Following spills, DEP stops Mariner East 2 work at Delaware County site

Construction of Mariner East 2 in West Cornwall Township, Lebanon County.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Construction of Mariner East 2 in West Cornwall Township, Lebanon County.

More than 100 spills have occurred during the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, and now, another troublesome spot has emerged in Delaware County outside Philadelphia.

State officials say four spills have taken place in the past week at a construction site in Middletown Township. The incidents, known as “inadvertent returns,” occur when pipeline workers drill horizontally underground, and the drilling mud they use leaks.

The Department of Environmental Protection said more than 8,000 gallons of the mud were released and cleaned up in the first three spills. The mud includes water and bentonite clay, and it did not cause any environmental impacts, DEP spokesman Neil Shader said in an email.

When the fourth spill happened Monday, the agency required work to stop.

Shader said the department will have to approve the pipeline developer’s plan to restart work.

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Judges OK Consol plan to mine beneath Greene County stream

Polen Run in Ryerson Station State Park, Greene County. Photo: Center for Coalfield Justice

Polen Run in Ryerson Station State Park, Greene County. Photo: Center for Coalfield Justice

After Consol Energy’s plans to mine beneath streams inside a state park in Greene County were rejected twice in court last year, a panel of Pennsylvania judges gave its latest plan the go-ahead.

The Environmental Hearing Board ruled a Department of Environmental Protection permit for Consol to conduct longwall mining on a 700-foot long section of Polen Run was supported by the evidence. The board rejected an appeal of the permit by two environmental groups.

The Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club argued that longwall mining would damage the stream by causing ground beneath it to fall in. The company said that it could fix any cracks in the streambed with grouting.

In past decisions, judges on the environmental hearing board ruled against the DEP’s permits, at one point saying they would allow the company to “essentially destroy” the stream.

This time was different. The panel wrote in an opinion signed by Judge Thomas W. Renwand that updated data “and other evidence presented … supports the Department’s issuance of the permit revision.”

The environmental groups argued that Polen Run was already being affected by loss of water because of mining beneath it in other parts of the stream. In longwall mining, large machines shear off long sections of rock. The technique can cause the ground above it to fall in, or subside, which can cause problems for buildings and waterways on the surface. Cracks open up in the streambed, and streams can lose water to those cracks.

The judges agreed that “there is at least some likelihood that Polen Run will experience some degree of temporary flow loss.”

But they said new evidence submitted by the company and the DEP showed that nearby streams  damaged by longwall mining “have evidently recovered” because of Consol’s improved restoration techniques, which include grouting any cracks it creates.  A DEP engineer testified that “should any flow loss occur, the restoration techniques will successfully restore the stream.”

Veronica Coptis, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, called the decision “disappointing.”

“Families in our region deserve to enjoy fishing and other recreational activities in and around Polen Run as they’ve done for generations. We are continuing in our efforts in the reinvestment and rebuilding of Ryerson Station State Park,” she said in an email.

A DEP spokesman declined comment.

Consol spokesman Zach Smith said the company was reviewing the decision but said in an email: “We are very pleased with the Judge’s decision to uphold a legal permit, issued by the Department of Environmental Protection, after considering all of the facts and merits of the case.”

It was the latest in a series of permits the environmental groups have fought over with the company and the DEP.

In late 2016, the environmental groups appealed a permit for longwall mining beneath the 3L section of Consol’s Bailey Mine East Expansion. The permit allowed the company to mine under Polen Run and another nearby stream, Kent Run.

A judge halted mining within 100 feet of the 3L section of Kent Run. The appeal related to Polen Run was dismissed, because the company had already undermined that stream by the time a hearing was held.

Consol eventually settled with the groups, agreeing not to conduct longwall mining beneath the stream in the “3L” section, and instead use a less intensive mining technique.

In August, the EHB judges overturned another permit issued by DEP, saying that the permit would allow the company to “essentially destroy the existing stream channel and stream banks and rebuild it from scratch.”

This time, Consol applied for a permit to mine beneath Polen Run in the “5L” section of the mine. Consol said it didn’t anticipate subsidence in the stream, even though other stream beds in the area have subsided after longwall mining. It based that analysis on specific geology and groundwater data it had collected near the projected mining site.

And even if subsidence happened, Consol “would restore streamflow to a normal range of conditions using the existing intervention measures which have been proven effective,” according to Consol’s permit application.

Renwand’s decision came in spite of a January letter from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s Director of Parks John S. Hallas to the DEP in which he faulted the company’s data, writing that it “does not meet any scientifically accepted standard for concluding that there will be no impacts from mining.”

PA gasoline prices creep toward $3 per gallon ahead of summer travel season

Gasoline prices are expected to climb to $3 per gallon this week in Pennsylvania.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Gasoline prices are expected to climb to $3 per gallon this week in Pennsylvania.

