Energy. Environment. Economy.

Susan Phillips

Susan Phillips tells stories about the consequences of political decisions on people's every day lives. A native Philadelphian with roots in central Pennsylvania, Susan travels extensively around the state as both a reporter, and a hiker. She has worked as a reporter for WHYY since 2004. Susan's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election resulted in a story on the front page of the New York Times. In 2010 she travelled to Haiti to cover the earthquake. That same year she produced an award-winning series on Pennsylvania's natural gas rush called "The Shale Game." Along with her reporting partner Scott Detrow, she won the prestigious 2013 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Journalism Award for her work covering natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. A graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, she earned her Bachelor's degree in International Relations from George Washington University.

Lifelong Gag Order Imposed on Two Kids in Fracking Case

Stephanie Hallowich with her two children. A court order forbids the children from speaking about fracking or Marcellus Shale for the rest of their lives.

Mark Schmerling / Courtesy of Protecting Our Waters

Stephanie Hallowich with her two children. A court order forbids the children from speaking about fracking or Marcellus Shale for the rest of their lives.

Two young children are forbidden from speaking about Marcellus Shale or fracking for the rest of their lives. The court action stems from a settlement in a high-profile Marcellus Shale lawsuit in western Pennsylvania.

The two children were 7 and 10 years old at the time the Hallowich family settled a nuisance case against driller Range Resources in August 2011. The parents, Chris and Stephanie, had been outspoken critics of fracking, saying the family became sick from the gas drilling activity surrounding their Washington County home.

According to court testimony released Wednesday, the parents were desperate to move and reluctantly agreed to a gag order that not only prevents them from speaking of Marcellus Shale and fracking, but also extends to their children.

Stephanie Hallowich told Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Pozonsky that she agreed to the gag order in order to get enough funds to move out of the house. But she said she didn’t fully understand the lifelong gag order on her children. Continue Reading

Lifelong Gag Order Imposed on Two Kids in Marcellus Fracking Case

The Hallowich’s had been outspoken critics of gas drilling, suspecting it made them and their two young children sick.

A just-released Washington County Court transcript of an August 2011 settlement hearing in a high-profile Marcellus Shale damage case shows the case records should have included a missing confidential settlement agreement, and reveals details of an unusual lifetime “gag order” that covers two minor children involved in the case.

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Silenced Critic of Dimock’s Water Problems Switches to Air Pollution Concerns

Victoria Switzer in her Carter Road home. As part of her settlement with Cabot Oil and Gas, she can no longer discuss issues of water contamination in Dimock.

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Victoria Switzer in her Carter Road home. As part of her settlement with Cabot Oil and Gas, she can no longer discuss issues of water contamination in Dimock.

One of Dimock’s most outspoken critics of gas drilling in Northeast Pennsylvania says she has shifted gears and changed tactics by networking with industry. Victoria Switzer says she wants to persuade drillers to use the best available technologies that reduce air emissions beyond current regulatory requirements.

Switzer may be best known for her witticisms shaming and ridiculing both local lawmakers and industry representatives who she saw doing little to protect the environment, or the health of local residents. As one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Cabot Oil and Gas, Switzer could be heard speaking out in newspapers, on national TV news programs like CBS’s 60 Minutes, and Josh Fox’s Gasland Part 2. But since settling her lawsuit with Cabot Oil and Gas, Switzer has had to muzzle her thoughts on Dimock’s water issues. So, she says she’s turned to air quality.

“We knew we had hit a wall with the water issues,” said Switzer. “You couldn’t persuade people in a town like this where the hospitals are funded by the gas industry. We more or less gave up on that.”

But Switzer says she’s not giving up on remaining in her home on Carter Road, where she wants to breathe clean air. She’s working with a new organization called Breathe Easy Susquehanna County to limit the air pollutants that could come from dozens of new compressor stations planned for the area. Continue Reading

LA Times: EPA Not in Agreement Over Dimock

A Cabot Oil and Gas drill rig in Susquehanna County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Cabot Oil and Gas drill rig in Susquehanna County.

Regional officials with the Environmental Protection Agency based in Philadelphia did not agree with EPA’s national office to close the investigation on water contamination in Dimock, according to a piece published in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. An internal Power Point presentation leaked to the Times shows at least one staffer at Philadelphia’s region 3 office linked contaminants such as methane, arsenic and manganese to nearby gas drilling.

