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.

Water problems persist along Mariner East pipeline route despite court intervention

A backhoe works at a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Lebanon County.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

A backhoe works at a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Lebanon County.

Water impacts continue at numerous Pennsylvania sites where Sunoco is building the Mariner East 2 pipeline two months after a court-brokered agreement. The settlement between environmental groups and Sunoco Pipeline was designed to prevent horizontal directional drilling from damaging aquifers and spilling fluid into wetlands.

Data from the Department of Environmental Protection show 18 “inadvertent returns” of drilling fluid in three regions of southern Pennsylvania since a state judge approved the agreement between Sunoco and three environmental groups on Aug. 9.

There have been other spills and water-contamination incidents in at least four counties since the agreement was signed, according to reports from township officials and individual residents who say water from their private wells has become undrinkable.

The latest incidents follow reports of 90 drilling-fluid spills in 40 locations, and disturbance to some private water wells, which prompted the court agreement. In July, Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board ordered a temporary halt to horizontal directional drilling (HDD) along the 350-mile pipeline route that runs from southwestern Pennsylvania to Delaware County, outside of Philadelphia.

Drilling resumed in August after Sunoco agreed to a series of water-protection measures including stronger oversight by the DEP. But official data and local reports indicate that water issues have continued in some locations. Continue Reading

Pipeline blasting sprayed Lebanon County home with debris, and may have spread legacy pollution

A backhoe works at a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Lebanon County. Township officials say rock blasting at the site showered a nearby home with debris.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

A backhoe works at a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Lebanon County. Township officials say rock blasting at the site showered a nearby home with debris.

Blasting to remove rock for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Lebanon County showered a home and its swimming pool with debris, and may have prompted the spread of existing underground contamination from a former gasoline depot, township officials said on Thursday.

Sunoco Pipeline contractors excavating the blasting site on Spangler Road near route 322 in West Cornwall Township in mid-September found a “sheen of some unknown product” on surface water, leading the Department of Environmental Protection to order 8,000 gallons of liquid to be removed and treated as hazardous material.

David Lloyd, a supervisor for the township, said he didn’t know the nature of the material removed on the DEP’s orders, or whether its presence was caused by the blasting. Continue Reading

Pipeline critics say blog post seeks to discredit them with ‘fake news’

Opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, like those at this site in Huntingdon County, say a blog post is falsely linking them to the alleged sabotage of construction vehicles.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, like those engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience at this site in Huntingdon County, say a blog post is falsely linking them to the alleged sabotage of construction vehicles. So far, no one has presented any evidence the sabotage actually took place.

Opponents of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 and other pipelines have disavowed an anonymous blog post that linked them to a supposed attack on construction equipment used for the Pennsylvania pipeline. The post, with the headline “Action Against Mariner East 2 Pipeline” had originally claimed an act of sabotage was done in solidarity with groups opposing pipeline construction in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Representatives of Camp White Pine in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, and the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp in northeastern New Jersey said they had nothing to do with the post on a website run by another anonymous group calling itself Philly Anti-Capitalist.

The post, dated Sept. 26, claimed someone, referred to in the post as “we,” poured sand and sugar into the fuel tanks and other ‘liquid receptors’ of several excavators and a flat-bed truck at a Mariner East 2 construction site in Media, Delaware County “on the eve of the fall equinox,” which would have been Thursday, Sept. 21.

But statements from the police, Sunoco, the Anti-Capitalist group, a pro-pipeline campaign, and the pipeline opponents themselves produced no evidence that the alleged sabotage actually took place, raising questions about whether the blog post was the latest example of fake news being used to attack opponents of the pipeline. Continue Reading

Philadelphia plans to cut emissions from city buildings, buy all renewables

Patrick Whittaker of Solar States installs solar panels on the roof of a home in Bryn Mawr.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Patrick Whittaker of Solar States installs solar panels on the roof of a home in Bryn Mawr.

Philadelphia officials on Wednesday unveiled a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, reduce energy use from the built environment and use 100 percent renewable energy to power city properties by 2030.

The goals are part of the new Municipal Energy Master Plan, which aims to help the city meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord to curb carbon emissions and limit temperature gains worldwide.

In June, Mayor Jim Kenney joined other municipal leaders and state governors in declaring that they would continue to pursue the Paris goals even though President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the global agreement. Continue Reading

Last two Dimock families settle lawsuit with Cabot over water

Protestors called for clean water for Dimock in a Philadelphia demonstration in 2012. Two families that sued Cabot Oil & Gas have settled.

AP

Protestors called for clean water for Dimock in a Philadelphia demonstration in 2012. Two families that sued Cabot Oil & Gas have settled.

Two Pennsylvania families have settled a lawsuit against a major natural gas producer, ending an almost decade-long fight over alleged water contamination in the northeast Pennsylvania town of Dimock.

The families were among 15 who sued Cabot Oil & Gas in 2009, claiming that fracking for natural gas had contaminated their drinking water wells in the area, known as a “sweet spot” of the Marcellus Shale for its rich gas reserves. All but two of the families previously settled.

The two remaining families went to trial and won a jury award of $4.24 million in March 2016. The jury determined that Cabot had been negligent.

The verdict was hailed as a major victory for critics of the gas industry, but it was overturned in March this year by the trial judge who said the award bore little or no relation to the evidence presented. He ordered a new trial, but also told the parties to first seek a settlement.

