Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

As lawmakers leave for holiday, fate of severance tax unclear

(Harrisburg) — Debate may have begun in the state House on a natural gas severance tax — but it remains to be seen if that will actually result in a final vote.
Lawmakers left the question wide open before breaking for Thanksgiving.
There are nearly 400 amendments filed to the tax proposal–and members still haven’t considered the vast majority of them.
Some have wondered whether Republican leaders–who oppose the tax–actually intend to get everything done, or if the brief consideration is just meant to get the plan out of the way.
House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said it’s a serious effort.
“We could take it up when we get back in December,” he said. “At the moment, that’s the plan.”
But he can’t predict exactly how long it would take.
“Maybe another two weeks, maybe a year…nah I’m joking,” Miskin said. “I would not expect hundreds more [amendments] to be debated. Hopefully not as many as people might think.”
Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democrats, said he thinks it’s clear the commonwealth is getting closer to enacting a severance tax.
He said his members are feeling a “mixture of hope and concern” about the tax’s fate, and added that many of them–as well as moderate Republican supporters–are uncomfortable with amendments that would make it easier for gas companies to get environmental permits.
“We’ll try to repair this flaw as work continues on this bill next month,” he said.

Special report: How the U.S. Government Hid Fracking’s Risks to Drinking Water

 

The two wells drilled on Bryan Latkanich’s property are among 1,655 that have been hydraulically fractured in Washington County since 2004.

Credit: Anna Belle Peevey

The two wells drilled on Bryan Latkanich’s property are among 1,655 that have been hydraulically fractured in Washington County since 2004. Latkanich is one of more than 4,000 Pennsylvania residents who have filed complaints with DEP, wondering if gas drilling impacted their water. Only 284 cases have been linked.

Most mornings, when his 7-year-old son Ryan gets up for school at 6:55, Bryan Latkanich is still awake from the night before, looking online for another home in some part of Pennsylvania with good schools and good water.

Six years ago, Latkanich signed on to let an energy company tap natural gas beneath his property by pumping water, sand and chemicals into rock formations, a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Soon after, Latkanich’s well water got a metallic taste, he developed stomach problems, and his son one day emerged from a bath covered in bleeding sores. More recently, Ryan became incontinent.

Listen: Life under the Halliburton loophole, Susan Phillips, StateImpact Pennsylvania

Testing by state regulators and a researcher at nearby Duquesne University showed the well water had deteriorated since gas extraction started but no proof of the cause. The state recently began another round of testing. Continue Reading

House begins debating natural gas severance tax

Kimberly Paynter/Newsworks.org

Kimberly Paynter / Newsworks

Many of the amendments filed to the severance tax bill would make it easier for natural gas drillers to get environmental permits.

(Harrisburg) — House lawmakers have begun moving a natural gas severance tax through their chamber.

It’s major priority for Democrats, who have been trying unsuccessfully to pass one for a decade.

But it’s slow going–the bill is saddled with well over 300 amendments.

Along with Democrats, the tax is championed by a coalition of moderate, largely southeastern Republicans.

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After recent Mariner East 2 spills, DEP mulls ‘additional enforcement’

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Pennsylvania’s environmental regulators are considering tougher restrictions on Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline project after a continuing series of drilling fluid spills and violations of environmental laws.

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection said the massive cross-state project has been far more of an enforcement challenge than officials expected because of multiple drilling leaks that have seeped into wetlands, bubbled up into residential areas, and in some cases turned private well water cloudy.

“Additional enforcement is certainly something that we are looking into but I can’t comment as to what that might look like,” DEP spokesman Neil Shader told StateImpact the day after the department issued its latest two notices of violation for spills in Berks and Chester Counties.

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PJM defends plan to allow coal and nuclear plants to build costs into market price

A view of the PJM  control room. The grid operator wants to allow so-called inflexible power generators such as coal and nuclear plants to be able to build their costs into market pricing.

courtesy of PJM

A view of the PJM control room. The grid operator wants to allow so-called inflexible power generators such as coal and nuclear plants to be able to build their costs into market pricing.

PJM, which operates the electric grid for Pennsylvania and 12 other states, on Thursday defended a plan to change its rules so that coal, nuclear and some other generators can build their costs into the market price of electricity.

The proposal, in a paper published Wednesday, would result in a net increase in retail power prices of 2 to 5 percent and would give the coal and nuclear plants, some of which are scheduled for retirement, the opportunity to pass their costs to consumers, PJM said.

PJM, whose system serves some 65 million people, said the change would enable all generators contributing to its grid to compete to set energy market prices, and that customers would benefit from more market transparency and better operational efficiency.

But critics said the plan interferes with market forces that would eventually force the closure of coal and nuclear plants that can’t build their costs into PJM’s pricing structure, and is not justified by any concerns about maintaining reliability. Continue Reading

Lycoming County Waste Water Spill Tops 63,000 Gallons

In this Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014 photo, a fracking wastewater storage facility sits just outside the city limits of Reno, Texas. With real-time monitors, scientists have linked a swarm of small earthquakes west of Fort Worth, Texas, to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater injection. In 84 days from November 2013 to January 2014, this area shook with 27 magnitude 2 or greater earthquakes.

