Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Jon Hurdle

Reporter

Jon is an experienced journalist who has covered a wide range of general and business-news stories for national and local media in the U.S. and his native U.K. As a former Reuters reporter, he spent several years covering the early stages of Pennsylvania’s natural gas fracking boom and was one of the first national reporters to write about the effects of gas development on rural communities. Jon trained as a general news reporter with a British newspaper chain and later worked for several business-news organizations including Bloomberg News and Market News International, covering topics including economics, bonds, currencies and monetary policy. Since 2011, he has been a freelance writer, contributing Philadelphia-area news to The New York Times; covering economics for Market News, and writing stories on the environment and other subjects for a number of local outlets including StateImpact. He has written two travel guidebooks to the European Alps; lived in Australia, Switzerland, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, and visited many countries including Ethiopia, Peru, Taiwan, and New Zealand. Outside of work hours, Jon can be found running, birding, cooking, and, when weather permits, gardening in the back yard of a Philadelphia row home where he lives with his partner, Kate.

PennEast foes say company is making false statements in bid for public support

Frenchtown residents protest the PennEast Pipeline.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Frenchtown residents protest the PennEast Pipeline. Opponents say the company is misleading the public about FERC's position.

Opponents of the proposed PennEast Pipeline are accusing its builders of making false statements about what the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has said about the project.

The PennEast website invites supporters to sign a form letter to FERC urging it to give final approval to the project on the basis that FERC has said the pipeline will deliver low-cost energy without doing significant environmental harm. The form letter also says that FERC has concluded that no other pipeline could meet projected demand.

“FERC has determined that the demand for the PennEast pipeline cannot be met by existing pipelines or other proposed pipelines,” the form letter says. Continue Reading

PA environmental regulators to consider health limits for PFOA

In this June 15, 2016 file photo, a girl holds a sign during a news conference at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., calling for hearings on the state's handling of PFOA contamination in drinking water in Hoosick Falls. New York environmental regulators are looking statewide for potential sites of groundwater contamination from a cancer-causing chemical previously used to make Teflon and other products. The Department of Environmental Conservation sent formal surveys last week to more than 150 facilities that may have used PFOA. Surveys were also sent to scores of fire departments, airports and other facilities that may have used the related chemical PFOS in firefighting foam.

Mike Groll / AP Photo

In this June 15, 2016 file photo, a girl holds a sign during a news conference at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., calling for hearings on the state's handling of PFOA contamination in drinking water in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. Pennsylvania regulators decided to review whether the state's rules on PFOA levels in drinking water should exceed federal guidelines.

Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board accepted a request to look at whether to set a health limit for the toxic chemical PFOA in drinking water, the board’s first such decision in its more than 40-year history.

The board voted unanimously on Tuesday to accept a petition by the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network which asked it to set a maximum contaminant limit (MCL) for PFOA which has been linked to cancer, high cholesterol and developmental problems.

Although it’s uncertain whether the decision will lead to a formal investigation into the chemical, the Riverkeeper welcomed the vote as a historic step toward the first-ever MCL for a state that has so far adopted federal drinking water standards. Continue Reading

PennEast urges new FERC quorum to quickly approve pipeline

A yard sign in the New Jersey town of Milford protests the PennEast pipeline.

Emma Lee / WHYY

A yard sign in the New Jersey town of Milford protests the PennEast pipeline. PennEast Pipeline Company urged FERC to quickly approve the controversial project.

PennEast Pipeline Company urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to quickly approve its controversial plan to build a natural gas pipeline through Pennsylvania and New Jersey now that FERC has a quorum of commissioners for the first time since February.

