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.

Construction begins on Sunbury pipeline

The coal plant in Shamokin Dam, Pa., is a local landmark that delivered electricity to this region for more than six decades. It closed in 2014. Next to it, a brand new natural gas power plant is under construction. The Sunbury Pipeline will feed Marcellus Shale gas into that plant.

Jeff Brady/NPR

The coal plant in Shamokin Dam delivered electricity to the region for more than six decades. It closed in 2014. Next to it, a new natural gas power plant is under construction. The Sunbury Pipeline will feed Marcellus Shale gas into that plant.

State and local officials attended a ceremony Wednesday morning to celebrate the groundbreaking for a 20-inch pipeline that will deliver Marcellus Shale gas to a new power plant in central Pennsylvania.

The Sunbury Pipeline is being built by UGI Energy Services. It will begin in Lycoming County and travel 35 miles to feed into the Hummel Station power plant, which is under construction at the site of the former Sunbury coal plant in Shamokin Dam, Synder County.

Construction on the pipeline is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The plant is projected to come online in early 2018 and power approximately 1 million homes. The project is part of a broader, ongoing national trend away from coal, as natural gas takes up an increasing share of electric power generation.

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Carbon emissions from natural gas expected to surpass coal

A natural gas power plant under construction in Bradford County.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact PA

A natural gas power plant under construction in Bradford County.

Carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas are expected to exceed those from coal for the first time in more than 40 years, according to data released Wednesday from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The EIA projects energy-related carbon emissions from natural gas will be 10 percent higher than those from coal this year.

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Public weighs in on controversial gas liquids pipeline

Mariner 1

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign marks the Mariner 1 gas liquids pipeline in Cumberland County. Sunoco is planning to build another line, the Mariner 2, alongside it.

State environmental regulators held another public hearing Tuesday night to get public feedback on the proposed Mariner 2 natural gas liquids pipeline that would span 17 counties and cross 350 miles of southern Pennsylvania.

About 110 people turned out to the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. A conference room was filled with representatives from labor unions, extolling the job benefits of project, and environmental opponents criticizing the proposal. Compared to other recent public gatherings about pipelines, the evening was fairly tranquil, with members of each camp politely applauding for their spokespeople.

“We’ve seen the public support and listened to the concerns,” says Jeff Shields, a spokesman for Sunoco Logistics, the company behind the proposal. “That’s what we’ll continue to do.”

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Rendell: ‘I don’t apologize at all’ for fracking

Former Gov. Ed Rendell at the inauguration ceremony of Gov. Tom Wolf in January 2015.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Former Gov. Ed Rendell at the inauguration ceremony of Gov. Tom Wolf in January 2015.

Former Governor Ed Rendell is walking back comments he made last month at the Democratic National Convention, when he said he’d “made a mistake” putting economic gains ahead of environmental protection in the early days of the state’s Marcellus Shale gas boom.

“I don’t apologize at all,” he recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m a strong advocate of continuing to frack.”

The Democrat was governor from 2003 to 2011 and oversaw the beginning of Pennsylvania’s drilling boom. StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported his remarks.

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Oil and gas jobs down 26 percent since 2014

John Hutton of Pittsburgh, monitors pressurized testing at a Cabot Oil & Gas fracking site in 2014 in Harford Township, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

John Hutton of Pittsburgh monitors pressurized testing at a Cabot Oil & Gas fracking site in 2014 in Harford Township, Susquehanna County.

Jobs in the oil and gas industry are down 26 percent since peaking two years ago, according to an analysis released Friday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Nationwide, employment peaked at 538,000 jobs in October 2014 and has declined since then, amounting to a loss of 142,000 jobs through May 2016.

“Not all production jobs are directly related to drilling—the majority of the jobs are actually for extraction or support activities, which include the operations of drilled wells, exploration, excavation, well surveying, casing work, and well construction,” says the EIA. “This also includes the maintenance of already producing wells.”

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Spectra expects to pay $100 million after pipeline blast

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.

The company operating an interstate gas transmission line that exploded last spring outside Pittsburgh expects to pay between $75 to $100 million to inspect and repair its pipeline system.

The April 29 incident in Westmoreland County happened on the Texas Eastern pipeline, operated by Spectra Energy. The explosion blew a 12-foot-deep, 1500-square-foot hole and scorched 40 acres. It sent a man to the hospital with severe burns and disrupted natural gas service to the northeastern U.S.

