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.
Protesters of the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline link arms before they are arrested in Conestoga, Pa in January. They later pleaded guilty to trespassing charges.
Local governments all over the country are trying stop the surge in oil and gas development by embracing a novel legal tactic–community-based rights ordinances. It’s a strategy that carries risks.
In rural Conestoga Township, Lancaster County concerned residents want to stop a $3 billion interstate gas pipeline from coming through their community. Oklahoma-based Williams Partners Atlantic Sunrise project is one many proposed pipelines in Pennsylvania facing intense opposition. If approved, it would cut through 10 counties and carry Marcellus Shale gas as far south as Alabama.
As Williams prepares its formal application for federal regulators, Conestoga Township residents are fighting for more local control.
Monthly production reports bring Pennsylvania in line with other major gas-producing states. The data was previously collected by the state Department of Environmental Protection twice a year.
Transparency around gas production data has become an issue for some landowners who have questioned the accuracy of their royalty payments. Since royalty checks are typically distributed on a monthly basis, it has been difficult for landowners to compare the information they receive from gas companies with the data posted on DEP’s website, which represented six months of production.
Jim Welty is vice president of government affairs for the trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
“The MSC submitted extensive and detailed comments, the vast majority of which appear to have been ignored,” he said. “In our view [these regulations] are designed to increase costs and threaten continued development of this industry.”
Attorney General Kathleen Kane began investigating gas royalty complaints more than a year ago.
State Attorney General Kathleen Kane says her investigation into allegations of underpaid gas royalties will be concluded in the near future.
“I can’t comment on where it is right now,” she told a Senate Appropriations committee Tuesday. “But I can tell you we’re almost wrapping it up.”
More than a year has passed since former Governor Tom Corbett and state Sen. Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) asked Kane to investigate Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy, after leaseholders complained the company was cheating them out of gas royalty money.
“Both the anti-trust and bureau of consumer protection is working very hard,” said Kane. “They’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with landowners. It took a little bit longer than we may have hoped.”
Acting DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn talks with legislators at a House budget hearing Monday.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources expects to bring in $130 million from natural gas drilling royalties this year. Much of the money will be used to fund the agency’s general operating expenses.
Environmentalists complain it poses an inherent conflict of interest for DCNR– which is supposed to balance conservation with resource management. Governor Wolf’s spending plan would make the department slightly less reliant on royalties, but they would still make up over a third of its $342.6 million proposed budget.
“It’s not a good set-up to have the agency funded by extracted resources. Markets and prices go up and down. Things change,” said Dunn. ”Will we be off of it in the short term? I don’t think it’s realistic.”
Rep. John Maher (R- Allegheny) also asked about the problems some people have had with gas companies paying royalties properly.
“Has DCNR undertaken an organized effort to audit the statements you receive from drillers?”
Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley took questions from lawmakers at a House budget hearing Wednesday.
Governor Wolf’s pick to head the state Department of Environmental Protection spent much of Wednesday afternoon defending the new administration’s proposed gas drilling policies at a state House budget hearing in Harrisburg.
John Maher (R- Allegheny) began by questioning acting DEP Secretary John Quigley about why the administration quickly disbanded the agency’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB).
Shortly after dismissing the board, the agency issued new, more stringent draft regulations for the oil and gas industry. A newly formed TAB is scheduled to meet next week to review the changes for Marcellus drillers. Maher asked Quigley who the TAB members are and questioned whether they’d have enough time to review the rules.
Quigley said he wasn’t sure who the new members are.
“You’ve talked many times about integrity and transparency,” said Maher, who was recently appointed chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy committee. “What I’ve seen in this case doesn’t exhibit either.”
This graphic shows Sunoco's two natural gas liquids pipelines: the existing Mariner East 1 (blue) and the proposed Mariner East 2 (red).
Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics has withdrawn a request with the state Public Utility Commission to circumvent local zoning in order to build pump and valve structures along its 300- mile Mariner East 1 natural gas liquids pipeline.
A natural gas rig in the Tioga State Forest. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has become increasingly reliant on gas royalty money in recent years.
Under the budget proposal Governor Wolf unveiled Tuesday, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will continue to rely heavily on natural gas royalty money to fund its general operating expenses.
“Over the past few years, we saw a significant reduction in the amount of our budget supported by the General Fund,” says DCNR spokeswoman Chris Novak. “As that number went down, our draw from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund went up significantly.”
The Oil and Gas Lease Fund is supported by drilling royalty money. Wolf’s budget would make the department slightly less reliant the fund, but it would still make up over a third of its $342.6 million proposed budget.
Novak says DCNR’s dependence on royalty money makes its budget less stable.
“This is a first step to reverse that direction,” she says of Wolf’s plan. “We are restoring $20 million from the General Fund.”