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.

Audit criticizes local governments’ use of gas impact fee revenue

A natural gas rig in Washington, Pa. A 2012 law created the gas impact fees to mitigate the negative consequences of drilling to communities, but state auditors say millions of dollars where spent improperly.

AAP Photo/Michael Rubinkam

A natural gas rig in Washington, Pa. A 2012 law created the gas impact fees to mitigate the negative consequences of drilling to communities, but state auditors say millions of dollars where spent improperly.

Pennsylvania counties and municipalities mishandled millions of dollars meant to offset the negative effects of the Marcellus Shale gas boom, according to a report published Tuesday by the state Auditor General.

In one notable example, auditors say North Strabane Township, Washington County, spent $32,602 on recreational events and parties– including $7,500 on fireworks, $1,200 for a performance by former American Idol contestant Adam Brock, and $4,250 on inflatable party rentals.

“I’m pro-people having fun at the holidays,” says state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D), “But the impact fee was used for a bouncy house. Come on, that’s crazy.”

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Gas power plants face $97,000 in fines for water use

An aerial shot of the former Sunbury coal plant. A new natural gas powered plant will be constructed to replaces the shuttered facility.

Courtesy of Panda Power

An aerial shot of the former Sunbury coal plant along the Susquehanna River in Shamokin Dam, Synder County. A new natural gas powered plant is being constructed to replaces the shuttered facility. It is one of three plants facing fines over its water usage from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is considering $97,000 in penalties against a Dallas, Texas based private equity firm building three natural gas power plants in Pennsylvania.

At its December 8th meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, the SRBC will consider proposed settlement agreements with Panda Power Funds, for mishandling water usage at its plants in Lycoming, Bradford, and Synder counties. The commission is the regulatory body managing water resources in the Susquehanna River Basin and was created by a compact between the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the federal government.

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Coal may outpace natural gas in electric power generation this winter

PPL's Brunner Island three-unit coal-fired plant located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

PPL's Brunner Island three-unit coal-fired plant located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River.

Coal is projected to surpass natural gas as the dominant fuel source in electric power generation this winter, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Until the mid-2000’s about half the electricity in the country was produced by burning coal, and 20 percent or less came from gas. But the recent boom in shale gas production caused gas to close in on “king coal’s” lead. The mix of fuels in power generation fluctuates, but these days, gas and coal each supply roughly a third of U.S. power, with gas surpassing coal for the first time in April 2015.

During the first half of this year, natural gas supplied the fuel for 36 percent of U.S. electricity generation, while coal was 31 percent.

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Oil and gas jobs down sharply in Pennsylvania

A man fills up a pickup truck that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG) at a gas station in Towanda, Bradford County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A man fills up a pickup truck that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG) at a gas station in Towanda, Bradford County.

Jobs in Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry dropped sharply in the first quarter of 2016, compared to the same time period last year, according to new data from the state Department of Labor and Industry.

Overall, the industry shed about a third of its workforce, dropping to 20,524 jobs in 2016 compared to 30,313 the previous year. Those figures are not seasonally adjusted and reflect employment in six core areas of oil and gas operations:

  • Crude petroleum and natural gas extraction
  • Natural gas liquid extraction
  • Drilling oil and gas wells
  • Support activities for oil and gas operations
  • Oil and gas pipeline and related structures
  • Pipeline transportation of natural gas

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the Marcellus Shale industry has been going through a particularly rough patch recently amid low commodity prices.

“If there is a turnaround in the price levels, or a change in demand for natural gas, it is possible these trends could reverse,” says James Martini an economist with the state Department of Labor.

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New methane rules coming for Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry

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Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Pennsylvania regulators are soon planning to introduce new regulations to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, despite expectations President-Elect Donald Trump may seek to roll back new federal rules.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is expected to unveil new general permit requirements for Marcellus Shale well pads at a meeting of its Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee on December 8th. A broader regulatory package, designed to curb methane leaks from existing sources, is expected in early 2017.

“A lot of these issues now revert to the states to take action,” says Matthew Stepp, policy director for the environmental advocacy group, PennFuture. “The environmental community is rightly concerned at the federal government reversing course.”

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State lawmakers discuss ways to improve pipeline safety

Representatives from the oil and gas industry answer questions about pipeline safety at a hearing in the state Capitol Wednesday.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Representatives from the oil and gas industry answer questions about pipeline safety at a hearing in the state Capitol Wednesday. From left to right: Joe McGinn of Sunoco Logistics, Pam Witmer of UGI Energy Services, and Stephanie Catarino Wissman of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania.

State lawmakers, regulators, oil and gas industry representatives, and concerned citizens discussed ways to improve pipeline safety at a joint committee hearing Wednesday, following a building boom of new projects and several recent incidents in Pennsylvania including one work accident that killed a man and a pipeline explosion that left another man severely burned.

“When everything’s going good, we all forget about it, but infrastructure is something we have to look at constantly,” said Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R- Allegheny), who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committee.

Stephanie Catarino Wissman, head of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, says the industry is constantly seeking to improve its safety record.

“When it comes to emergency and spill response, the industry’s first line of defense is preventing a spill in the first place,” she told the committees. “We are proactively funding research, including ‘smart pigs’ used to identify defects such as corrosion, dents, or cracks.”

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Trump’s election overshadows pipeline protests around the U.S.

Protesters demonstrate in solidarity with members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota over the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, in Philadelphia, Tuesday.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Protesters demonstrate in solidarity with members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota over the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, in Philadelphia, Tuesday.

Activists are holding a national “day of action” Tuesday to protest the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline. Native American groups’ opposition to the project has gotten a lot of attention recently, but it’s just one of many pipeline battles going on across the country. And Donald Trump’s election and his stance in favor of fossil fuels are likely to mean those battles will continue.

Pipelines have taken center stage in an intense fight over the nation’s energy future, concerns about global climate change and private property rights. As the domestic drilling boom continues to produce massive amounts of oil and gas, there has been a secondary boom of new pipelines as the industry tries to move it all to market.

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Pennsylvania has more abandoned wells than expected, says new study

An abandoned well in McKean County

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

An abandoned well in McKean County.

Pennsylvania has more abandoned oil and gas wells than previously thought, and some are leaking large amounts of climate-damaging methane gas, according to a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers from Princeton and Stanford combined field observations with old books, literature, historical documents and modern databases to estimate there are likely between 470,000 to 750,000 abandoned wells, up from prior estimates of 300,000 to 500,000. As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, only a small fraction of these wells are tracked by the state.

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Sunoco delays Mariner East 2 pipeline, citing permit issues

A sign marks a water crossing on land in Huntingdon County where Sunoco wants to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Although Sunoco still has to acquire water crossing and earth moving permits, the company has already cleared the area of trees.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign marks a water crossing on land in Huntingdon County where Sunoco wants to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Sunoco Logistics is pushing back the start date for its Mariner East 2 pipeline, the company said Thursday in an earnings call.

Sunoco chief executive Michael Hennigan blames the delay on problems getting permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The 300 mile line is planned to carry natural gas liquids across 17 counties, from western Pennsylvania to a terminal outside Philadelphia, where it will be exported to Europe.

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Judge puts sections of new drilling rules on hold

Natural gas wells in Springville Township, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Natural gas wells in Springville Township, Pa.

A judge has placed a temporary hold on portions of new Marcellus Shale drilling regulations that took effect last month, in response to a lawsuit from the natural gas industry.

Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson sided with the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a gas trade group, and temporarily enjoined sections of new drilling regulations dealing with public resource protections, monitoring for orphaned and abandoned wells, well site restoration, and standards for water storage impoundments.

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