Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Marie Cusick

Reporter

Marie Cusick is StateImpact Pennsylvania's Harrisburg reporter at WITF. Her work regularly takes her throughout the state covering Marcellus Shale natural gas production. Marie first began reporting on the gas boom in 2011 at WMHT (PBS/NPR) in Albany, New York. A native Pennsylvanian, she was born and raised in Lancaster and holds a degree in political science and French from Lebanon Valley College. In 2014 Marie was honored with a national Edward R. Murrow award for her coverage of Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.

Feds order more testing, following pipeline explosion

The April 29 explosion, which burned one person, caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, and prompted authorities to evacuate homes and businesses nearby.

Kerry Jobe via AP

The April 29 explosion, which burned one person, caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, and prompted authorities to evacuate homes and businesses nearby.

Federal regulators are requiring a natural gas pipeline company to conduct more testing and take corrective actions on three nearby lines, following an April 29 explosion in Westmoreland County that sent a man to the hospital with severe burns.

In May the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) found evidence of corrosion on the 30-inch gas pipeline, indicating a potential flaw in the coating material used in weld joints at the time of construction in 1981.

In the July 19 order, PHMSA now says three nearby lines buried underground “could potentially have been damaged or adversely affected by the explosion …  and pose a serious risk to life, property, or the environment if returned to normal operation” unless Spectra Energy Corporation conducts more testing and takes further corrective actions.

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State regulators unveil updated oil and gas map

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has unveiled an updated version of its interactive mapping tool for Pennsylvania’s oil and gas wells.

“Making such data available and easy to use promotes transparency and allows the public to generate the information they want on demand,” said DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement.

The updated oil and gas map comes with a 10 minute YouTube tutorial on how to use it. Other groups have already used DEP’s oil and gas data to build their own interactive maps over the years, including StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Shale Play map, which launched in 2011.

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Report: Gas impact fee revenue will keep declining

A natural gas drill rig looms above a farm in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas drill rig looms above a farm in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Pennsylvania will continue to see less money from natural gas drilling, according to a new analysis from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office. This year the drilling impact fees brought in $187.7 million– the lowest amount ever. The IFO projects revenue will continue to decline next year, potentially setting a new record low.

“The impact fee revenues are very sensitive to the average price of gas. What we’ve seen is a dramatic reduction in the average price,” says IFO director Matthew Knittel. “That is in turn reducing revenues.”

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Senate approves bill weakening drilling regulations

The amendment bars state environmental regulators from implementing some of the  new drilling regulations they have proposed.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The amendment bars state environmental regulators from implementing some portions of the new drilling regulations they have proposed.

The state Senate voted Monday to approve an amendment that would undo parts of the state’s pending oil and gas regulations.

SB 1229 is now in the House. The bill was introduced in May and initially pertained to horse breeding, however an amendment approved Monday restricts state environmental regulators from implementing some of their proposed regulations for Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale industry (known as Chapter 78a), which are currently under review at the Attorney General’s office.

It’s the most recent maneuver in a protracted battle over the proposed rules between Governor Tom Wolf’s administration and the Republican-led legislature. Last month it seemed a detente had been reached, when Wolf signed a bill that tossed out half the regulatory package– eliminating the rules for the conventional oil and gas industry.

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DEP plans public hearings for Sunoco’s Mariner 2 pipeline

The Mariner East 1 line (blue) is already shipping natural gas liquids. State regulators will hold meetings on the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline (dotted red line).

Courtesy: Sunoco Logistics

The Mariner East 1 line (in blue) is already shipping natural gas liquids across Pennsylvania State regulators will hold meetings on the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline (dotted red line).

State environmental regulators will hold a series of public hearings in August to get public feedback on pending permit applications for a major natural gas liquids pipeline project.

The so-called Mariner 2 line, would run parallel to its predecessor (the Mariner East 1) through 17 counties in Pennsylvania’s southern tier. But unlike that project, which involved reversing the flow of an existing line, this pipeline needs to be built from scratch. The Mariner 2 aims to transport natural gas liquids from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus and Utica Shales 350 miles to the company’s terminal near Philadelphia. Continue Reading

EPA raises concerns about Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

A clearing shows the site of a pipeline, one of many running beneath Pennsylvania's farms, forests and waterways.

Kim Paynter / WHYY

A clearing shows the site of a pipeline, one of many running beneath Pennsylvania's farms, forests and waterways.

