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.

Sean Spicer to address Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer smiled as he departed the White House, Friday, July 21, 2017, in Washington.  He will deliver the closing keynote address at the annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer smiles as he departs the White House, Friday, July 21, 2017.

In what’s being billed as one of his first public appearances since leaving the Trump administration, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer will deliver the closing keynote address at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh later this month.

The annual event has brought thousands of representatives from the oil and gas industry to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

Last year President Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee, gave the closing keynote address and vowed to roll back environmental regulations in order to unleash the oil and gas industry’s full potential. Past speakers have included former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, former U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, and FOX News host Sean Hannity.

According to the agenda Spicer will discuss, “how we are poised to strengthen our nation’s geopolitical position, create manufacturing opportunities here at home and jobs for all Americans while continuing to protect our environment.”

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Gasoline price spikes caused by Harvey on par with Katrina

People watch heavy rain from the relative safety of a flooded gas station caused by  Tropical Storm Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

People watch heavy rain from the relative safety of a flooded gas station caused by Tropical Storm Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

The sharp uptick in gasoline prices across the country, caused by disruptions from Hurricane Harvey, is on par with what happened more than a decade ago during Hurricane Katrina, according to a new analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

On Monday the average retail gasoline price in the U.S. was $2.68 per gallon– 28 cents per gallon higher than the previous week.

The EIA says supply disruptions and refinery outages caused by Hurricane Harvey were having an even larger impact on the East Coast, and the Gulf Coast, where, “gasoline prices are 39 cents/gal and 35 cents/gal higher, respectively, than they were a week ago, before the full effects of the storm were felt.”

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Overall methane emissions from shale industry rise, other air pollutants down

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

Climate-damaging methane emissions, as well as volatile organic compounds from Pennsylvania’s shale gas industry are on the rise, while other harmful air pollutants have decreased, according to new data released Thursday by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The methane uptick is largely due to growth in the number of facilities filing reports, the agency says, while the average emission per facility is staying relatively level.

DEP’s latest data is from 2015 and is self-reported by the industry.

Releases of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) grew from 5,961 tons in 2014 to 6,410 tons in 2015. Methane emissions from the unconventional gas industry grew to 112,128 tons, up from 107,735 tons in the previous year.

That time period also saw natural gas production increase from 4.1 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2014 to 4.6 trillion cubic feet in 2015.

“The inventory presents a mixed picture of emissions from the unconventional natural gas industry” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. “Certain pollutants are decreasing as best practices are implemented more widely through the industry, while others – including methane, a potent greenhouse gas -  continue to increase, underscoring the need to do more to detect and fix leaks in order to reduce emissions.”

Critics have argued the data does not capture an accurate picture and uses outdated methods. Methane is the main component of natural gas. Although it stays in the atmosphere for a shorter time period than carbon dioxide, it is dozens of times more powerful as a climate-warming greenhouse gas. VOCs come from a variety of sources and can lead to short and long-term adverse health effects.

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Pennsylvania natural gas production still growing, but pace has slowed

Pennsylvania natural gas production is still growing, but the pace has slowed significanty.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Pennsylvania natural gas production is still growing, but the pace has slowed significantly.

Natural gas production in Pennsylvania continues to grow, but its rate of growth has slowed significantly in recent years.

During the first six months of 2017 statewide natural gas production grew by about 3 percent, compared to the same time period in 2016, according to Matthew Knittel, director of Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office (IFO).

The IFO issues quarterly reports on natural gas production and also analyzes the revenue from the impact fees, which gas drillers pay on a per-well basis.

Knittel says for example, in 2012, when the IFO began tracking production, the growth rate was very strong. In 2013, statewide gas production grew by 52 percent. The following year it was up 31 percent.

He says that pace can’t be sustained forever. Natural gas wells tend to be most productive in the beginning and then dramatically taper off. So in order to keep production up, drillers need to keep putting in new wells to replace the older ones.

“The second item driving the dynamic is the fact that there’s a lot of wells that have been drilled that are in inventory and haven’t been produced,” says Knittel. “We believe producers are waiting for prices to recover in order to bring production back online.”

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DEP issues water permits for Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

The red lines show the  Atlantic Sunrise expansion. The light blue lines are the existing Transco system.

Courtesy: Williams

The red lines show the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline expansion. The light blue lines are the existing Transco system.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators approved key water permits for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline Thursday, allowing construction to move forward on the natural gas transmission line.

The line is an expansion of the existing Transco system, which has over 10,000 miles of pipeline moving natural gas to other businesses, such as utility companies and power plants. The Atlantic Sunrise is designed to ship Marcellus Shale gas southward, from northeastern Pennsylvania to markets along the east coast, including an export terminal under construction in Maryland.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued so-called Chapter 105 and 102 permits, which are needed for water obstruction and encroachment, and erosion and sediment controls, respectively.