The plaintiffs in the new settlement, which was reached on Sept. 21, are Nolen Scott Ely, Monica Marta-Ely and their three minor children, and Ray Hubert, Victoria Hubert and their adult daughter, Hope Hubert.

Leslie Lewis, attorney for the families, declined to provide details of the settlement and said her clients were not willing to comment, but said were they happy with the award.

“The settlement is final,” Lewis wrote in an email. “After nearly a decade, the plaintiffs are happy and relieved to have these past litigated matters behind them.”

Continue Reading

Pipeline opponents sue Sunoco, alleging constitutional violations

Ellen (left) and Elise Gerhart have been battling with Sunoco Logistics over the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline on their property in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Ellen (left) and Elise Gerhart have been battling with Sunoco Logistics over the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline on their property in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.They filed a federal lawsuit on Monday accusing Sunoco and its parent company Energy Transfer Partners with violating their constitutional rights.

Four opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipeline sued Sunoco Pipeline and its parent, Energy Transfer Partners, in federal court on Monday, alleging the company violated several constitutional rights when police arrested the plaintiffs on a private property in Huntingdon County.

The suit accuses Sunoco, plus a private security firm, a publicist, and 27 state and local police officers of violating constitutional protections over free speech, false arrest, malicious prosecution and equal protection when the plaintiffs were arrested on the property owned by the Gerhart family in March 2016.

The claims stem from a confrontation between the Gerharts and their supporters, and Sunoco and law-enforcement officers on March 29, 2016 when a tree-cutting crew entered an easement that the company obtained through eminent domain on the Gerharts’ land to build the pipeline. Continue Reading

Delco homeowners ask court to halt Mariner East 2 pipeline construction

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.  A homeowners group is asking a court to halt construction in that location until Sunoco comes up with a plan to mitigate contaminated soil on the site.

Jon Hurdle

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. A homeowners group is asking a court to halt construction in that location until Sunoco comes up with a plan to mitigate contaminated soil on the site.

A Delaware County homeowners association is asking an appeals court to halt local work on the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline until its builder, Sunoco Pipeline, finds a way to stop disturbance of contaminated soil at the site.

The Andover Homeowners Association in Thornbury Township says construction on the edge of its upscale 39-home development is stirring up contaminants including lead and arsenic that were used as pesticides when the land was an orchard, and which now threaten residents’ health.

The association argues that the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as recently interpreted by the state Supreme Court, establishes that government at all levels has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of its citizens and the state’s natural resources.

But it complains that it has had no help from two state agencies and the local township in seeking to control the alleged contamination. Continue Reading

DRBC confirms it will consider banning fracking in basin

Dan Plummer fishes for trout in the Delaware River, Delaware County New York. The Delaware watershed hosts world class trout fisheries. But a dispute over water allocation between New York City and New Jersey could put those fisheries in jeopardy.

courtesy of Friends of the Upper Delaware

Dan Plummer fishes for trout in the Delaware River, Delaware County New York. The Delaware River Basin Commission has proposed a ban on fracking along the river.

The Delaware River Basin Commission confirmed on Monday that it will consider adopting new rules that would ban natural gas drilling in the basin, a policy that would formalize a de facto moratorium that has been in place since 2010.

The interstate regulator of water quality and supply in the basin said in a statement that its public meeting this week will consider a resolution that would require its executive director to draft a new rule containing the proposed ban, which would be sent out for public comment by the end of November, and potentially adopted later.

“If the proposed resolution is approved by the commission on Sept. 13, the revised draft rules to be published on a later date would include prohibitions related to the production of natural gas utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing within the Delaware River Basin,” the DRBC said in a press release. Continue Reading

Homeowners say Sunoco breached protective order during pipeline construction

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.  A homeowners group says the company is contacting residents in violation of a court order.

Jon Hurdle

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. A homeowners group says the company is contacting residents in violation of a court order.

A group of Delaware County homeowners ramped up a war of words with Sunoco Pipeline on Thursday, accusing it of violating a court order that forbids company representatives from contacting residents during construction work for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

And Sunoco’s lawyers began the process of applying to a judge for a writ of possession, which would give the company the right to exclude residents from an easement on land that is owned by their homeowners’ association.

Rich Raiders, an attorney for the Andover Homeowners Association in Thornbury Township, said Sunoco representatives were using “inappropriate conduct” and trespassing on private property at a site where their contractors are clearing trees and preparing ground for the pipeline.

Raiders said Sunoco and its contractors had contacted residents without his permission, as prohibited in a protective order issued by the Commonwealth Court on May 16. Continue Reading

Sunoco contractors challenge residents’ presence on pipeline right-of-way

An orange fence separates a Delaware County development from a right-of-way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Jon Hurdle

An orange fence separates a Delaware County development from a right-of-way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Delaware County, three residents of Thornbury Township stepped over a spray-painted line marking the edge of a right-of-way where a contractor for Sunoco Pipeline was preparing land for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

The response from one of about eight hard-hatted workers was immediate: he got on his phone and called the police, claiming that the residents were trespassing.

Within a few minutes, two state troopers showed up and began to question the contractors and the residents, some of whom are members of the Andover Homeowners Association, which represents a development of 38 substantial suburban houses a few yards from the pipeline route, and owns the land on which the pipeline will be built. Continue Reading

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