Gasoline prices in Pennsylvania will likely hit the $3-per-gallon mark this week, their highest level since 2014.

Rising gas prices are partly the result of high demand, said Jim Garrity, a spokesperson for AAA East Central, which includes Pennsylvania and nearby states. The demand for gas right now nationwide is greater than any other April on record.

“That’s on the back of a stronger economy,” Garrity said. “That’s what has given consumers the confidence to say, ‘Yeah, we can take that trip this year,’ or, ‘We can go visit the family and not have to worry about the gasoline prices.’”

On top of demand, he said climbing crude oil prices are also at play. The price of oil tanked in 2014 and 2015 amid a global oversupply, but it’s ticked back up since last summer. Continue Reading

FERC, called a ‘rubber stamp’ by critics, begins policy review for approval of natural gas pipelines

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed properly quantify greenhouse gas emissions linked to a pipeline expansion project in the southeastern U.S.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed properly quantify greenhouse gas emissions linked to a pipeline expansion project in the southeastern U.S.

The federal government has opened a review on whether its policies governing approval of interstate natural-gas pipelines should be revamped, an issue often raised by critics of the rapid expansion of industry infrastructure in New Jersey.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week launched an inquiry into whether its policies, unchanged since 1999, dealing with its oversight of pipelines ought to be updated.

The decision comes amid concerns raised by pipeline opponents about the current policy, including how the agency decides if a pipeline is needed and whether enough weight is given to the environmental impact of a new project. It also is expected to seek input on policies regarding eminent domain, which allow private land to be acquired through condemnation proceedings.

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Sunoco says testing is done and Mariner East 1 is safe; state officials say slow down

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline have been investigating geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines. The company offered to relocate residents of the five homes whose yards are crossed by the pipeline right of way.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline have been investigating geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County after sinkholes developed during drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines. Regulators shut down the nearby Mariner East 1 pipeline because of potential danger related to the sinkholes, and ordered Sunoco to perform new testing to ensure that pipeline's safety before the company can resume its operation.

More than a month after the Mariner East 1 pipeline was shut down over safety concerns, representatives for Sunoco say they’ve found no problems, and that they’re looking forward to getting the natural gas liquids pipeline running again.

But state officials say they’re not making any decisions to put the Mariner East 1 back in service yet.

Problems with the pipeline began late last year when a rash of sinkholes opened nearby. In early March, the state Public Utility Commission ordered that it be shut down.

The concern, they said, is that the unstable ground, plus nearby construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline, could be a threat to public safety. PUC Chairman Gladys Brown ordered Sunoco to inspect Mariner East 1 in the area of where the sinkholes formed, then shut down the line while it studied geological conditions. It would then submit its findings for approval by PUC inspectors.

Now, Sunoco is saying it has finished testing the area, and has found there is no safety issue.

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Proposed bill takes ‘principled position’: By 2050, Pennsylvania should use only renewable energy

Wind turbines along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Courtesy: Pennsylvania Turnpike Comission

Wind turbines along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

A bipartisan group of state legislators want Pennsylvania to aim for 100 percent renewable energy by the middle of this century.

Identical bills introduced in the House and Senate would create a new task force and a center for clean energy excellence, with the goal of having all of Pennsylvania’s needs met by renewable energy by the year 2050. The aim is to avert the worst effects of climate change.

David Masur of the advocacy group PennEnvironment is backing measure, but he acknowledges it’s unlikely to pass the GOP-led legislature anytime soon.

“I don’t think the proposal will get done this session,” he said. “But every great social change movement, to tackle any major problem, has been when someone takes the principled position and starts that conversation.”

Spokespeople for the House and Senate Republican caucuses did not respond to requests for comment on the bills.

At a news conference Wednesday, Rep. Christopher Rabb (D- Philadelphia) said Pennsylvania has a moral responsibility to address global warming. He is the prime sponsor of the House bill, which includes 32 other Democratic co-sponsors and one Republican.

“The vast majority of scientists agree: climate change is real. And you don’t have to be a scientist to notice its effects,” Rabb said. “We’ve seen so many weather extremes in recent years, including hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Irma and Maria. Those last three all happened just last year.”

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Dynamite disappears from Atlantic Sunrise worksite; ATF is trying to find it

Construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Lancaster County.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Lancaster County.

Update, 10:24 a.m. April 19: Authorities now say that 704 pounds of explosives were stolen. The Lebanon Daily News reported that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said an inventory confirmed that 16 cases of dynamite were taken. Each case holds 40 sticks of dynamite that weigh 1.1 pounds each.

 The ATF increased its reward offer to $20,000 for information leading to recovery of the explosives or an arrest.

Reported previously: Authorities are searching for explosives that were stolen last weekend from an Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline worksite in Lancaster County.

