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.

PennFuture names new President and CEO

Larry Schweiger spent ten years at the helm of the National Wildlife Federation before being named head of PennFuture.

Courtesy: PennFuture

Larry Schweiger spent ten years at the helm of the National Wildlife Federation before being named head of PennFuture.

One of Pennsylvania’s largest and most active environmental advocacy organizations has named a new president and CEO.

PennFuture has announced the hiring of Larry Schweiger. He previously spent 10 years as head of the National Wildlife Federation. He replaces Cindy Dunn, who left earlier this year to join the Wolf administration as secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“We’re thrilled that Larry is willing and eager to lead PennFuture at this critical juncture for energy and the environment in Pennsylvania,” said David Lane, chair of PennFuture’s board of directors in a statement. “His depth and breadth of experience on these issues is unparalleled and he retains a passion and commitment for the work we do that is second to none.”

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Water quality not impacted by drilling, according to new report

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Scott LaMar/ WITF

With continuous monitoring between 2010 and 2013, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission did not find any changes in water quality.

A new report shows no correlation between shale gas development and watershed impairment in the Marcellus region between 2010 and 2013.

This is the third such analysis from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. The multi-state compact is made up of representatives from Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and the U.S. governments. It oversees the water withdrawals gas companies need in order to do hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The commission also coordinates state and federal-level environmental efforts within the river’s 27,500-mile watershed. Nearly 85 percent of the Susquehanna River Basin sits atop shale gas wells.

“We see this as the beginning of keeping an eye on things,” says Tyler Shenk, a supervisor for restoration and protection with the SRBC. “As we gather more data, we’ll know more. But there are no giant red flags at this point.”

Shenk says this analysis will serve as the commission’s baseline reference, despite the fact the monitoring began about two years after the Marcellus Shale boom took off in 2008.

Pre-drilling data would be an ideal baseline, but we didn’t have the network set up yet,” he says.

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Budget bill would block new rules for conventional drillers

Dead vegetation around a conventional well indicating a possible brine spill.

Courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Dead vegetation around a conventional well site in Warren County indicates a possible brine spill. Conventional drillers say they should not be lumped in with regulations directed at the newer, bigger Marcellus Shale wells.

Environmentalists are raising alarms over language slipped into a budget bill that would prevent the state Department of Environmental Protection from establishing its new draft rules on conventional oil and gas drillers.

“It’s very sneaky. It’s a dangerous pathway to go down,” says Matt Stepp, policy director for the environmental group PennFuture. “This would actually stop the regulatory process from occurring.”

The language was added over the weekend to the fiscal code– a companion piece of legislation necessary to implement the state budget. Lawmakers made a similar move last year, when they inserted language into the fiscal code requiring separate regulations for conventional and unconventional drillers.

Ever since Pennsylvania’s fracking boom began, smaller conventional drillers have complained they get unfairly lumped in with the deeper, unconventional Marcellus Shale wells. Arthur Stewart is secretary for the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Coalition, which has lobbied for separate regulations.

“Our footprint is 35 to 45 times smaller than an unconventional well,” he says. “Would there have been any changes to conventional regulations had it not been for the advent of this enormous Marcellus development? That’s why we’re so frustrated.”

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin says DEP regulators have failed to account for the differences between the two industries, which he compared to cars and trucks.

“You have your tractor trailers and your family sedan. They’re both vehicles, but they’re clearly different,” says Miskin. ”[DEP] basically cut and paste the unconventional rules and put them into the conventional rules.”

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House lawmakers revive controversial gas royalties bill

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Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Rep. Garth Everett blames leaders of his own party for blocking his attempt to ensure landowners are paid properly from gas drilling, "It's being held up in strategic places, by strategic people-- the leadership of the Republican caucus," he says.

State Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) is giving it another try.

Last year, his bill aimed at ensuring Pennsylvania landowners are fairly paid royalties from fracking died an unceremonious death in Harrisburg. Although the measure was approved by a House committee, it never came to the floor for a vote, where Everett believes it has the votes to succeed.

“It’s being held up in strategic places by strategic people– the leadership in the Republican caucus,” he says. “We just need to convince them. There are so many of us in favor of the bill, they’re obligated to allow us to take it to the floor.”

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Industry, education advocates face off over gas tax

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Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Iraq war veteran Tony Caldarelli began arguing with education advocates who interrupted him at a pro-gas rally in Harrisburg Tuesday.

Dueling rallies between the natural gas industry and public education advocates sparked some heated exchanges at the state Capitol Tuesday. Education advocates disrupted a pro-gas rally and drowned out speakers by shouting, “Tax the shale!”

Iraq war veteran Tony Caldarelli fired back, saying that the United States has sought more energy security since the 1970s.

“Are you afraid of my message? You can’t listen to me?” he asked them.

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New fracking jobs number likely more accurate, say economists

Pennsylvania recently changed the way it counts gas industry jobs. Economists say the new estimates are probably more accurate.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Pennsylvania recently changed the way it counts gas industry jobs. Economists say the new estimates are probably more accurate.

Pennsylvania’s new way of counting jobs related to Marcellus Shale drilling is probably more accurate, say economists who study the industry.

Last week Governor Tom Wolf’s administration changed the way the state Department of Labor and Industry tracks gas jobs. Approximately 30,000 people work directly in oil and gas sectors. Under the old method, the department used to count another 200,000 people in 30 related industries. Now the agency says nearly 90,000 jobs in Pennsylvania are linked to drilling.