“DEP undertook a thorough review of these permit applications, and factored in thousands of comments from Pennsylvania residents,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. “DEP’s technical staff reviewed the comments in evaluating the revised plans and final permit conditions that must be met throughout the construction process of this pipeline.” Continue Reading

Harvey causing gasoline price increases in Pennsylvania

Harvey has taken about 14 percent of U.S. refining capacity offline, causes gasoline prices to increase.

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Harvey has taken about 14 percent of U.S. refining capacity offline, causes gasoline prices to increase.

The devastation from Tropical Storm Harvey along the Gulf Coast is starting to have a ripple effect on gasoline prices across the country.

The storm has taken about 14 percent the nation’s refining capacity offline. The national average price of gasoline has started to rise, as major refineries in the Houston area have shut down.

Patrick DeHaan, Senior Petroleum Analyst with the online price-tracking firm GasBuddy, says Pennsylvania’s average of $2.55 per gallon will probably go up by about 10 to 15 cents.

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Shell, environmental groups reach deal on air monitoring for ethane cracker

Construction of Shell's ethane cracker in Beaver County.

Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Construction for Shell's ethane cracker in Beaver County.

Shell Chemical Appalachia has reached a settlement agreement with two environmental groups that had challenged the air permit for its new petrochemical plant being built near Pittsburgh.

The deal follows more than two years of negotiations and requires Shell to do more air quality monitoring, including installing fenceline monitoring, which can quickly detect emission spikes. It also places more stringent requirements on flaring, in order to burn off pollutants.

“We are pleased to have reached this settlement,” Ate Visser, Vice President of the Shell project, said in a statement. “Now our full focus will be on delivering the facility, with its state of the art operations and environmental controls, which will bring jobs and economic benefits to many Western Pennsylvania families for decades to come.”

Attorney Joseph Minott of the Clean Air Council, says the technology will make Shell’s workers and the community safer.

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Pennsylvania to increase fees for shale gas wells

Pennsylvania environmental regulators plan to increase fees on Marcellus Shale wells.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Pennsylvania environmental regulators plan to increase fees on Marcellus Shale wells.

State environmental regulators plan to hike fees imposed on shale well operators later this year, although the amount of the increase is still to be determined.

Marcellus Shale well operators currently pay a $5,000 permit application fee to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The agency recently put a notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin saying it is required to review the adequacy of these fees every three years and “the current fee review indicates the need for a fee increase.”

DEP’s oil and gas program is supported entirely by fees, fines, and penalties paid by oil and gas companies. It does not receive any money from the state’s General Fund. In an email department spokesman Neil Shader wrote, “the particulars of the fee package have not been determined at this point.”

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Federal court ruling could delay major natural gas pipeline projects

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed properly quantify greenhouse gas emissions linked to a pipeline expansion project in the southeastern U.S.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should have done a better job estimating greenhouse gas emissions linked to a pipeline expansion project, or explained why it couldn't do so.

A recent federal court ruling could delay major pipeline projects planned to move Marcellus Shale natural gas to new markets.

On Tuesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of a climate-related challenge brought by the Sierra Club against federal regulators. The case centers on the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, the cornerstone of which is the 500 mile Sabal Trail Pipeline running through Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

Sierra Club v. FERC

The decision forces the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to do a better job quantifying greenhouse gas emissions, which Sierra Club attorney Elly Benson says are a clear environmental impact of pipelines as they deliver natural gas to fuel power plants.

“FERC has been trying to ignore the full impacts of these decisions, while rubber stamping many of these massive pipelines,” says Benson. “It was very gratifying for the D.C. Circuit to say, ‘No FERC, you actually need to look at the full consequences of this.’”

In the past 30 years, the commission has denied only two pipeline proposals. Continue Reading

Judge gives Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline possession of final holdout properties

The red lines show the proposed Atlantic Sunrise expansion. The light blue lines are the existing Transco system.

Courtesy: Williams

The red lines show Atlantic Sunrise expansion. The light blue lines are the existing Transco system.

A federal judge has granted the builder of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline immediate possession of five holdout properties resisting the project, including land owned by a group of Catholic nuns in Lancaster County.

Earlier this summer The Adorers of the Blood of Christ attracted global media coverage when they erected a chapel in the path of the pipeline’s right of way. The nuns are currently suing the federal agency that approved the project, alleging it violates their religious freedom.

A spokeswoman says the group does not have much to say, beyond what it posted Wednesday on Facebook.

“We are disappointed that the federal judge today made the decision to condemn the rights of way and grant immediate possession of our (and others’) property in Lancaster County,” the Adorers wrote. “We will be evaluating our next steps.”

The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is an interstate transmission line designed to link natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to markets along the eastern seaboard.The project is one of nearly a dozen major pipelines planned to ship Marcellus Shale resources domestically and abroad.

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