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.

Towns take on gas industry, at their own peril

Protestors of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline link arms before they are arrested by police for trespassing on private property in Conestoga, Pa.

COURTESY OF MICHELLE JOHNSEN

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.

 

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Marcellus Shale drillers to begin monthly gas production reporting

Gas companies previously had to report production figures twice a year. A new law requires monthly reports.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Gas companies previously had to report production figures twice a year. A new law requires monthly reports.

Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drillers will begin filing monthly production reports next week, to comply with a new law enacted last fall.

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.

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Quigley responds to criticism over new drilling regulations

"A government that works is a government that listens," says Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley. "We're trying to listen to as much input as we can."

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

"A government that works is a government that listens," says Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley. "We're trying to listen to as much input as we can."

Governor Wolf’s pick to head the state Department of Environmental Protection is defending the way the agency has handled proposed changes to gas drilling regulations.

At a public meeting last week, representatives from the state’s Marcellus Shale industry sharply criticized the agency and suggested the Wolf administration illegally appointed non-voting members to its newly formed Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB). The new members include representatives from academia and the environmental community.

Drillers argue these new appointments– which occurred shortly after Wolf took office– have no place on the TAB, which gives technical recommendations.

“This is an attempt to be as transparent as possible,” says Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley.

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Gas industry slams DEP over new drilling rules

Gas industry representatives are criticizing the way the DEP has handled proposed changes to drilling regulations.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

The DEP is in the process of changing its oil and gas drilling regulations.

Representatives from the state’s Marcellus Shale industry are criticizing the way the Wolf administration has handled proposed changes to drilling regulations.

At a meeting of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB) Friday, industry groups questioned the level of transparency around new draft rules.

Kevin Moody, of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, was among the critics.

“I’m not going to go all ‘Al Pacino’ here, but this whole proceeding is out of order,” he told DEP staff .

Since 2011, the agency has been revising its Chapter 78 regulations, which govern the oil and gas industry. In December 2013, the rules became available for public comment. The agency held nine hearings across the state and received more than 24,000 comments. Shortly after Governor Wolf took office, the DEP made a slew of significant changes– imposing more stringent rules for things like waste, noise, and streams.

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.”

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Kane: gas royalties fraud investigation ‘wrapping up’ soon

Attorney General Kathleen Kane began investigating gas royalty complaints more than a year ago.

AP Photo/Marc Levy, file

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.”

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DCNR examining gas royalty payments ‘very closely’

Acting DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

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.

At a budget hearing before the House Appropriations Committee Monday, acting DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn told legislators it’s a “long-term” goal to wean the agency off royalty money.

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?”

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Wolf’s environmental chief questioned on gas tax, new drilling rules

Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley took questions from lawmakers at a House budget hearing Wednesday.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

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.”

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With new draft rules, DEP steps up oversight of drilling waste

Impoundment pond

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

An impoundment pond in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is planning to increase its oversight of oil and gas drilling waste.

The department issued new draft regulations which would ban the use of temporary waste storage pits and require drillers to either shut down or upgrade large centralized wastewater impoundment ponds.

The waste rules are among other changes to DEP’s Chapter 78 oil and gas regulations, which have been in development since 2011. In December 2013, the process was opened up for public comment. The department held nine public hearings around the state and received more than 24,000 comments.

Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley says the revised regulations will be opened up for another 30-day comment period later this spring. He expects the rules to be finalized by 2016.

“Our goal is to be thoughtful, deliberate, and transparent,” Quigley told reporters on a telephone press conference Monday. “This is not an end point but a beginning for discussion.”

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Sunoco backs down in pipeline zoning fight

This graphic shows Sunoco's two natural gas liquids pipelines, the Mariner East 1 and the proposed Mariner East 2.

Courtesy: Sunoco Logistics

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.

Late last year Mariner 1 partially came online, and it’s already shipping propane across the state. Approximately 15 pump and valve control structures are needed along the route to keep the liquids flowing. These facilities faced a backlash from environmental groups and communities that were upset Sunoco attempted to bypass local zoning. In October the PUC affirmed the company has “public utility” status and the pipeline is not subject to zoning– however the structures housing its pump stations could be subject to zoning.

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Under Wolf plan, conservation agency will still rely on gas royalties

A natural gas rig in the Tioga State Forest. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources manages drilling on public land and has become increasingly reliant on gas royalty money in recent years.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

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.”

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