The Environmental Protection Agency is raising concerns about the potential impacts of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline.

In a letter sent last week to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the EPA criticizes FERC’s draft environmental impact statement, which found the pipeline would not create significant adverse impacts.

Although FERC is charged with making the final decision about whether the project moves forward, the commission did not fully examine alternative options to building a 197.7 miles of new pipeline, according to the EPA. The agency recommends further study on whether new construction might be avoided by expanding existing infrastructure, or expanding the proposed PennEast pipeline.

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Bill would limit Pennsylvania’s ability to regulate methane

Lycoming County

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

The bill would prevent state regulators from creating methane regulations that are more stringent than those recently put forth by the EPA. Methane is the main component of natural gas, and a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. It can leak through the process of drilling and processing gas.

A bill recently proposed in the state Senate seeks to limit the Wolf administration’s efforts to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Methane is the main component of natural gas; it’s a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change.

SB 1327 was recently referred to the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. It would prevent state environmental regulators from creating regulations that would be more stringent than those recently put forth by their federal counterparts at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R- Allegheny) is the prime sponsor. In a memo to his fellow lawmakers, he says the state Department of Environmental Protection’s efforts to go beyond the EPA would create a duplicative, confusing, and costly patchwork of standards.

“These actions harm job creation and discourage capital investment across the Commonwealth, all while providing little if any tangible environmental benefit for our communities,” Reschenthaler wrote.

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Former environmental secretary hired by University of Pennsylvania

john quigley speaks

Emma Lee / WHYY

Former DEP Secretary John Quigley was hired by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

A month after his controversial departure from the state Department of Environmental Protection, former Secretary John Quigley has landed a new job as a Senior Fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.

“It’s exciting. I am very happy to be at Kleinman,” Quigley tells StateImpact Pennsylvania. “There are a lot of really talented, smart people.”

Quigley left DEP in May, following controversy over a profanity-tinged email he sent to environmental groups, criticizing them for not doing enough to support tougher environmental regulations for the oil and gas industry.

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Report: gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pa. legislature in 2015

A new analysis finds the gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pennsylvania politicians in 2015.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A new analysis finds the gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pennsylvania politicians in 2015.

The natural gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pennsylvania politicians last year, according to a new analysis from the nonpartisan government reform group, Common Cause/PA, and the Conservation Voters of PA.

The project, called MarcellusMoney, is an ongoing effort to track the political influence of Pennsylvania’s gas drillers, who have spent $55.9 million on lobbying since 2007.

Last year drillers spent $733,635 on campaign contributions. Common Cause/PA Executive Director, Barry Kauffman says Pennsylvania is at “the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to campaign finance laws. It’s one of 11 states with no limits on campaign contributions.

“When industry comes in and gives tens of thousands of dollars to legislators, that would be illegal in most other states,” says Kauffman. “We really have to join the other states, which have recognized the power of political money and the influence it can have on determining public policy.”

He points to the legislature’s perennial failure to pass a gas severance tax to raise revenue and inaction on royalties legislation to protect mineral owners. Earlier this month, the conventional oil and gas industry successfully blocked new environmental regulations that were years in the making.

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Royalties bill makes very brief appearance at State Capitol

A bill aimed at ensuring royalty owners are paid fairly.

Scott LaMar / WITF-FM

"There's a reason everybody hates oil and gas companies," says Jackie Root, head of the National Association of Royalty Owners PA Chapter. "They got so outrageously greedy."

A bill aimed at ensuring oil and gas royalty owners are paid fairly made a fleeting appearance at the Pennsylvania Capitol this week.

“I succeeded in bringing attention to the issue and to the bill,” says Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), who on Tuesday attached, and then quickly withdrew, his royalties bill as an amendment to another measure that ultimately passed the House and Senate.

In the wake of the Marcellus Shale boom, leaseholders have been complaining for years that they’re getting cheated out of royalty money by some of the nation’s biggest gas drillers. Before withdrawing the amendment, Everett spoke on the House floor and urged his colleagues to support changes to the state’s royalties law. He says the maneuver was simply to raise the profile of the issue.

“I got immediate feedback from the the governmental affairs folks from the Marcellus Shale Coalition and other gas producers,” says Everett. “They disagree with the premise of the bill and said, ‘Why are you doing this again?’ I said, ‘I’m doing this because royalty owners aren’t getting paid fairly.’”

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