Industry trade groups and former Governor Tom Corbett have often credited the Marcellus Shale with supporting more than 200,000 jobs.

Matthew Rousu is an economics professor at Susquehanna University who recently authored a paper critiquing various studies that examine the economic impacts of the gas industry. He noted many “clearly exhibit bias either for or against fracking.”

Rousu was quick to point out that he disagrees with Wolf on many issues. For example, he’s not convinced the state needs a new tax on gas production.

“I think they’re doing a lot of things wrong.” Rousu says of the Wolf administration. “But this change seems pretty reasonable to me. The previous jobs number did seem high. But 90,000 is an enormous number. It’s 1.5 percent of workers in the state.”

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What happened to 160,000 fracking jobs? Under Wolf, the numbers change

Workers at a natural gas site in Bradford County.

AP Photo/Ralph Wilson

Last week Pennsylvania changed the way it counts jobs associated with the Marcellus Shale industry.

Somehow Pennsylvania lost 160,000 gas industry jobs overnight.

What happened? Did drillers flee at the specter of a new tax on production? Not quite. Although companies have been laying off workers and cutting costs– lackluster market conditions don’t explain this shift.

Instead, it was a decision made under Governor Wolf’s new administration. Last week the state Department of Labor and Industry quietly changed the way it tracks employment in the Marcellus Shale industry.

“Those numbers were a joke,” says John Hanger, Wolf’s secretary of planning and policy. ”The errors were so glaring, they had to be changed.”

Wolf’s predecessor Tom Corbett, a Republican, often credited drillers with supporting more than 200,000 Pennsylvania jobs.

“We were very uncomfortable with some of the misrepresentations under the past administration,” says labor department spokeswoman Sara Goulet. “The numbers we put out had caveats. [The Corbett administration] was misrepresenting them.”

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the way the state reported gas jobs had been repeatedly questioned over the years by independent economists.

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Bradford County considers royalties lawsuit against Chesapeake Energy

Bradford County has nearly 1,000 acres leased to Chesapeake Energy and is considering suing the company for allegedly underpaying royalties.

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Bradford County has nearly 1,000 acres leased to Chesapeake and is considering suing the company for allegedly underpaying royalties.

Pennsylvania’s most drilled-on county is exploring the possibility of joining one of the many lawsuits that have been filed recently against Chesapeake Energy. The Oklahoma City-based company has been widely accused of cheating landowners out of royalty money from natural gas drilling.

The Bradford County commissioners asked their solicitor to look into the matter and will make a decision in two weeks. The county has about 1,000 acres leased for gas development and receives royalty payments from Chesapeake. Commissioner Doug McLinko (R) says the county–like many private landowners– feels it’s being underpaid because of the way Chesapeake interprets leases and withholds certain fees.

“What’s going on in this county is just incredible,” he says. “It’s so out of control.”

A Chesapeake spokesman declined to comment for this story. Continue Reading

As budget negotiations heat up, so does rhetoric over gas tax

“I think the Governor’s severance tax proposals are designed to stop the growth of natural gas," says House Speaker Mike Turzai (R- Allegheny). "It’s going to stop energy independence and it’s going to stop the growth of jobs in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

“I think the Governor’s severance tax proposals are designed to stop the growth of natural gas," says House Speaker Mike Turzai (R- Allegheny). "It’s going to stop energy independence and it’s going to stop the growth of jobs.”

As the June 30th state budget deadline draws near, Republican legislative leaders are taking aim at the centerpiece of Governor Wolf’s spending plan—a new severance tax on natural gas drillers.

Senate Republican leaders issued a statement Tuesday saying they have “severe concerns” about the tax, but House Speaker Mike Turzai (R- Allegheny) called a press conference to put it more bluntly.

“The governor is basically calling for a de facto moratorium, akin to what New York has,” he told reporters. “It’s going to stop energy independence, and it’s going to stop the growth of jobs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Turzai called the governor’s plan to raise billion dollars for public education “fairytale revenue projections” that will hurt an industry already dealing with poor market conditions. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state in the nation that does not tax production. Instead, gas companies pay an impact fee for each well. The bulk of that money is sent back to communities where the most drilling occurs.

Turzai says this system is working and touted the fact that impact fees brought in $223.5 million in 2014.

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Pennsylvania lawmakers seek answers on oil train safety

State Public Utilities Commission chair Gladys Brown told lawmakers she'd like to hire more inspectors, however her agency has limited authority over rail safety.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Public Utilities Commission chair Gladys Brown told lawmakers she'd like to hire more inspectors, however her agency has limited authority over rail safety.

As the shipment of oil by train has skyrocketed in Pennsylvania and around the nation, lawmakers in Harrisburg want to weigh in on safety issues. Unfortunately they have little authority, since the rail industry is regulated almost exclusively by the federal government.

Every week between 60-70 trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota travel through Pennsylvania. The state has had four oil train derailments since the beginning of last year, but none have led to the deadly accidents and explosions seen elsewhere.

At a state senate hearing on oil train safety Tuesday, Public Utilities Commission (PUC) chair Gladys Brown noted that her agency has just 15 inspectors to monitor 5,600 miles of track.

“We would like to increase the number of inspectors,” she told senators. “We know there’s a lot of factors in terms of the types of training they need, but funding is also a big factor.”

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