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.
Methane is the main component of natural gas, and it’s a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. Speaking at a meeting of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee, Secretary John Quigley called climate change an existential threat to the state.
“We need to take decisive action,” he said. “It is very plain that if the climate benefits of generating electricity from natural gas are to be realized, we have to minimize methane emissions.”
State Rep. Kate Harper (R- Montgomery) holds up a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer with a story about the downturn in drilling.
A day before Governor Tom Wolf is expected to unveil another attempt at taxing Marcellus Shale drillers, House Republicans were discussing their own proposals.
The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held an informational meeting Monday to look at two Republican-backed severance tax bills. Rep. John Maher (R- Allegheny) chairs the committee. He says he wants to make sure any new tax won’t hurt the state’s business climate.
“This industry that was once in a boom, is now in a bust,” he says. “And ultimately, we need to have a safe environment, but we need to be the best place for the drilling and production of natural gas.”
After nearly 500 angry people packed a DCNR meeting about drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest in 2013, the department said it did not keep a record of their comments. Environmental groups are now asking the department to create a formal public participation process for major land-use decisions.
A coalition of 11 Pennsylvania environmental groups is urging the state to create a more formal public participation process when it comes to major land use decisions involving state forests, such as leasing mineral rights for oil and gas development.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is currently finalizing an update of its State Forest Resource Management Plan. The document is a strategic road map for the DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry.
A letter from the Save the Loyalsock Coalition urges DCNR to model public participation on the federal government’s process. The coalition includes groups such as PennFuture, PennEnvironment, the PA Forest Coalition, and Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter.
House Republicans unveiled the new royalties bill at a June 2015 press conference. They want to revive the effort this spring.
Republicans in the state House are reviving a bipartisan bill aimed at preventing natural gas companies from shortchanging people on royalty money.
HB 1391 was introduced last summer and has 37 co-sponsors from both parties. Rep. Garth Everett (R- Lycoming) is the prime sponsor and says he held back on pushing the measure during the state’s nearly six-month-long budget stalemate, but he continues to hear from people all over the state who are upset they’re not being paid fairly.
“I’m going to try to re-energize it,” he says of the bill. He’s working to organize a legislative hearing in Bradford County next month. The date is still to be determined.
Low natural gas prices mean the state will receive less royalty money from drilling in public forests this year.
Pennsylvania is getting a lot less royalty money from Marcellus Shale drilling on state forest land this year due to the low price of natural gas, according to a new analysis from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office.
“We’re seeing a large drop off, year-over-year, in the royalty payments,” says IFO director Matthew Knittel. “For the first six months of this fiscal year, royalty payments are about $31 million. That’s down 52 percent from the same six-month period last year.”
“These are commonsense steps that Pennsylvania can take to protect our air and reduce waste for industry,” Wolf said in a statement. “The best companies understand the business case for reducing methane leaks, as what doesn’t leak into the atmosphere can be used for energy production.”
The rules will create a new permit for oil and gas companies requiring them to use the best available technologies to prevent leaks at well sites and compressor stations. The state Department of Environmental Protection also plans to develop new regulations to curb leaks at existing oil and gas infrastructure.
Methane is the main component of natural gas. Compared to carbon dioxide, it is a much more potent greenhouse gas, although it stays in the planet’s atmosphere for a shorter time period. On a 100-year time scale methane is more than 25 times more powerful than CO2, according to the EPA.
Gov. Tom Wolf will host a live town hall forum on Facebook Tuesday to discuss climate change, energy, and the environment. He is expected to announce new regulations on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
Governor Tom Wolf will make a major announcement Tuesday about his administration’s efforts to combat climate change. He is expected to target methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
Gretchen Dahlkemper of the group Moms Clean Air Force is scheduled to meet with Wolf and other parents ahead of a Facebook town hall meeting he’s hosting on climate change.
“The governor ran on protecting our families from the oil and gas industry– especially the air pollution. We’re hoping this is the rule that’s been promised,” says Dahlkemper. “Every indication is that it is.”
No one from the governor’s office was available to comment. State offices were closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
As the shale boom leads to an expansion of pipeline infrastructure, the once-obscure Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been targeted by environmental activists. In July 2014, 24 protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside its Washington D.C. offices.
Dozens of environmental groups and activists from the Northeastern U.S. sent a letter to Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren this week, asking for an investigation into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The agency is charged with siting and approving much of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure.
“We’re asking for an investigation of FERC and their process because it’s shady,” says Tim Spies of Lancaster Against Pipelines. “They’re rubber stamping everything.”
In the letter, the groups call FERC “a demonstrably biased agency that has become a partner with, rather than a regulator of, the pipeline companies it purports to oversee.”
The letter asks presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to request that the Government Accountability Office conduct an investigation. The two Democrats serve on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.