The pipeline company said in a letter to FERC dated Aug. 10 that it had met all of the agency’s environmental requirements, and noted that FERC already issued its final Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which found there would be no significant impacts. Continue Reading

Judge approves deal to step up water protection during Sunoco pipeline construction

Benjamin Eckert, a resident of Chester County's West Whiteland Township, with some 30 cases of bottled water that Sunoco had delivered to his house after water from his well turned cloudy. Sunoco was drilling nearby for the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline, and hit the aquifer from which Eckert and his neighbors draw their water.  On Wednesday, a judge signed off on a deal requiring the company to step up its protection of water supplies during future construction.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Benjamin Eckert, a resident of Chester County’s West Whiteland Township, with some 30 cases of bottled water that Sunoco had delivered to his house after water from his well turned cloudy. Sunoco was drilling nearby for the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline, and hit the aquifer from which Eckert and his neighbors draw their water. On Wednesday, a judge signed off on a deal requiring the company to step up its protection of water supplies during future construction.

A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday approved an agreement between Sunoco Pipeline and three environmental groups, requiring the company to step up its protection of water supplies during construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board signed off on the deal, which was first published Tuesday in response to settlement talks by the two sides.

The company agreed to do more to protect private water wells, some of which have been damaged by Sunoco’s drilling for the $2.5 billion cross-state pipeline. Sunoco also agreed to give nearby landowners 10 days’ notice of its plans to drill; to test their water, and to re-evaluate the geology of the sites to prevent more spills of drilling fluid.

In return, the environmental groups withdrew a court challenge that sought to extend a ban on drilling that was ordered by the judge last month in response to dozens of water-contamination incidents.

Continue Reading

In draft deal, Sunoco agrees to new pipeline drilling conditions as groups withdraw court challenge

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Sunoco is drilling beneath the lake as part of construction. On Tuesday, the company agreed to meet new environmental safeguards for drilling on the project in return for withdrawal of a court challenge by three environmental groups.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Sunoco is drilling beneath the lake as part of construction. On Tuesday, the company agreed to meet new environmental safeguards for drilling on the project in return for withdrawal of a court challenge by three environmental groups.

Sunoco Pipeline agreed on Tuesday to meet new environmental safeguards for drilling on its Mariner East 2 pipeline project in return for withdrawal of a court challenge by three environmental groups.

The two sides reached a draft settlement agreement that may avert a hearing before Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board if the judge in charge of the case approves the details. A ban on many of Sunoco’s horizontal directional drilling sites, imposed by Judge Bernard Labuskes on July 25, remains in place until he decides whether to sign off on the deal.

The hearing that was due to begin Wednesday has been canceled.

If the judge confirms the agreement, Sunoco will take steps to protect private water wells, some of which were contaminated by the drilling in recent months. The company agreed to notify landowners within 450 feet of a horizontal drilling location ten days before it starts work there, and to offer to test their water before, during and after the operation.

“Sunoco will immediately notify a landowner with a water supply within 450 feet of an HDD when Sunoco or the Department has determined that there is a substantial possibility that the operation of the HDD will impact his or her water supply,” the agreement said.

The company also agreed to re-evaluate the geology at drilling sites after puncturing aquifers in some locations, disturbing the water supplies of some residents whose private wells draw on those aquifers. Sunoco also said it would file reports of its plans to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The re-evaluation of horizontal directional drilling sites, as agreed to by Sunoco, includes sites where there was an “inadvertent return” of drilling fluid, the term used by the company for a spill. The company said it would consider data that are specific to each drilling site, and conduct extra geotechnical evaluations such as seismic surveys and ground-penetrating radar as appropriate. The re-evaluations will be certified by a professional geologist with relevant experience, the agreement said.

For each site, the company agreed to file a report with the DEP explaining how it plans to “eliminate, reduce or control” the release of drilling fluids. And it said the DEP could modify the new drilling plans if appropriate.

Continue Reading

Judge partially lifts drilling ban on Sunoco pipeline, postpones hearing

Tree clearing for construction of the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline at  site in Delaware County.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

Tree clearing for construction of the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline at site in Delaware County.

A Pennsylvania judge has allowed Sunoco Pipeline to resume horizontal directional drilling at 16 sites along the Mariner East 2 pipeline route.  Previously he had banned drilling throughout the route in response to dozens of water contamination incidents during construction.

Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board mostly agreed to a Sunoco request to exempt 17 of 55 active drilling operations covered by the two-week ban imposed on July 25.

