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.

  • Email: jonhurdle@gmail.com

Surging gas-fired power generation in PJM region will force more coal plant closures, report says

A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by Moody's this week says a glut of natural gas will "wreak havoc" on the region's electricity market.

courtesy of PJM

A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by Moody's this week says a glut of natural gas will "wreak havoc" on the region's electricity market.

A rush to build power plants fueled by cheap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale will swell power supply in the region coordinated by PJM Interconnection, operator of the largest power grid in North America, driving down prices and forcing the closure of many coal-fired plants over the next four years, according to a new analysis by Moody’s Investors Service.

The report predicts that power supply within the 243,417 square mile area covered by PJM will surge by 25 percent by 2021, causing on-peak prices to drop by 15 percent and leading to “widespread” closures or conversion to gas at coal-fired plants. Power grid operator PJM manages the movement of electricity to 65 million people living in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, and parts of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and North Carolina.

“A massive construction of new gas capacity is underway in PJM to take advantage of cheap Marcellus gas, which will drive down market prices, a material credit negative for unregulated power companies,” the report said on Tuesday.

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Middletown residents sue Sunoco to stop pipeline, alleging violation of township ordinance

Construction equipment clears trees in Aston, Delaware County to make way for the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.

Emily Cohen / for StateImpact PA

Construction equipment clears trees in Aston, Delaware County to make way for the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.

Six residents of Middletown Township, Delaware County, are suing Sunoco Logistics, saying that its planned Mariner East 2 pipelines would violate a township ordinance that requires a pipeline to be at least 75 feet from occupied structures.

The suit, filed in the Delaware Court of Common Pleas on Friday, says that each of the plaintiffs lives less than 75 feet from the route where the two new pipelines would carry highly pressurized ethane, propane and butane.

The suit, which seeks enforcement of the ordinance, is part of a strategy by citizens’ groups in Middletown and some nearby communities to use municipal regulations to force changes in the construction of a pipeline that opponents say is a threat to public safety. It follows legal memos sent to nearby Thornbury and West Goshen townships earlier this year, urging them to enforce their own ordinances that activists said would be violated by the pipelines. Continue Reading

Some PA water systems still struggle to reach federal health standards, report says

In this photo taken on Feb. 26, 2009, an aeration basin is seen in operation at the Wilmington Wastewater Treatment Plant in Wilmington, Del.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

In this photo taken on Feb. 26, 2009, an aeration basin is seen in operation at the Wilmington Wastewater Treatment Plant in Wilmington, Del.

Some Pennsylvania drinking water systems have levels of contaminants that violate federal health standards, and may cause illnesses ranging from nausea and diarrhea to birth defects and cancer, according to a national report released on Tuesday. The report blames deteriorating infrastructure and lax enforcement by the federal government.

The Pennsylvania data is a subset of the report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, using public data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The NRDC analysis found that 167 Pennsylvania systems serving 691,000 people violated health standards set by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act when data were gathered in 2015.

The Pennsylvania systems that are recorded as having health-based violations had pollutants such as disinfectants, coliforms and nitrates at levels that could damage human health, the report said. Chlorine is a widely used disinfectant in water treatment systems, but when combined with some naturally occurring organic matter, it can create dangerous by-products that can lead to miscarriages and birth defects. Continue Reading

Delco zoning board refuses to block Mariner East 2 pipeline

Construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline has already begun in Delaware County. Thornbury Township resident failed to convince the zoning board to block it.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

Construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline has already begun in Delaware County. Thornbury Township resident failed to convince the zoning board to block it.

The latest local effort to block the Mariner East 2 pipeline failed late Monday when a zoning panel in Delaware County denied an appeal against three permits that have allowed its construction.

Thornbury Township’s Zoning Hearing Board turned down a request by a local homeowners association to withdraw the permits to install a fence, a utility pole and automated pipeline equipment. The residents’ group argued that the items would violate a local ordinance that requires at least 40 percent of land in their tract to remain as open space.

But the panel said in a statement after a three-hour meeting that it had seen “insufficient proof” that the construction activities by Sunoco Logistics would violate the ordinance, and denied the appeal. Rich Raiders, an attorney for the Andover Homeowners Association, said he would talk with his client about whether to appeal the decision to the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

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Cities oppose state bill that would stop them curbing use of plastic bags

A customer totes a shopping bag outside an Ikea store in Conshohocken, Pa., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007. The Swedish retailer, which has its U.S. headquarters in suburban Conshohocken, announced Tuesday that it will start charging customers a nickel for

George Widman / AP Photo

A customer totes a shopping bag outside an Ikea store in Conshohocken, Pa., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007. The Swedish retailer, which has its U.S. headquarters in suburban Conshohocken, at first charged customers a nickel for each plastic bag but has since eliminated disposable bags altogether and charges customers for reusable bags.

At least four Pennsylvania cities are urging state Senators to reject a bill that would prevent municipalities from banning plastic shopping bags or imposing fees to curb their use.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, York and Erie say that single-use plastic shopping bags are environmentally damaging, and increase waste-disposal costs for cities around the Commonwealth. They also argue that the bill, HB1071, would infringe on cities’ rights to run their own affairs.

The cities, and several associations representing them, called on members of the state House of Representatives to reject the bill but that effort failed on April 25 when the House approved it by a vote of 102-82, and the measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The bill “prohibits political subdivisions from imposing a ban, fee, surcharge or tax on plastic bags at point of sale” but does not prevent retailers from taking their own measures to cut bag use. Continue Reading

New Jersey rejects PennEast application for water permit for now, gives company new deadline

In this April 17, 2014 photo, workers construct a gas pipeline in Harmony, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

In this April 17, 2014 photo, workers construct a gas pipeline in Harmony, Pa. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has given PennEast 30 days to correct deficiencies in its water crossing permits.

