Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Reid Frazier

Reid R. Frazier is a public radio producer and writer focused on energy. Since 2011, he has covered energy and environment for the Allegheny Front, a public radio environmental news show in Western Pennsylvania. His work has aired on NPR and Marketplace.

How revoking the Clean Power Plan will impact Pennsylvania

Homer City Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Western Pennsylvania. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Homer City Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Western Pennsylvania. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced Monday the EPA will formally propose to revoke the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s regulation for carbon dioxide from the electricity sector.

The decision could impact what kind of sources Pennsylvania uses to make electricity for decades to come.

The Clean Power Plan was the Obama EPA’s attempt to lower the electric sector’s greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide (CO2), by an estimated 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. Power generation accounts for about a third of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, which scientists say is the leading cause of global warming.

The plan gave states specific targets for reducing CO2. Pennsylvania’s target was a 33 percent reduction in emissions by the year 2030.

Former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection secretary John Quigley said the state was on the way to meeting the preliminary goals set under the plan, because it’s using more natural gas, and less coal. But he says revoking the Clean Power Plan could set the state back in ramping up renewable energy like wind and solar. Continue Reading

Enviro group names names in new anti-pollution campaign

toxic ad

Courtesy: PennFuture

A Pennsylvania environmental group is launching an ad campaign against two large industrial facilities near Pittsburgh.

PennFuture is kicking off its “Your Toxic Neighbor” campaign, which will include bus shelter posters throughout Allegheny County, targeting U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works and Shell’s yet-to-be-built ethane cracker in Beaver County.

In addition, it has created two websites that direct users to send letters and petitions to local officials urging stricter oversight of both the Shell and Clairton  facilities.

The Clairton Coke Works is the largest source of particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and benzene in Allegheny County, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The Allegheny County Health Department determined the plant violated the terms of its air permits 6,700 times over a 3 ½ year period.

Shell is slated to begin construction at its ethane cracker in the next few months. When it’s built and operating, it will become one of the state’s largest sources of volatile organic compound pollution, a key component of ground level ozone, or smog.

“In both cases, we’re dealing with major pollution sources,” says Larry Schweiger, PennFuture’s President and CEO. “In the case of the cracker plant, it’s clear to us, policymakers were not fulfilling their trustee obligations and have moved beyond any consideration of citizen concerns.”

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Fracking billionaire backs Trump

Self-made oil tycoon Harold Hamm is one of Donald Trump's key energy advisers. He spoke Wednesday at the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm is one of Donald Trump's key energy advisers. He spoke Wednesday at the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

One of Donald Trump’s top energy top advisers warned an oil and gas conference in Pittsburgh Wednesday that a Hillary Clinton presidency would harm the drilling industry.

Fracking billionaire Harold Hamm spoke to the Shale Insight Conference, telling the conference that he was impressed with Donald Trump when the two met while working on the Mitt Romney campaign, and that he thought Trump was the right choice for the oil and gas industry.

Hamm is CEO of Continental Resources, one of the largest fracking firms in oil-rich North Dakota. The youngest of 13 children, he started his company in 1967, at the age of 21.

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Amid budget battle, royalty issue comes to the surface

Gov. Wolf made royalty legislation part of his plan to tax the natural gas industry and raise the personal income tax.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Wolf made royalty legislation part of his plan to tax the natural gas industry and raise the personal income tax.

Tucked into Gov. Wolf’s unsuccessful budget proposal last week was what looked to some like a sweetener for Republicans from oil and gas counties. It was a ban on the practice of deducting postproduction costs from royalties, an issue which has outraged many landowners in heavily-drilled areas.

Landowners have complained for years that oil and gas companies have subtracted the cost of transporting and refining natural gas from their royalty checks. In some cases, landowners have seen their checks cut by 90 percent or more because of the deductions.

Wolf’s proposal would have barred companies from deducting those costs on royalties. It was included in his plan to hike the personal income tax and levy a 3.5 percent severance tax on natural gas. It would also have limited those deductions to 15 percent of the value of the gas for the purposes of calculating a severance tax. No Republicans voted for the tax plan, which failed by a 127-73 vote.

State Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming County), who represents a heavy oil and gas area in North-Central Pennsylvania, was among those Republicans who passed on the plan. He is in favor of reforming the state’s royalty laws, but didn’t think Wolf’s plan was the way to do it. Continue Reading

PA, WV, OH team up on shale gas related manufacturing and chemical development

A BASF ethane cracker in Port Arthur, Texas.

BASF

A BASF ethane cracker in Port Arthur, Texas.

After years of competing against one another to land big petrochemical projects powered by their growing natural gas industries, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio announced Tuesday they would work together to market and develop their region as a center for shale-related manufacturing.

The states announced a three-year cooperation agreement at the Tri-State Shale Summit in Morgantown, West Virginia.

The states say they will organize conferences to share best practices for economic development around shale gas and related manufacturing, develop workforce development programs, and market the region to petrochemical and other industries that can use shale gas for manufacturing.

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British MP studies fracking on trip to PA

Kevin Hollinrake meets with members of the Mars Parent Group, which opposes fracking near schools.

Reid Frazier

Kevin Hollinrake meets with members of the Mars Parent Group, which opposes fracking near schools.

On a sunny fall morning, Kevin Hollinrake stands with a group of concerned parents across a road from a gas processing plant in Butler County. Trucks come and go as workers hustle to expand the Bluestone processing plant, which will separate different types of natural gas from locally drilled wells for market.

Hollinrake has come a long way to watch this Butler County construction site. He is a member of the British Parliament and a Conservative from a district in northern England. A company has applied to utilize fracking for natural gas in his district. Hollinrake traveled more than 3,500 miles to visit Pennsylvania—where more than 8,000 wells have been drilled since 2008—to see the fracking process firsthand. He wants to know what it’s like to live near a gas drilling site.

The people he’s touring with today, the Mars Parent Group, are worried about fracking near local schools in Butler County. They’ve been battling with local officials to prohibit drilling within two miles of schools in the area.

They tell Hollinrake they’re worried about the smells they say emanate from the plant. (State records show the facility has had no air quality violations.) They’re standing in the driveway of a suburban-style house that’s now right across the street from what is essentially a small refinery. The plant was opened last year and is already undergoing an expansion.

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Wolf signs bill pushing mine water to fracking

Mine water gets treated at the Blue Valley AMD Treatment Center, near Brockway, Pa. Treated mine water can be used to hydraulically fracture wells.

Reid Frazier

Mine water gets treated at the Blue Valley AMD Treatment Center, near Brockway, Pa. Treated mine water can be used to hydraulically fracture wells.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law Thursday a bill that could clear the way for more oil and gas companies to use treated mine water for fracking.

The idea has been encouraged by the state Department of Environmental Protection, but there have been relatively few companies using the water to frack. Drillers have been reluctant to use the treated minewater because of concerns over liability.

The way the law is written, drillers won’t worry that if they use any part of a mine’s discharge, the state’s Clean Streams Law could make them liable for all water in the mine, even polluted discharge they’re not using.

The new Act 47 clarifies this issue, says State Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Greene County), the bill’s sponsor. Under the bill, a fracking company only assumes responsibility for the water it takes out of the coal mine. Continue Reading

Wolf tweaks gas tax plan; GOP, industry unimpressed

Gov. Tom Wolf has had a hard time selling new taxes, including a severance tax on natural gas, to the Legislature.

Reid Frazier

Gov. Tom Wolf has had a hard time selling new taxes, including a severance tax on natural gas, to the legislature.

Seeking an end to the state’s three month-old budget stalemate, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf sent the GOP-controlled legislature a revised tax plan that lowers his ‘ask’ on a severance tax for the natural gas industry. But his political rivals say it’ll cost the industry just as much as his old plan, if not more.

