking fluid recycling process

A new study finds the treated wastewater from Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry may pollute rivers, lakes, streams and creeks for longer than previously thought.

Penn State environmental engineering professor Bill Burgos and his colleagues analyzed sediment samples from the Conemaugh River, a dam-controlled reservoir in western Pennsylvania. The reservoir is downstream from two centralized waste treatment plants, which contaminants from hydraulic fracturing operations can pass through. The study, published this month in Environmental Science & Technology, shows the highest concentrations of pollutants were deposited in the reservoir’s sediments five to 10 years ago, during the peak of Marcellus Shale activity; they include endocrine disrupting chemicals and carcinogens.

Burgos says it’s not yet clear how the pollution may affect human health or the broader environment.

“How dangerous is that material? That’s still an open question,” he says. “That’s difficult to know.”

In 2015, Pennsylvania’s unconventional gas wells produced nearly 1.7 billion gallons of wastewater. Oil and gas wells can contain various contaminants, including salts, metals, natural occurring radioactive material, and manmade organic compounds. The study shows elevated levels of contaminants as far away as 12 miles downstream from the treatment plants.

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Mariner East 2 construction has resulted in dozens of spills, documents show

An aerial view of Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Construction of the pipeline has resulted in dozens of incidents where drilling mud was released into surface water and groundwater aquifers.

Jeremy Long / Lebanon Daily News

An aerial view of Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Construction of the pipeline has resulted in dozens of incidents where drilling mud was released into surface water and groundwater aquifers.

Construction of Sunoco Pipeline’s $3 billion 350-mile long Mariner East 2 pipeline resulted in at least 61 drilling mud spills from April 25 through June 17, 2017, according to newly released documents. The spills have occurred in ten of the 12 counties along the route and range from minor releases of five gallons to larger more serious releases of tens of thousands of gallons. The documents, pasted below, include reports of “inadvertent returns,” and were released by the Department of Environmental Protection as part of ongoing litigation by the Clean Air Council challenging the department’s issuing of water crossing permits for the project last February.

The Council wants the Environmental Hearing Board to suspend construction while its case is pending review, but has so far been unsuccessful.

The spills primarily contain bentonite, a muddy clay substance used as a lubricant in drilling beneath waterways during horizontal directional drilling. Bentonite is non-toxic but can do damage to drinking water wells by clogging up an aquifer. A recent incident in Chester County forced 15 families to switch to bottled water and the company has since agreed to pay to hook residents up to the public water supply after some resident’s water wells went dry, and others experienced cloudy water.

If a large amount of the clay enters streams and wetlands, it can impact aquatic life. The drilling mud has entered trout streams, Exceptional Value wetlands, ponds, groundwater aquifers and uplands. Continue Reading

Lebanon County zoning board denies challenge to Mariner East 1

A sign marks the path of the Mariner East 1 pipeline through Chester County.

Kim Paynter / Newsworks

A sign marks the path of the Mariner East 1 pipeline through Chester County.

Zoning officials in a Lebanon County township rejected an appeal against their permit allowing a pumping station to be built along the Mariner East 1 pipeline, rebuffing the latest challenge to the project’s public utility status.

West Cornwall Township’s Zoning Hearing Board on Tuesday denied the appeal by three residents and Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County, an anti-pipeline group that has been fighting the pumping station for the last two years.

The appellants argued against the township’s decision to exempt the pumping station from zoning rules on the grounds that the natural gas liquids pipeline is a public utility project.

Sunoco Pipeline also says the existing Mariner East 1 and Mariner East 2, which is now under construction, are both public utilities, citing rulings by the Public Utility Commission and a number of courts. But opponents including the Lebanon County group argue that most of the products carried by the pipeline are for export and so the pipeline is not legitimately a public utility. Continue Reading

Nuns sue federal agency over natural gas pipeline

A group of nuns in Lancaster County is suing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over its approval of a major interstate natural gas pipeline.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A group of nuns in Lancaster County is suing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over its approval of a major interstate natural gas pipeline.

A group of Roman Catholic nuns has filed a lawsuit against the federal agency that approved construction of a major interstate natural gas pipeline, planned to run through the nuns’ property in Lancaster County.

The suit, filed by sisters from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, targets the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline and alleges the project violates their religious freedom, which is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Atlantic Sunrise is $3 billion expansion of the Transco system. It’s designed to move Marcellus Shale gas from Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania southward to markets along the East Coast and to an export terminal under construction along the Chesapeake Bay.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave its approval to the pipeline in February. The pipeline company, Williams Partners, plans to install the line underground on the sisters’ property in West Hempfield Township. The company unsuccessfully tried to negotiated rights to the land, and is now authorized to use eminent domain, and would have permanent rights to a 50-foot-wide area on approximately one acre.

“We believe FERC’s decision to force the Adorers to use their land to accommodate this pipeline violates their religious beliefs,” says J. Dwight Yoder, the nuns’ attorney.