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Whose gas is it anyway?

JS INEOS Inspiration was in Philadelphia in July to pick up ethane for export to Europe. The Mariner pipeline project, which transports natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to the coast has been met with legal challenges from landowners throughout the state.

Tomas Østberg- Jacobsen via shipspotting.com

The JS INEOS Inspiration carries exported ethane to Norway. The ethane is produced in western Pennsylvania and moved across the state via the Mariner East 1 pipeline. Some landowners are now fighting plans by Sunoco Logistics to build a second line, the Mariner East 2, arguing the project doesn't benefit Pennsylvania.

As Ralph Blume walks through his farm field on a hot afternoon in July, he surveys the damage. By his estimate, he’s out about $4,000. That’s because a year ago, he says workers for Sunoco Logistics destroyed an acre of his wheat crop.

The company hasn’t reimbursed him and he doesn’t want them back.

“When they step foot on my property, things will get started,” Blume says darkly. “I’m gonna run them off. I don’t care what anybody says. They are not allowed on my property.”

IMG_3164

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

"They're not nice people to deal with." Ralph Blume says of Sunoco Logistics. "They treat us like second-class citizens. We've lost our property rights."

Last summer Sunoco was digging up parts of his Cumberland County farm to work on an old pipeline that used to carry gasoline from east to west across the southern part of state.

The company had decided to re-purpose it, reverse the flow, and call it the Mariner East 1. It’s now moving natural gas liquids from the shale fields of western Pennsylvania to Sunoco’s Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. Natural gas liquids (NGLs) include products such as ethane, propane, and butane and are a byproduct of gas drilling.

Blume’s now upset again because Sunoco wants to build another pipeline, the Mariner East 2, next to the old one. The company’s threatened to use eminent domain to take his land. If built, the Mariner East 2 would span 350 miles of southern Pennsylvania and pass through 17 counties.

“Taking my property for their gain and I get nothing,” says Blume. “The way Sunoco has treated me over the years– they lied and threatened. [It's] just not a good company to deal with.”

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields says the company is responsible for offering Blume fair market value for his land.

“He can’t say he’s getting nothing,” says Shields. “Mr. Blume, like any landowner, has the ability both in an out of court to establish what that compensation should be.”

But Blume says he doesn’t want the money. He is one of dozens of landowners along the pipeline’s route taking Sunoco to court, arguing the Mariner East 2 won’t benefit Pennsylvanians.

 

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New environmental secretary hopes to resurrect drilling rules

The new head of the Department of Environmental Protection says he hopes his staff can work quickly to resurrect regulations for the conventional oil and gas industry that got tossed out during the annual state budget negotiations in Harrisburg.

“Obviously, we have a good starting point with the existing reg,” says Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “But we’ll be engaged with industry and other stakeholders to put together the best version we can.”

Watch more from our conversation with McDonnell during his visit to the Pottsville District Mining Office Monday.

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Former Gov. Ed Rendell: ‘I made a mistake’ on shale gas

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, center, greet Democratic National Committee (DNC) representatives Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, center, greets Democratic National Committee representatives in Philadelphia. At a panel discussion on Wednesday Rendell said he made a mistake prioritizing the economic benefits of shale gas ahead of environmental protection in the early days of the drilling boom.

Former Governor Ed Rendell said he regrets putting economic gain ahead of environmental protection at the start of Pennsylvania’s shale gas boom. Speaking at a DNC event hosted by Politico in Center City Philadelphia on Wednesday, Rendell said fracking has risks but those can be mitigated.

“I made a mistake in the rush to get the economic part of fracking delivered to Pennsylvania,” he said. “We didn’t regulate well construction and …. frack water as well as we should. We cured that in 2010 and we haven’t had any significant incidents since.”

Although the state did tighten regulations regarding drilling wastewater disposal into rivers and streams in 2010, some water treatment facilities were still discharging partially treated wastewater into state surface waters at the time. Pennsylvania also introduced some new well construction standards in 2010. But the state’s oil and gas law was not updated until 2012 under Rendell’s successor, Republican Governor Tom Corbett and the state still has not finalized its effort to modernize oil and gas regulations. Rendell also failed to get a shale gas tax before he left office in January, 2011. Rendell left the panel discussion without taking any questions from StateImpact. Continue Reading

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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