Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Reid Frazier

Reporter

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.

DEP extends comment period for Shell’s ethane pipeline

Environmental groups at a rally against Shell's Beaver County petrochemical complex in Pittsburgh. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Environmental groups at a rally against Shell's Beaver County petrochemical complex in Pittsburgh. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will extend the public comment period for Shell’s 97-mile Falcon pipeline, which will carry ethane to the company’s $6 billion petrochemical plant in Western Pennsylvania.

The DEP will also hold public hearings in each of the three counties the pipeline route traverses: Washington, Allegheny, and Beaver counties. Instead of the comment period closing on Feb. 20, it will be extended to April 17, the DEP said in a news release. Continue Reading

Environmental group: Methane pollution higher than PA thinks

Scientists from Carnegie Mellon use mobile labs to detect methane leaks from the natural gas industry.  Photo: Reid Frazier

As part of a research effort in 2016, scientists from Carnegie Mellon use mobile labs to detect methane leaks from the natural gas industry. Photo: Reid Frazier

An environmental group says that Pennsylvania’s gas drilling industry is releasing much more methane into the atmosphere than the state is reporting.

Scientists at the Environmental Defense Fund calculated Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale industry is emitting twice as much methane as companies are reporting to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The analysis, posted to the group’s website, is based on 16 peer-reviewed studies funded in part by EDF, including some involving oil and gas companies.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, and is a powerful greenhouse gas. Over the course of 20 years, methane is as much as 86 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

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Pittsburgh suburbs decide as fracking comes near: Welcome it, or resist?

Huntley & Huntley's Midas Well pad, the first Marcellus shale gas well in the Pittsburgh suburb of Plum. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Huntley & Huntley's Midas Well pad, the first Marcellus shale gas well in the Pittsburgh suburb of Plum. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Michael Thomas didn’t think the Marcellus shale industry, with its multi-acre well pads and large drilling operations, would come to the Pittsburgh suburb of Plum.

But then one day last summer, it did.

“I was on vacation and I got an e-mail from a council member that said, ‘Are you going to the meeting tonight?’” said Thomas, the borough manager. “And my response was, ‘What meeting?’”

It was a public hearing for an underground injection well for fracking waste, held by the EPA. Around 200 residents came out to oppose the project. Pretty soon the borough got word that another company wanted to build shale gas wells in Plum.

This came as a surprise to Thomas, the borough’s manager for 13 years. There were small, conventional gas wells in Plum. But Thomas thought the drilling industry would stay in more rural parts of the state.

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Activist groups want more time to review Shell Falcon pipeline permits

Environmental groups at a rally against Shell's Beaver County petrochemical complex in Pittsburgh. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Environmental groups at a rally against Shell's Beaver County petrochemical complex in Pittsburgh. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Environmental groups are asking a state agency to extend a 30-day comment period on environmental permits for a pipeline that would bring natural gas liquids to Shell’s Beaver County Ethane Cracker.

The Falcon pipeline will carry 107,000 barrels of ethane a day to Shell’s Beaver County ethane cracker in Potter Township.

The Department of Environmental Protection’s comment period for the pipeline began Jan. 20 and runs to Feb. 20.

The request comes a few weeks after the state shut down another pipeline project. In early January, the DEP pulled construction permits for Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 pipeline, after the project resulted in repeated permit violations, including more than 60 spills along its route.

That has environmental groups worried about similar impacts from Shell’s project. According to an analysis by the environmental data group FracTracker, the pipeline will go through 319 streams and 174 wetlands in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Continue Reading

Study: Conventional drilling waste responsible for radioactivity spike in rivers

Treated oil and gas wastewater flows into a western Pennsylvania stream. (Photo: Avner Vengosh, Duke)

Treated oil and gas wastewater flows into a western Pennsylvania stream. (Photo: Avner Vengosh, Duke)

Treatment plants that handle conventional oil and gas waste water are causing a buildup of radioactive materials at the bottom of three Western Pennsylvania waterways, according to a new study from researchers at Duke.

“We concluded that recent disposal of treated conventional (oil and gas waste) is the source of high (radium concentrations) in stream sediments at (waste) facility disposal sites,” the authors wrote. Continue Reading

Settlement: No longwall mining beneath state park stream in Greene County

Polen Run in Ryerson Station State Park, Greene County. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Polen Run in Ryerson Station State Park, Greene County. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Consol Energy has agreed not to conduct longwall mining beneath a section of a southwestern Pennsylvania stream, as part of a settlement it reached with environmental groups.

In addition, the company discontinued an appeal of a court decision that blocked it from mining beneath another nearby stream with longwall mining, a method of coal removal that shears off long sections of rock. The technique can cause the ground above it to fall in, or subside, which can cause problems for buildings and waterways on the surface. Continue Reading

Judge fines environmental attorneys $52,000 for ‘frivolous’ injection well suit

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A federal judge has ordered a pair of attorneys for an environmental group to pay $52,000 in legal fees to an energy company because, the judge said, they filed a “frivolous” legal challenge to a fracking waste injection well in Indiana County.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter of the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled the attorneys, Thomas Linzey and Elizabeth Dunne, should pay part of Pennsylvania General Energy’s (PGE) legal fees for advancing a “discredited” legal argument that had already been defeated in prior decisions. In addition to the fine, the judge referred Linzey to the state Supreme Court Disciplinary Board for additional discipline. Continue Reading

Settlement requires coal plants to get permits with tighter pollution controls

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

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

PPL's Brunner Island coal-fired plant, on the west bank of Susquehanna River, is among the plants included in a settlement between the Department of Environmental Protection and environmental groups.

In a settlement with environmental groups, the Pennsylvania Department of Environment agreed to require coal-fired power plants to obtain water pollution permits with tighter controls on toxic releases into rivers and streams that provide drinking water to millions of people.

The settlement, filed in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, pertains to 10 coal-fired power plants around the state that have been operating on expired water pollution permits for years — in one case for 17 years.

The permits — technically, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits — specify limits on how much of certain kinds of pollution industrial facilities can discharge into rivers and streams, and impose monitoring and reporting requirements.

In June, the Sierra Club, PennFuture and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association sued DEP  for allowing those plants to operate without updated permits. The suit asked the DEP to re-issue permits that addressed newer federal guidelines that the EPA published in 2016. Continue Reading

Federal commission kills Trump’s plan to save coal plants

-A Norfolk Southern freight train hauling coal makes it way through downtown Pittsburgh Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. The Department of Energy has proposed subsidizing coal and nuclear power in the face of competition from natural gas and renewables.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

-A Norfolk Southern freight train hauling coal makes it way through downtown Pittsburgh Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. The Department of Energy has proposed subsidizing coal and nuclear power in the face of competition from natural gas and renewables.

An independent federal commission terminated a Trump administration proposal that would have propped up struggling coal and nuclear plants.

On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — an independent body with both Republican and Democratic members – unanimously rejected the Department of Energy’s “Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule.” Continue Reading

Who will pay for Trump’s plan to save coal?

The Trump proposal would subsidize coal plants that would otherwise be driven out of business by natural gas. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Trump proposal would subsidize coal plants that would otherwise be driven out of business by natural gas. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Trump administration has asked a federal agency to step in and help save the coal and nuclear industries. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has proposed a rule that will force the electric grids in some parts of the country to basically guarantee profits for coal and nuclear plants.

But who will pay for that guarantee? Anyone who gets an electric bill, said Ben Storrow, a reporter for E&E News, on the Trump on Earth podcast. Storrow says the proposal is a response to changes in the grid, which is changing because of new technology. Continue Reading

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