LM Otero / AP Photo

In this Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014 photo, a fracking wastewater storage facility sits just outside the city limits of Reno, Texas. With real-time monitors, scientists have linked a swarm of small earthquakes west of Fort Worth, Texas, to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater injection. In 84 days from November 2013 to January 2014, this area shook with 27 magnitude 2 or greater earthquakes.

More than 63,000 gallons of natural gas drilling waste spilled into an unnamed tributary of the Loyalsock Creek this week from a well site in Lycoming County.

The spill occurred at a well operated by Colorado-based Inflection Energy, in Eldred Township, about 10 miles north of Williamsport.

Neil Shader, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said state investigators don’t believe the spill will threaten public drinking water supplies, even though some drilling waste did reach a small stream.

“The sampling analysis did not show any signs of the fluid in Loyalsock Creek itself, so it hadn’t reached the main channel,” Shader said. Continue Reading

Public Health Researcher Issues Dire Warning Over Proposed Ethane Cracker Plant

cracker

Construction on Shell's ethane cracker in Beaver County began this year. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

A public health researcher delivered a dire warning on Monday during a panel on the implications of the planned Royal Dutch Shell ethane cracker plant in Beaver County.

“When we allow industry to get way out in front of public health and environmental oversight, we end up counting bodies,” said Dr. Brian Schwartz of the Geisinger Center for Health Research in Montour County.

Schwartz studies how environmental changes caused by energy exploitation activities, such as fracking, affect public health. He made his comments during the “Shale and Public Health” conference at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health, an event organized by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. Continue Reading

Philadelphia explains how it would make deep cut in carbon emissions

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery accounts for almost 16 percent of the city's carbon footprint, according to a City report that describes how to make deep cuts in carbon emissions.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery accounts for almost 16 percent of the city's carbon footprint, according to a City report that describes how to make deep cuts in carbon emissions.

The City of Philadelphia on Tuesday unveiled its vision for how to meet its ambitious goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

A report by the city’s Office of Sustainability identifies the sources of carbon emissions, describes how they could be cut, and provides an overview of the low- or no-carbon systems that could replace them. But even with a plan in place and strong support locally, the ability to hit Mayor Jim Kenney’s “80 by 50” target may not be entirely within Philadelphia’s control, experts warned. Continue Reading

Philadelphia area refineries urge EPA to reform biofuels credit program

Delaware City Refinery, where the cost of buying the EPA’s biofuel credits now exceeds payroll, and is the second-largest expenditure item after crude oil.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Delaware City Refinery, where the cost of buying the EPA’s biofuel credits now exceeds payroll, and is the second-largest expenditure item after crude oil.

Workers and managers from three Philadelphia-area refineries on Monday urged federal regulators to reform a renewable fuels program that is costing the companies millions of dollars and threatening jobs.

Several hundred workers and contractors rallied at Delaware City Refinery to protest the high cost of so-called RINs – credits that refineries like the Delaware facility are required to buy under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a 2005 regulation designed to boost the use of biofuels, primarily ethanol, instead of petroleum.

The Delaware refinery is cooperating with Philadelphia Energy Solutions in South Philadelphia and the Monroe Energy refinery in Marcus Hook in seeking relief from the EPA after a recent rise in the cost of the credits which are traded by financial speculators and energy companies that are trying to anticipate EPA policy. Continue Reading

New gas pipeline capacity sharply exceeds consumption, report says

Workers unload pipes at a staging area in Worthing, S.D., for the proposed 1,130-mile Dakota Access Pipeline that would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a hub in Illinois.

Nati Harnik / AP Photo

Workers unload pipes at a staging area in Worthing, S.D., for the 1,130-mile Dakota Access Pipeline. A new report says the nation's new natural gas pipeline capacity resulting from a building boom is far more than is needed.

Charges that the U.S. pipeline industry is building far more natural gas pipelines than it needs are being fueled by a new report showing that the capacity of lines approved by federal regulators over the last two decades was more than twice the amount of gas actually consumed daily in 2016.

The report by the independent Analysis Group for the Natural Resources Defense Council said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved more than 180 billion cubic feet a day (bcf/d) of new pipeline capacity since 1999, when it began its current policy on approving interstate pipelines. The new capacity compares with the average daily consumption of only 75.11 bcf/d last year, the report said.

Even during the Polar Vortex of 2013/14 when exceptionally cold temperatures in the Northeast boosted the need for heating fuel, consumption of 137 bcf/d was still significantly lower than the combined capacity additions, the report said, citing data from the federal Energy Information Administration. In January 2017, national consumption was 93.1 bcf/d, even further below the capacity of the additional pipeline network, the report said. The data on additions to pipeline capacity are from FERC.

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