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

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.

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.

“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

Wolf says Act 13 language should be fixed to protect impact-fee revenue

The PUC is challenging a court ruling that it says would further reduce impact fee revenue which has already declined because of less drilling  at rigs like this.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

The PUC is challenging a court ruling that it says would further reduce impact fee revenue which has already declined because of a decline in gas production..

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said late Wednesday that the wide-ranging Act 13 law should be changed to ensure that municipalities receive all the revenue they are entitled to from the state’s impact fee on gas drilling.

Wolf’s office issued a statement in support of the Public Utility Commission which said Tuesday that the law’s language should be changed so that drillers cannot escape paying the fee on low-producing gas wells. The regulator also said it would appeal a recent Commonwealth Court ruling that would limit the fees payable on the so-called stripper wells.

“As a result of the recent court decision, counties and municipalities across the state which receive impact fee revenues to address critical infrastructure needs and impacts of natural gas development will receive millions less this year and in future years,” the statement said. ”The Governor believes that the language should be fixed to ensure that counties and municipalities receive the funding they depend on.” Continue Reading

School officials seek answers on safety of Mariner East 2

Workers cleared trees to make way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County, where school officials are seeking assurances on safety.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

Workers cleared trees to make way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County, where school officials are seeking assurances on safety.

Pipeline advocates and emergency responders sought to allay continuing concerns about the safety of the planned Mariner East 2 line near schools during a recent meeting in Delaware County, calming some worries but failing to convince critics that their children will be safe when the pipeline is built.

As Sunoco Logistics presses on with construction of its cross-state natural gas liquids pipeline, officials at the Rose Tree Media School District held a “safety summit” on March 31 to discuss how to respond to different threats including the possibility of a leak or rupture in the line, which is planned to run about 650 feet from an elementary school in the district.

The event, organized by the district’s superintendent, Jim Wigo, was attended by about 40 people including representatives of Sunoco and two other nearby school districts plus emergency responders from municipal and county levels, township officials, representatives of local police and fire departments, council members, and representatives from the Delaware County homeland security department. Continue Reading

FERC says PennEast pipeline would have ‘less than significant’ environmental impact

Natural gas pipeline construction site in Northeast Pennsylvania. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of the PennEast Pipeline project on Friday.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Natural gas pipeline construction site in Northeast Pennsylvania. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of the PennEast Pipeline project on Friday.

The proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey would have “less than significant” environmental effects if it meets plans laid out by its builder and regulators, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said on Friday.

In its final Environmental Impact Statement on the 120-mile project, FERC said its determination was based on information from the PennEast Pipeline Co., field investigations, and contacts with federal, state and local officials.

“The FERC staff concludes that approval of the proposed project, with the mitigation measures recommended in the EIS, would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but impacts would be reduced to less than significant levels with the implementation of PennEast’s proposed and our recommended mitigation measures,” the agency said. Continue Reading

With governor’s signature, Maryland becomes third state to ban fracking

Maryland banned fracking for oil and natural gas at sites like this in Dimock, Pa.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact PA

Maryland banned fracking for oil and natural gas at sites like this in Dimock, Pa.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on Tuesday signed a bill banning fracking, making his state the third after New York and Vermont to prevent the controversial process of oil and gas extraction.

Hogan, a Republican, said in March that he would back the bill that was passed at the end of that month by both houses of the Democrat-controlled state legislature. Continue Reading

Judge cancels jury award to Dimock families; orders new trial

Dimock resident Scott Ely at a protest in 2012. A judge overturned a jury award for him and other Dimock plaintiffs.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Dimock resident Scott Ely at a protest in 2012. A judge overturned a jury award for him and other Dimock plaintiffs.

A federal judge on Friday struck down a jury’s award of more than $4 million to two Pennsylvania families who claimed their well water was contaminated by gas drilling, saying the award bore little or no relationship to the evidence presented at the 2016 trial.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson of the Middle District of Pennsylvania ordered a new trial of the case brought by the families in Dimock, led by Scott Ely, who said at the original trial that their water had been contaminated since 2008.

The verdict in March of 2016 was hailed as a major victory by critics of the gas industry, who argued that the rural community of Dimock was a poster child for the hazards of shale gas development.

But the judge, in a 58-page opinion released late Friday, reversed the award of $4.24 million against Cabot Oil & Gas which the jury determined had been negligent in its extraction of natural gas in the community. Continue Reading

PJM says more natural gas power generation would not hurt reliability

Grid operator says reliability of electric supply to facilities like this sub-station in Vermont would not be hurt by an expected increase in use of natural gas by generators.

Toby Talbot / AP Photo

Grid operator says reliability of electric supply to facilities like this sub-station in Vermont would not be hurt by an expected increase in use of natural gas by generators.

The reliability of electric power supply in the U.S. northeast and mid-Atlantic states would not be hurt if generators burned more natural gas and renewables or if the recent decline in coal and nuclear generation continues, the operator of the nation’s biggest electric grid said on Thursday.

PJM Interconnection, which operates the grid serving some 65 million people in 13 states, released a study on the impact of declining coal and nuclear power markets to electric reliability.

It concluded that the expected mix of fuels, including coal, natural gas and renewables, that generators are expected to use at least until 2021 will result in high reliability.

Some measures of reliability may drop with a projected future decline in the use of coal and nuclear but would not be hurt even if natural gas use surged as high as 86 percent of a generator’s portfolio, according to the report, titled “PJM’s Evolving Resource Mix and System Reliability.”

While the lack of diversity shown by a heavy reliance on natural gas would not hurt reliability, it could hurt resilience, or the system’s ability to withstand adverse events like big storms, the report said.

It found there were limits to the amount of wind and solar that can be used for reliable generation. “Significant” increases in the use of those two renewables would hurt reliability but generators could still use “unprecedented” amounts of the fuels as long as the rest of their mix came from reliable sources, the report said. Continue Reading

DRBC considers new fish rule to mark gains in water quality

The Delaware River near Morrisville, Pa.: Could water quality see further gains under a DRBC proposal to boost fish populations?

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

The Delaware River near Morrisville, Pa.: Could water quality see further gains under a DRBC proposal to boost fish populations?

Water quality in the Delaware River estuary has improved over the last few decades to the point where regulators are considering adding the breeding of fish to a list of designated “uses” for that section of the river.

The Delaware River Basin Commission will hold a public hearing on April 6 to discuss its proposal to include fish propagation in the official uses of a 38-mile tidal stretch of the river between Philadelphia and Trenton.

The river’s current uses, as defined by the commission in 1967, are limited to the “maintenance” or survival of resident fish, and the passage of migratory fish, both reflecting the low levels of dissolved oxygen and a heavy load of pollution that characterized the river in past decades.

Since then, pollution has declined from industry, sewers, and so-called non-point sources such as lawn runoff, allowing oxygen levels to rise, and helping fish populations recover. Continue Reading

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