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Street construction poses hidden danger of lead-laced drinking water

Manuel Ortiz looks out his living room window to the street construction outside his home.

Catalina Jaramillo / StateImpact PA

Manuel Ortiz looks out his living room window to the street construction outside his home. Ortiz says he wasn't informed that replacing a water main could cause lead to leach into his tap water from the lead service lines delivering water to his house on the 3000 block of north Rosehill Street in North Philadelphia.

About five years ago, doctors found high levels of lead in the blood of Manuel Ortiz’s oldest son. Ortiz and his wife were surprised. They say Manuel Jr. acted like a normal kid.

Health inspectors told them the culprit was lead-based paint in their rented apartment. Ortiz says the landlord didn’t do anything to fix it, so the family moved out as soon as they could.

What Ortiz didn’t know, was that he moved into a house with a lead service line, which could mean he and his son were drinking water with lead in it. And now, the water department wants to do work on his street that could make the lead levels in his water spike.

But until a reporter showed up at his doorstep, Ortiz said nobody told him about the danger to Manuel Jr. lurking in their water taps.

“He doesn’t act like a normal kid,” said Ortiz. “He is 13 now, but he acts like a kid of 10. I feel sad….we’re a low-income family. A lot of people go through it, we’re not alone.”

Although lead-based paint and contaminated dust are the largest source of lead for children, water remains a constant and unpredictable threat for anyone living in a house with lead water pipes. And advocates say it’s an easy one to fix. Continue reading at PlanPhilly.

Sea level rise to cause chronic flooding in Delaware Bay and Jersey Coast, scientists say

This Feb. 16, 2017 photo shows Marty Mozzo in his back yard in Ocean City N.J. on the edge of a back bay wetlands. When he and his wife were considering buying the house, they looked at a small trickle of water in the distance and wondered if the property would flood, deciding the water was too far away to pose a danger. Within weeks, their hou8se was surrounded by flood waters.

Wayne Parry / AP Photo

This Feb. 16, 2017 photo shows Marty Mozzo in his back yard in Ocean City N.J. on the edge of a back bay wetlands. When he and his wife were considering buying the house, they looked at a small trickle of water in the distance and wondered if the property would flood, deciding the water was too far away to pose a danger. Within weeks, their house was surrounded by flood waters.

About 170 coastal communities across the nation will experience chronic flooding 20 years from now, disrupting people’s life and daily routines, and forcing residents of those communities to make difficult and expensive decisions, according to a study out this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In a moderate sea level rise scenario, cities and towns along the Delaware Bay and New Jersey coastlines could see between 15 and 40 percent of their land flooded at least 26 times each year by 2030.

“It’s horrifying,” Suzanne Hornick, chairperson of the Ocean City, NJ Flooding Committee. “My house would be under water in 40 years.”

Hornick is already in a bad situation. She says her home floods about 10 times a year, and she has to fix her basement walls and garage door at least every two years. Every time it rains, Hornick says she moves her car and parks it two or three blocks from her house, so it doesn’t get inundated with water. When winter storm Jonas hit the U.S. in 2016, she couldn’t leave her home for four days. Continue Reading

Sunoco halts drilling in Chester County where pipeline construction damaged drinking water wells

A sign marks the path of the Mariner East 1 pipeline through Chester County.

Kim Paynter / Newsworks

A sign marks the path of the Mariner East 1 pipeline through Chester County.

Sunoco has agreed to halt drilling operations related to the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction in Chester County where 15 households have been without water for the past couple weeks due to aquifer intrusion by horizontal directional drilling. The West Whiteland Township residents who rely on private drinking water wells have experienced cloudy water or loss of water completely. More than 100 community members gathered at the West Whiteland Township building on Thursday night to discuss the situation with both township and Sunoco officials.

Township supervisor George Turner told the gathering that the company agreed to suspend drilling operations until “the water situation is addressed.”

“Effective today they are not drilling north of that site until further notice,” said Turner.

Sunoco has been supplying bottled water and offered to pay for hotel rooms so impacted residents can shower and bathe since the July 4th holiday weekend, when it was first notified by home owners that their wells had either run dry or had tainted water. Continue Reading

Wolf weighs bill that would aid development of long-wall coal mines

In this Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, file photo, the new CONSOL Energy Center is reflected in Pittsburgh.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

In this Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, file photo, the new CONSOL Energy Center is reflected in Pittsburgh.The company wants to expand a long wall mine beneath Ryerson State Park in Greene County.

Governor Tom Wolf is weighing a bill that would make it easier for an energy company to obtain permits for the controversial process of long-wall coal mining beneath a state park in southwest Pennsylvania but which opponents say could damage streams in the area.

Senate Bill 624 landed on Wolf’s desk on Tuesday after being approved handily in both houses of the Republican-controlled legislature, amid protests by environmentalists and sympathetic lawmakers who say the measure is an attempt to block a court challenge currently before the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB). Continue Reading

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