The judge said in an order Thursday that the company could restart drilling at all but one of the 17 locations. The exception was at a creek in Lebanon County. Continue Reading

PennEast pipeline set for FERC approval after Senate confirms new commissioners

Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner, protested plans to build the PennEast natural gas pipeline, at a FERC 'listening session' near Jim Thorpe, Pa. in 2016

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner, protested plans to build the PennEast natural gas pipeline, at a FERC ‘listening session’ near Jim Thorpe, Pa. in 2016

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is likely to issue its final approval to the controversial PennEast Pipeline project through Pennsylvania and New Jersey now that it has a quorum of commissioners for the first time since February, observers said on Friday.

The top federal regulator of interstate pipelines is expected to issue a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to the project this summer, allowing it to use eminent domain to take land for construction from landowners who have refused its offers of compensation.

FERC has a quorum now that the U.S. Senate approved two of President Trump’s nominations Thursday.  Robert Powelson, a member of Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission, and Neil Chatterjee, an energy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will serve on the panel. Continue Reading

Senate budget measure would outsource environmental permit review

State permits for projects like the Mariner East 2 pipeline, seen here in Huntingdon County, could be outsourced to private contractors under new amendments to the 2017-18 budget.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

State permits for projects like the Mariner East 2 pipeline, seen here in Huntingdon County, could be outsourced to private contractors under new amendments to the 2017-18 budget.

The Pennsylvania Senate on Thursday approved a package of budget measures that includes a startling plan to speed up state approval of environmental permits by outsourcing reviews to third parties.

The Senate passed by 26-24 a series of amendments designed to end a month-long budget stalemate by providing revenue to pay for a $32 billion spending plan for the current fiscal year that was approved at the end of June.

The package included a plan to reform the Department of Environmental Protection by appointing third-party contractors to review all permit applications, including those from the oil and gas industry.

The amendments to HB 542 direct the DEP to “contract with third party licensed professionals for the purpose of administering the permit program” within two years of the bill becoming law. The amendment defines qualified professionals as geologists, engineers, land surveys, and landscape architects.

Continue Reading

Delco’s Middletown fires Sunoco contractor because of conflict of interest

A marker for a natural gas liquids pipeline near a home in Cumberland County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A marker for Sunoco's Mariner East 1 natural gas liquids pipeline near a home in Cumberland County. Residents of Middletown, Delaware County are concerned about the safety of the Mariner East 2, which is under construction.

Delaware County’s Middletown Township fired a contractor that was doing a risk analysis of the Mariner East 2 pipeline because the company was also working for the pipeline’s builder, Sunoco.

The township issued a statement on Wednesday saying it became aware that the contractor, DNV-GL, had a conflict of interest because of its relationship with Sunoco Pipeline, and terminated the contract immediately.

“When the township was made aware of the possible conflicts, we immediately asked for a full explanation from DNV-GL about the nature of their business relationship with Sunoco,” the statement said. “As a result of that inquiry, Middletown Township and DNV-GL have agreed to terminate their contract effective immediately.”

The statement said township officials were unaware of DNV’s relationship with Sunoco when they engaged it to do the risk analysis. StateImpact reported on the conflict of interest last week. Continue Reading

Chesco advocates accuse developer of trying to muzzle free speech over toxic site

The Bishop Tube site in East Whiteland Township, Chester County.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

The Bishop Tube site in East Whiteland Township, Chester County. Environmentalists who oppose development plans say they were hit with a SLAPP suit by the developer.

Environmentalists seeking a full cleanup of a contaminated Chester County industrial site hit back on Wednesday at a lawsuit filed by the site’s developer, Brian O’Neill, accusing him of trying to suppress opposition to the project.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network, in preliminary objections to the suit, said O’Neill was seeking to “intimidate and retaliate against the citizens” when he accused the group and its co-defendants of spreading “false and intentionally misleading information” about his plans to remove contaminated material and build 228 townhouses on the Bishop Tube site in East Whiteland Township.

O’Neill, in his suit filed in Chester County Court of Common Pleas on June 27, accused the defendants of defamation, interference with his business interests, and conspiracy, and asked the court to impose a fine of $50,000 plus punitive damages and other costs. Continue Reading

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