The embattled PennEast natural gas pipeline suffered another blow on Wednesday when New Jersey officials rejected the company’s current application for a freshwater wetlands permit, saying it lacked a long list of information.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection gave PennEast another 30 days to submit information ranging from tax maps and historic property information to evidence that landowners have given permission to build the line on their properties, and survey data for water crossings.

The DEP also noted that the company said it had applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a certificate of public convenience, which would grant the company eminent domain authority. But so far, too many landowners have refused access to their properties for surveys.

“The application to FERC for a certificate of public convenience does not yet have legal authority to condemn the pipeline easement,” officials said in a letter the company. Continue Reading

Chesco residents urge officials to reject development plan for contaminated site

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

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

The Bishop Tube site in Malvern, Chester County where O'Neill Properties wants to build 228 houses. Current residents fear a planned cleanup would expose them to contaminants.

Residents of a Chester County community are urging local officials to reject plans for a 228-home development on a contaminated former industrial site that critics say threatens local waterways with toxic material including a known carcinogen.

Around 100 residents of East Whiteland Township called on their Board of Supervisors at a recent meeting to block a plan by Constitution Drive Partners,  a unit of O’Neill Properties, to redevelop the Bishop Tube site at Malvern where the chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE, was used as a degreaser until the steel tubing plant closed in 1999.

Opponents say that O’Neill, which has a record of redeveloping brownfield sites, plans an incomplete cleanup of the site, leaving behind quantities of TCE that could leak into local creeks that feed the Schuylkill River, which supplies around 40 percent of Philadelphia’s drinking water. Continue Reading

Philadelphia protesters accuse Trump administration of anti-science bias

Woman holds a sign at the March for Science in Center City Philadelphia, April 22, 2017.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Woman holds a sign at the March for Science in Center City Philadelphia, April 22, 2017.

Thousands of people marched through central Philadelphia on Saturday to protest what they see as an anti-science bias by the Trump administration, and to urge the federal government to use evidence rather than ideology to set policy, especially on climate change.

Carrying hand-written signs such as “Without Science It’s Just Fiction” and “Science is Real, Alternative Facts Are Not,” the crowd marched from City Hall to a rally at Penn’s Landing where speakers urged participants to speak out against policies that are not based on provable science.

Many marchers said they joined the event on Earth Day because they are concerned by the Trump administration’s plans to cut funding to science-based agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health, and to urge the government to follow the evidence, as supported by the overwhelming majority of scientists, in setting policy on climate change. Continue Reading

Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 pipeline leaked ethane and propane in Berks County, records show

The entrance to Sunoco's refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

The entrance to Sunoco's refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.

Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 natural gas liquids pipeline leaked about 20 barrels of ethane and propane near Morgantown, Berks County, on April 1, the company said on Thursday.

The leak, at 5530 Morgantown Road, Morgantown, Pa., did not reach water sources, according to the US Coastguard’s National Response Center, which records spills of hazardous materials such as oil and chemicals. When de-pressurized by a leak, the natural gas liquids can become a gas, which is released to the atmosphere. In those cases, the danger lies in ignition, there was no ignition in this case.

Jeff Shields, a spokesman for Sunoco, confirmed that about 20 barrels of the liquids leaked from the line. After being notified of a possible leak on April 1, company officials confirmed the release, shut down the line and made the repair over the next few days, Shields said.

He said there were no public safety impacts and that the cause is being investigated in cooperation with regulators.

Asked why the company had not announced the incident sooner, Shields said that Sunoco alerted the National Response Center on the day it discovered the leak, and that its notification was public information. The company also notified local authorities and regulatory agencies, which determined that no emergency response was required, he said.

He said the company will make a full report of the incident to the federal pipeline regulator, PHMSA, within 30 days, as required. PHMSA confirmed knowledge of the leak, but a spokesman said the agency is still investigating.

“When public safety is broadly affected, we work in conjunction with the authorities to notify the affected areas while we are responding,” Shields said in a statement. “We have and will continue to be transparent about the safety of our pipelines and continue to hold the safety of our neighbors and employees as our most important responsibility.”

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which regulates pipelines, confirmed that there had been an incident, but did not specify the nature or quantity of the materials involved, whether there was an effect on the environment, or the possible cause of the leak. Continue Reading

Regulators to seek ways of boosting natural gas service in rural communities

Pipelines like this gathering line in Tiadaghton State Forest are among the possible solutions to increasing natural gas supply to under-served areas, a topic being addressed by a new NARUC study.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pipelines like this gathering line in Tiadaghton State Forest are among the possible solutions to increasing natural gas supply to under-served areas, a topic being addressed by a new NARUC study.

A national investigation by utility regulators into ways of increasing natural gas supplies to under-served or un-served areas appears to be ignoring alternative energy sources and may be exposing those communities to high maintenance costs for new pipelines, critics said.

Utility regulators are forming a task force to look at ways of supplying more gas to under-served areas, including rural communities, in an initiative co-chaired by a commissioner from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The panel will examine ways of expanding natural gas infrastructure and encouraging suppliers to connect residential, industrial and commercial customers in communities that have been unable to benefit from the current low price of gas from areas like the Marcellus Shale.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners said Monday the panel will be co-chaired by John Coleman, one of the Pennsylvania PUC commissioners, who has helped to address supply issues in the state.

Critics said the plan does not take into account the costs of maintaining new natural gas lines in communities that may be unable to afford them. Continue Reading

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