Energy. Environment. Economy.

Marie Cusick


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.

Pipeline opponent guilty of disorderly conduct for speech at public meeting

A Lancaster County woman has been found guilty of disorderly conduct for speaking out of turn at a public meeting. She was arrested in April for failing to follow special meeting rules, which permitted people to ask questions but barred them from making statements.

54-year-old Kim Kann is a Conestoga Township resident who has been a vocal opponent of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise interstate gas pipeline. During the meeting she got up to correct what she viewed as misstatements about a ballot initiative to study home rule. Opponents had been pushing for the measure in an effort to block the pipeline.

“I’m angry and kind of dismayed,” Kann says of her arrest and guilty verdict. “I felt like it was a politically-motivated overreaction.”

The entire meeting was posted on YouTube by Conestoga Township. Kann approaches the microphone approximately 1 hour, 19 minutes into the video. She speaks for less than two minutes before the police intervene:

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Pa.’s new pipeline task force to meet this week

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Pennsylvania’s newly formed pipeline task force will hold its first meeting in Harrisburg Wednesday. Governor Tom Wolf formed the group in order to bring planning and best practices to the pipeline building boom that includes an estimated 4,600 new miles of interstate pipes over the next three years.

The meeting will be chaired by state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley.

States have little regulatory authority in this arena, because interstate pipelines are regulated almost exclusively by the federal government. However the task force does include three representatives from the federal government, including one from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)– the agency charged with siting and approving new pipelines.

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Quigley discusses Pennsylvania’s new approach to federal carbon rules

DEP Secretary John Quigley appearing on E&E TV's On Point.

DEP Secretary John Quigley appeared on E&E TV's On Point to discuss the state's new approach to the federal Clean Power Plan.

The election of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has brought many changes to Pennsylvania– notably, the state has shifted in its approach to President Obama’s climate change plan, which seeks to dramatically limit carbon emissions.

Former Republican Governor Tom Corbett  questioned climate science and criticized the White House plan as an attack on the coal industry that threatens jobs. He said the federal Environmental Protection Agency was overstepping its authority.

The Wolf administration sees things differently. State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary John Quigley appeared on E&E TV’s On Point Monday to discuss Pennsylvania’s new approach to the federal government’s Clean Power Plan.

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Environmental groups urge Wolf to block drilling in Loyalsock State Forest

A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Environmental groups are urging Gov. Wolf to block plans to expand drilling there.

Joe Ulrich/WITF

A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Environmental groups are urging Gov. Wolf to block plans to expand drilling there.

Representatives from more than a dozen environmental groups sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf Tuesday, urging him to block efforts to expand gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest.

The Save the Loyalsock Coalition includes the state’s the Sierra Club chapter, PennFuture, and the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters.

“This area is the last unfragmented forest in Lycoming County and deserves the strongest protections,” they wrote.

Although drilling is already occurring in many state forests– including Loyalsock– there are controversial plans to place 26 new wellpads and four compressor stations in a 25,000 acre area popular for recreation, known as the Clarence Moore lands.

Shortly after taking office, Wolf issued a moratorium on all new oil and gas leasing in state parks and forests, but it doesn’t apply to this tract of land.

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Senate Republican leader isn’t ruling out gas tax

State Senate GOP leader Jake Corman opposes Gov. Wolf's severance tax plan, but isn't ruling out some kind of new tax on drillers.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Senate GOP leader Jake Corman opposes Gov. Wolf's severance tax plan, but isn't ruling out some kind of new tax on drillers.

Governor Tom Wolf and state lawmakers are still at an impasse over the budget. Now, three weeks into the new fiscal year, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman is signaling he may be open to one of Wolf’s top priorities– a new tax on gas drillers.

Corman (R- Centre) tells the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he won’t rule out a new severance tax, but he also won’t support the plan Wolf is advocating for.

“If we can put together a package that benefits the industry, we might be willing to consider it,” Corman told the newspaper. But with gas prices so low he says, “we cannot take action that would damage this valuable vehicle for economic development and job creation. At the same time, if we could tailor a tax that may also have provisions that would allow the industry to continue to develop and maintain job growth, then it might be something we consider.”

Republican leaders met with Wolf on Monday, but emerged no closer to a budget deal. Wolf’s severance tax proposal calls for a five percent tax on the value of the gas, plus 4.7 cents for every thousand cubic feet. It would also set a minimum value of $2.97 per thousand cubic feet, regardless of the actual sale price. The governor wants use the money to boost funding to public education.

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Project would bring 400,000 tons of drilling waste to Pa.’s ‘Grand Canyon’

The Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Plans call for 400,000 tons of natural gas drilling waste to be placed on a steep embankment near a tributary to the Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County. The gorge is often called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.

As Marcellus Shale gas drilling has proliferated, so has the amount of waste it generates. Last year in Pennsylvania, over two million tons of drill cuttings were sent to landfills.

Cuttings are the waste dirt and rock that comes up from drilling wells. The material contains naturally occurring radiation, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals.

Over the past three years, a Montgomery County waste disposal company has found a novel way to avoid landfills, by processing and recycling drill cuttings. But critics argue it’s simply a way to avoid regulations.

Now plans to put the gas waste next to one of the state’s most pristine waterways have sparked a backlash.

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Fracktivist gets uninvited from Wolf’s new pipeline panel

Scott Cannon was pretty surprised last week when he got a letter inviting him to be part of Governor Tom Wolf’s new gas pipeline task force.

He was even more surprised a few days later when his appointment was rescinded.

“I think somebody got a look at the list and said, ‘You can’t have that guy.’” says the self-described anti-fracking activist. “I have no idea who it would be.”

Cannon, a filmmaker who recently produced a documentary called The Ethics of Fracking, applied to be on the task force as a representative of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition–an advocacy group from northeastern Pennsylvania which seeks to expose the negative impacts of the industry. The group recently settled a lawsuit against the state after it was erroneously labeled a terrorist organization.

The Wolf administration is convening the task force to bring planning and best practices to a pipeline building boom that includes an estimated 4,600 new miles of interstate pipes over the next three years. In a letter dated June 30th, DEP Secretary John Quigley welcomed Cannon to be part of the task force’s Environmental Protection work group.

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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


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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