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.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has scheduled three hearings for the public to weigh in on proposed changes to regulations for the oil and gas industry.
Since 2011, the DEP has been revising its Chapter 78 regulations, which govern drilling. The draft rules have gone through a number of changes. Most recently, after Governor Wolf took office, the department proposed more changes relating to waste management, noise, and stream setbacks.
Dominion Resources' Cove Point terminal in Maryland is currently being converted from an import facility to an export terminal to ship Marcellus Shale gas to Asia.
Reversing a trend that has lasted more than half a century, the federal government predicts the U.S. will become a net energy exporter within 15 years, as the shale boom increases the production of crude oil and natural gas.
In its Annual Energy Outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says advanced technologies are reshaping the nation’s economy. The outlook includes predictions to 2040 and assumes a business-as-usual trend, with current laws and regulations going unchanged.
“With continued growth in oil and natural gas production, growth in the use of renewables, and the application of demand-side efficiencies, the projections show the potential to eliminate net U.S. energy imports in the 2020 to 2030 timeframe,” said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski in a statement. ”The United States has been a net importer of energy since the 1950s.”
“We want to hear facts and science, but we’re seeing disrespect for the law in many ways,” says Kevin Moody of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA). “We are considering legal action.”
PIOGA objects to an effort by the administration to add four new, non-voting members to a technical advisory board that is guiding the Department of Environmental Protection on a major update to oil and gas regulations. The new members include representatives from academia and environmental groups.
Pipes carry liquefied natural gas at Dominion Energy's Cove Point LNG Terminal in Lusby, Md. Moody's expects projects already under construction--like this one-- will continue as planned.
Lower global oil prices, coupled with new gas supplies in Australia will cause the cancellation of most liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects planned for the U.S. and Canada, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Services.
“The winners in the U.S. LNG industry are the projects that are already in construction,” the report’s authors write. “They face medium-term financing and execution risks, but longer term these facilities will be a significant new revenue source for their sponsors.”
Pennsylvania has about 30,000 direct oil and gas jobs, but the way the state publishes the jobs figures has allowed industry boosters to credit shale with supporting nearly a quarter million jobs.
Under a new administration, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry is continuing to publish gas industry jobs figures that have been repeatedly questioned by independent economists.
Tim Kelsey is co-director of Penn State University’s Center for Economic and Community Development and spends much of his time studying the economic impact of the Marcellus Shale boom.
“I think very obviously [the state jobs figures] can be misleading, and they are misused,” he says.
After it was brought to their attention by StateImpact Pennsylvania, the Wolf administration says it is looking into the possibility of changing how the numbers are presented.
“We’re reviewing the practice and methodology involved with getting the data and reporting it,” says Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan.
Pennsylvania began publishing the employment numbers in a booklet called Marcellus Shale Fast Facts under former governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat. It continued under his Republican successor, Tom Corbett.
The DEP recently made changes to proposed regulations governing the state's oil and gas industry.
The public has 45 days to weigh in on proposed changes to regulations governing Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has been revising the rules for the past four years. In December 2013, they became available for public comment. The agency held nine hearings across the state and received more than 24,000 comments.
Pennsylvania has leased thousands of acres of public land for Marcellus Shale drilling. Now that the gas is flowing, so is the money. But state agencies are taking a closer look at whether they're being paid properly.
People who leased their land for Marcellus Shale drilling have been complaining for several years that some companies are cheating them out of gas royalty money.
It turns out the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is having the same problem. But the issue is so complex and convoluted, the state doesn’t even know how much money it’s owed.
Gas drilling on state-owned land has sent hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties to Harrisburg. Private landowners have received millions more. But some companies have been accused of underpaying. Royalty disputes have led to several class action lawsuits and an ongoing investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
Towanda-based attorney Chris Jones says his clients don’t understand why the state hasn’t done more to protect them.
“Many times we’re being asked, ‘How come the state isn’t doing anything? How come there isn’t anything to stop what the gas companies are doing with our royalties–with our money?’”
Pennsylvania has its own problems– specifically two agencies managing drilling on public land: the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Game Commission.
“We’ve been conducting investigations for some time now,” DCNR chief counsel Richard Morrison told StateImpact Pennsylvania in January. “It’s an internal process. It’s complicated and will take some time.”
The most recent oil train derailment happened in February in Mount Carbon, West Virginia. It caused a large fire that forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.
A slew of recent accidents involving trains carrying crude oil has prompted city officials in Harrisburg to push for better oversight. City councilman Brad Koplinksi (D) is backing a resolution to urge federal officials to fast track new regulations on the trains.
“It is a situation that probably will never hit Harrisburg,” he says of the derailments. “But let’s at least be prepared and make sure our officials are working with state and federal officials, so people know of the danger.”
Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania
Harrisburg City Council listens to testimony on oil trains Thursday night.
The domestic fracking boom has unlocked huge amounts of oil in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. Trains have become a primary method of transport, and tanker cars pass through Pennsylvania every day. Nationwide crude oil rail traffic has increased 4,000 percent since 2008.
A recent report by the environmental advocacy group, PennEnvironment, ranked Harrisburg the eighth most vulnerable city in the state for an oil train derailment. In the past year and half, Pennsylvania has had three derailments, although none caused any injuries.
Koplinksi led a public hearing on the issue Thursday night and says he was frustrated the rail carrier Norfolk Southern declined an invitation to attend.
“We haven’t really had conversations with Norfolk Southern yet, and that concerns me,” he says. “What can we do to make the trains not run through the city? Or the most populated areas? That’s one of the biggest concerns.”
Acting DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn answers questions from lawmakers at a state senate budget hearing Wednesday.
State lawmakers are questioning whether the Wolf administration is being consistent in its projections on how much money gas drilling can bring into state coffers.
Earlier this year the governor imposed a moratorium on new gas leasing for public parks and forests. His executive order undid an attempt by his predecessor, Republican Governor Tom Corbett, to sign more leases and raise an extra $95 million to plug a state budget hole.
At a budget hearing Wednesday, acting DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn defended Wolf’s moratorium. She argued there was little new interest from gas companies to drill on state land anyway, due to an ongoing lawsuit and poor market conditions.
The red line shows the route of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.
Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams has filed a formal application with federal regulators to construct nearly 200 miles of a new interstate natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania.
The Atlantic Sunrise project is designed to carry Marcellus Shale gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to markets along the eastern seaboard, including the Cove Point export terminal on the Chesapeake Bay. Williams began the pre-filing phase of the project more than a year ago and has made major changes to the proposed route in response to public feedback.
It’s one of many major pipeline projects underway to Pennsylvania, as the glut of shale gas has strained the capacity of existing infrastructure. If approved, the pipeline would cross 10 counties: Columbia, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Clinton and Lycoming.