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.
FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield plant in Shippingport, Pa.
Losing millions of dollars a year at its power plants, Ohio-based FirstEnergy has asked the Trump administration for help. Though it may have the president’s ear, it’s unclear how much President Trump can do to help the company’s struggling coal and nuclear plants.
FirstEnergy, which filed for bankruptcy last month, and plans to close three nuclear plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio, wants Energy Secretary Rick Perry to declare a “202-C” grid emergency, and make customers in Pennsylvania and surrounding states pay more for electricity from nuclear and coal.
A pile of waste coal sits abandoned in Fredericktown. Photo: Reid Frazier
Pennsylvania announced approval of $25 million in funding for cleanup of abandoned mines at 12 sites around the state.
The money for the projects comes from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands fund, a Department of Interior program. The program is funded by a fee on current coal production, and goes to clean up mines that were developed before modern environmental rules were created for mines in the 1970s.
The work can include removing acid mine drainage from streams, repairing acidity in soil, and addressing other hazards, like sinkholes, unstable strip mine banks, and mine fires.
The Department of Environmental Protection selected the sites, which include four in Luzerne County and two in Schuylkill County:
Protect PT is challenging Penn Township's zoning ordinance, which allows drilling in the green areas of the map.
A dispute over a local law that opens up much of a Pittsburgh suburb to oil and gas drilling has made it to a Westmoreland County courtroom.
The citizens group ProtectPT is challenging Penn Township’s zoning ordinance, finalized in 2016, that allowed drilling in parts of the township zoned as “rural resource” areas.
These are typically open parts of the community, like farms and other sparsely populated areas. The community, about 20 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, contains a mix of planned suburban subdivisions and farmland.
The group is arguing that the ordinance deprives residents in more densely populated parts of the township their rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution to a clean environment.
Across Europe, laws on fracking vary. In 2016, after years of debate over environmental concerns and economic interests around fracking, Germany banned some forms of it. Environmentalists are calling for a total ban. Photo: Robin Wood / flickr
Fracking may have been born in the U.S., but there are shale gas reserves in dozens of other countries. Will these countries say yes or no to fracking? Shanti Gamper-Rabindran a University of Pittsburgh professor and editor of The Shale Dilemma, sat down for an interview about the topic. The book examines decisions being made around the globe about fracking. Here are some highlights:
Q: What are the benefits and drawbacks of shale development countries are weighing?
A: In every country that is pursuing shale, the government generally states four different reasons why they pursue shale.
One is long term energy security. Second is broad-based economic development, not just economic development. Third is climate protection by shifting from coal to gas. And the fourth is air quality protection by switching from coal to gas at the point of combustion. Continue Reading →
In the latest poll, conducted in late March, 55 percent say the environmental risks of fracking are greater than its economic benefits. A few years ago, that number was in the 30s.
“That’s a real change,” said Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion and Research at Franklin & Marshall, which conducted the poll. He thinks more people worry about the environmental risks of fracking now because the economy has improved, and because of reports of the industry’s environmental impacts.
“Now the economy is a little better, there’s been more negative publicity around fracking and the environmental damage it can create — I think that’s in part driving this change,” he said.
FirstEnergy Corporation's Bruce Mansfield electricity generating plant is seen in Shippingport, Pa.
The power generation subsidiary of Ohio-based FirstEnergy, which owns two Beaver County power plants and several others in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company said over the weekend.
During the bankruptcy, FirstEnergy Solutions says its plants will run normally. Last week, the company said it was closing three nuclear plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio, including Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport. It is also seeking federal help to keep its fleet of aging coal and nuclear plants operating.
The company owns Bruce Mansfield Plant, in Shippingport, the largest coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania. The plant lost $90 million in 2017 alone, and is projected to lose even more – $104 million — this year, according to the company’s documents, filed in a federal bankruptcy court in Ohio.
Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport, Pa. Photo: Reid R. Frazier
Citing “market challenges,” electric utility FirstEnergy says it will close three nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, while at the same time asking the Department of Energy for immediate help to keep its fleet of coal and nuclear plants open.
The company, which could be near bankruptcy according to a report at cleveland.com, gave regional grid operator PJM interconnection notice that it will deactivate Beaver Valley Power Station and two other plants — Davis-Besse in Oak Harber, Ohio, and Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio — by 2021. The company says 2,300 employees would be impacted by the closures; most would be laid off, a spokesman said.
The plants produce 4,000 megawatts of power, enough electricity to power about 4 million homes.
Natural gas and renewable energy have been making up a larger amount of the country’s electric grid, eating into coal and nuclear power on wholesale markets. With that backdrop, FirstEnergy is also asking the Department of Energy to issue an immediate emergency order to PJM Interconnection, the grid operator for mid-Atlantic states, to provide “just and reasonable” compensation to its fleet of aging coal and nuclear power plants in order to keep them open.
Coal being prepared for use in electric generation. Photo: Reid R. Frazier
The Department of Environmental Protection will hold a public hearing on a revised permit to conduct longwall mining at a Washington County mine.
The hearing concerns the Tunnel Ridge underground coal mine in Donegal and West Finley townships, and will take place on Tuesday, April 10 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Donegal Township Municipal Building, 34 N. Liberty Street, West Alexander, Pa.
Tunnel Ridge, LLC is applying to revise its permit in a 1,200-acre segment of the mine from development mining to a more intensive process, longwall mining.
DEP staff will be on hand to take written and oral testimony, and to answer questions about the permit.
Those with special needs who wish to participate can contact Bonnie Herbert at 724-769-1100.
The application is on file for public review at the Washington County Recorder of Deeds Office, 100 West Beau Street, Room 2014, Washington, Pa.
At the Steamfitters Union Local 449 near Pittsburgh, apprentices practice pipe welding in the union's new training facility. Photo: Reid R. Frazier
On a recent afternoon, Ken Broadbent walked the aisles of his union’s “weld shop.” Behind orange plastic curtains that shield the eye-searing brightness of their torches, a few dozen apprentices practiced welding pipes together. Each will end up with about 700 hours of training.
“Welding is like shooting pool, the more you do it, the better you’re gonna get,” Broadbent said.
Broadbent is the business manager for Steamfitters Union 449. He was showing off his union’s brand new training center in Butler County, about half an hour north of Pittsburgh.
This training center, which opened last year, cost $18.5 million dollars to build.
Broadbent says it’s money well spent. His members will have plenty of work, thanks in large part to the oil and gas business. They’ll be working on natural gas processing plants, power plants, and Shell’s multi-billion dollar ethane cracker in Beaver County, which will employ 1,500 steamfitters at peak construction.
“I’m almost going to double the amount of people when it peaks working out of my union. That is good for our education fund. That’s good for for our health coverage. It helps us stay in business,” Broadbent said.
The relationship between oil and gas and unions wasn’t always this friendly, he said. When the shale gas boom initially hit Pennsylvania 10 years ago, many of the companies who came to the region were from right-to-work states like Texas and Oklahoma.
Polen Run in Ryerson Station State Park, Greene County. Photo: Reid R. Frazier
Environmental groups have once again appealed a state permit allowing Consol to mine beneath a stream inside a state park in Greene County, saying that the plan could cause “significant damage” to the waterway. They are asking a state judge to issue a temporary halt to the mining plan while the case is heard.
The Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club say that the permit, issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, could damage Polen Run, in a 700-foot long section of the stream that flows through Ryerson Station State Park.
They argue that longwall mining, the technique Consol would use to mine beneath the stream, can cause ground beneath streams to fall in. Continue Reading →
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