More than 600 pounds of dynamite disappeared from a locked truck trailer in Marietta, along with 400 blasting caps, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Gregory General Contracting Company reported the theft to authorities on Monday after security at the site discovered the trailer door open with the locks missing.

Atlantic Sunrise developer Williams said the incident took place at a storage yard operated by a contractor. The pipeline project is under construction to bring natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to markets across the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States. The pipeline will run through 10 counties: Columbia, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Clinton and Lycoming.

ATF Special Agent Charlene Hennessy said the bureau is working on leads provided by the public to find the explosives and the people responsible. Continue Reading

Sunoco proposes changes to Mariner East 2 construction in Chester County; DEP sets public hearing

Residents of Chester County’s West Whiteland Township on Monday pressed pipeline regulators for answers on Sunoco’s Mariner East construction after it produced sink holes behind some local homes.

Jon Hurdle

In March, residents of Chester County’s West Whiteland Township pressed pipeline regulators for answers on Sunoco’s Mariner East construction after it produced sink holes behind some local homes.

 

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection will hold a public hearing on plans by Sunoco Pipeline to modify its construction of the controversial Mariner East pipelines at two sites in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township.

The DEP said Monday that Sunoco proposes to change its construction method for the pipelines from horizontal directional drilling (HDD) to a conventional bore at one site and from HDD to a combination of conventional bore, open trench and HDD at the other sit

The changes would mean “major modifications” to the company’s permits under the DEP’s Chapter 105 water obstruction and Chapter 102 erosion control regulations, and so require DEP approval after a public hearing, the department said in a statement.

The meeting will be held on April 30 from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm at the EN Peirce Middle School in West Chester. The DEP also extended a public-comment period from April 21 until May 11.

The statement said one of the affected sites is on East Swedesford Road, where the local water utility, Aqua America, has raised concerns about a well at Hillside Drive. The other location is along North Pottstown Pike, where the new work plan has been prompted by hydrogeological analysis and seismic testing, DEP said. Sunoco submitted both plans last October.

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Five takeaways from StateImpact’s forum on gas royalties

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StateImpact Pennsylvania hosted an educational forum Monday in Towanda, Bradford County to examine how Pennsylvania and other major energy-producing states are dealing with disputes of oil and gas royalties.

Many Pennsylvania mineral owners have complained they are not being paid fairly. The controversy has led to class action lawsuits and ongoing litigation by the state Attorney General’s Office. Landowners have accused gas companies of abuses including charging exorbitant fees, misreporting the sale price of gas and volume produced, and failing to adhere to lease language.

Much of the issue revolves around so-called “post production costs”, which are the expenses gas companies incur when they move and process gas from wells to the market. These costs can be passed along to landowners and show up as deductions from monthly royalty checks.

Speakers during the two-hour event at Towanda Area High School included Owen L. Anderson, a professor and distinguished oil and gas scholar at the University of Texas, Jackie Root, the head of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners, and David Fine, an attorney with K&L Gates in Harrisburg who represented two gas companies in a state court ruling about royalties that was favorable to the industry.

Here are a few takeaways: Continue Reading

After alert on Russian hacking, a renewed focus on protecting U.S. power grid

A view of the PJM  control room. The grid operator, based outside Philadelphia is the nation's largest.

courtesy of PJM

A view of the PJM control room. The grid operator, based outside Philadelphia is the nation's largest.

The joint alert from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security last month warning that Russia was hacking into critical U.S. energy infrastructure came as no surprise to the nation’s largest grid operator, PJM Interconnection.

“You will never stop people from trying to get into your systems. That isn’t even something we try to do.” said PJM Chief Information Officer, Tom O’Brien. “People will always try to get into your systems. The question is, what controls do you have to not allow them to penetrate? And how do you respond in the event they actually do get into your system?”

PJM is the regional transmission organization for 65 million people, covering 13 states, including Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.

On a rainy day in early April, about 10 people were working inside PJM’s main control center, outside Philadelphia, closely monitoring floor-to-ceiling digital displays showing real-time information from the electric power sector throughout PJM’s territory in the mid-Atlantic and parts of the midwest.

Donnie Bielak, a reliability engineering manager, was overseeing things from his office, perched one floor up.

“This is a very large, orchestrated effort that goes unnoticed most of the time,” Bielak said. “That’s a good thing.”

But the industry certainly did take notice in late 2015 and early 2016, when hackers successfully disrupted power to the Ukrainian grid. The outages lasted a few hours and affected about 225,000 customers. It was the first publicly-known case of a cyber attack causing major disruptions to a power grid. It was widely blamed on Russia.

One of the many lessons of the Ukraine attacks was a reminder to people who work on critical infrastructure to keep an eye out for odd communications.

“A very large percentage of entry points to attacks are coming through emails,” O’Brien said. “That’s why PJM, as well as many others, have aggressive phishing campaigns. We’re training our employees.”

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