The new proposal would drop the natural gas severance tax Wolf has proposed from 5 percent to 3.5 percent, and keep a proposed additional fee of 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet (mcf) of natural gas.

The new plan brings back something Wolf, a Democrat, had taken out of his initial proposal: the state’s per-well “impact fee”, which brings in around $225 million a year currently and gets distributed largely to counties and townships where drilling takes place. Under Wolf’s original plan, the state would have set aside $225 million per year from the gas severance tax and distributed it the same way it does now. But instead of getting the money through a flat fee on each well, it would have raised the revenue by taxing the gas itself. Wolf’s updated plan now keeps the original impact fee and adds a severance tax on top, albeit a lower one.

Jeff Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman, said the new 3.5 percent severance tax would bring in $389 million in revenue to the state in 2016-2017, the first full year it would be implemented.

The severance tax is part of a suite of proposals Wolf is making to fix the budget stalemate. The GOP-controlled legislature passed a budget June 30, but Wolf vetoed it. His latest proposal includes a higher personal income tax and property tax relief for seniors and disabled people. Continue Reading

EPA sets tougher ozone standard, but not tough enough for some greens

The ozone standard could effect power plants, like Homer City in Indiana, Pa.

Reid Frazier

The ozone standard could effect power plants, like Homer City in Indiana, Pa.

After years of delay and court battles, the Obama administration released a final update to its regulation on ground-level ozone, or smog Thursday. The EPA set the standard at 70 parts per billion (ppb) of ozone, an irritant that can exacerbate asthma and other heart and lung conditions. The new rule is a reduction from the current standard of 75 ppb, set in 2008 under President George W. Bush.

“Put simply – ozone pollution means it hurts to breathe for those most vulnerable; our kids, our elderly and those suffering from heart and lung ailments,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The key question for industry and environmental groups in advance of Thursday’s widely-anticipated announcement was how low the EPA would go in revising the standard. Since the mid 2000s, the EPA’s own scientists had recommended a level of between 60 and 70 ppb. Last year, the agency proposed a range from 65 to 70 ppb. So setting the limit at the upper — or least stringent — end of that range disappointed some environmental groups. Continue Reading

Nuclear industry execs bemoan nukes role in Clean Power Plan

Three Mile Island nuclear plant is scheduled to be dismantled between 2034 and 2044.

Three Mile Island nuclear plant is scheduled to be dismantled between 2034 and 2044.

The Clean Power Plan was a “missed opportunity” to ramp up the nation’s largest source of zero-carbon power, a group of nuclear industry leaders said Wednesday.

Nuclear power represents about 20 percent of the country’s electricity generation, but plants face tough times making money these days. Exelon, the country’s largest nuclear power plant operator, admitted recently that several of its power plants in Illinois were losing money, and it may have to close two of them. Plants in Vermont, Florida, Wisconsin, and California have closed in recent years.

The causes of the industry’s woes are twofold. Increased regulation stemming from the Fukushima disaster in Japan has pushed up operating costs, while cheaper natural gas has driven down the price of electricity.

Nuclear remains the country’s top source of zero-emissions power, but industry leaders at the “Nuclear Matters” conference in Pittsburgh this week said they were disappointed in the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s landmark carbon regulation for the power sector.

The plan set carbon emissions reduction goals for power plants in individual states. Pennsylvania must cut its power plant generated carbon emissions by roughly 33 percent by 2030, based on 2012 levels. The nuclear industry had hoped the Clean Power Plan would help boost their bottom line. An initial version of the CPP gave states credit for keeping existing nuclear power plants in operation, but the final plan nixed that allowance.

That was a mistake, groused Maria Korsnick, Chief Operating Officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group.

“I think there was a missed opportunity quite frankly for (existing plants) to not be recognized,” Korsnick said. She predicted that it may lead plants to decide to close rather than apply to be re-licensed, a process which can cost up to $500 million. “In today’s market with nuclear plants being challenged, you’re not going to go to your board of directors if you’re having a hard time as it is and say ‘Let’s invest more.’” Continue Reading

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