“Yet as the regulator moved to close its investigation, the staff at the mid-Atlantic EPA office in Philadelphia, which had been sampling the Dimock water, argued for continuing the assessment.”

The Times article doesn’t say who at region 3 wanted to continue the investigation, nor did it describe their role in the process. One question seems to hinge on whether or not the methane detected in the water wells came from shallow formations, or bears the imprint of the deeper Marcellus Shale gas. But Region 3′s assessment seems to agree with the investigation carried out by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection back in 2009, finding Cabot Oil and Gas responsible for methane migration in ten Dimock water wells.

“The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that “methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.” The presentation also concluded that “methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work.”

Continue Reading

NEPA Congressman Introduces Bill to Close Gas Loophole

A truck delivers drilling waste water to a frack water recycling plant in Susquehanna County

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A truck delivers drilling waste water to a frack water recycling plant in Susquehanna County

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Lackawanna County, has introduced a bill to end an oil and gas exemption to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which was passed back in 1976 establishes standards for proper disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA tracks industrial wastes from “cradle to grave.” But when it comes to the oil and gas industry, as long as the waste water is on the drill site, or in transit, it is not considered hazardous. This also applies to drilling mud.

“Under current federal law, oil and gas companies do not even have to test their waste to see if it is toxic,” said Cartwright in a press release, “leaving us with no way of knowing what is being disposed of and how it is being treated.  It is time oil and gas companies comply with existing minimum standards and oversight.”

With no federal oversight of the waste, regulation is left to the states. Cartwright says that has yielded mixed results, and thinks there needs to be one federal standard. The “Closing Loopholes and Ending Arbitrary and Needless Evasion of Regulations” Act, or CLEANER, would eliminate the oil and gas exemption. But the bill may have a tough time getting through the Republican controlled House.

Sunoco Plans to Take Land for Gas Pipeline

Because a small section of the pipeline will cross into Delaware, the company can exercise eminent domain. Sunoco Logistics filed its first claim in Westmoreland County. The pipeline would bring “wet gas” or propane and ethane east, to their refinery in Delaware County.

Sunoco Logistics Partners LP has notified landowners in several communities that it will try to take land for a pipeline running from Washington County to an export terminal near Philadelphia.
Its partners, primarily Range Resources Corp., plan to export half of the natural gas to Europe.

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Klaber to Step Down from Marcellus Shale Coalition

Marcellus Shale Coalition

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Marcellus Shale Coalition CEO Kathryn Klaber speaks to the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Pennsylvania’s top natural gas trade group is looking for a new leader. The Marcellus Shale Coalition announced on Friday that the current CEO Kathryn Klaber, will be leaving the organization after four years. The MSC was formed by a group of Marcellus Shale producers in late 2009, to be the public face of the state’s burgeoning energy industry. Klaber has directed the organization since its inception. Its staffers work to influence drilling-related legislation, host the annual “Shale Insight” conference in Philadelphia, interact with the press, and promote the benefits of gas drilling. Its members were heavily involved in shaping the state’s new drilling law, Act 13.

Klaber earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Bucknell University. She worked previously at the consulting firm Environmental Resources Management, led the Pennsylvania Economy League, and before taking the job at the MSC, was an executive vice president at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Continue Reading

Marcellus Shale Exports Could Transform Global LNG Market

The offshore loading pier at Dominion has not received a ship importing liquefied natural gas since January 2011.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

The offshore loading pier at Dominion has not received a ship importing liquefied natural gas since January 2011.

In energy-hungry countries, all eyes are on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas. In a dramatic shift from just five years ago, the U.S. is looking to export, instead of import natural gas. And if more natural gas starts getting shipped abroad, Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale could help change the global market for natural gas, and lighting homes in Tokyo.

The U.S. currently has two export terminals, one in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, and the ConocoPhillips LNG export terminal in North Cook Inlet, Alaska. The U.S. Department of Energy just gave preliminary approval for ConocoPhillips to expand its Freeport, Texas import terminal to export liquefied natural gas. About 17 other export proposals now await approval by the DOE, including the Cove Point liquefied natural gas import terminal operated by Dominion Resources.

Continue Reading

EPA: Don’t Operate Earthquake-Linked Disposal Wells

A draft report by the EPA offers advice to states on how to handle oil and gas waste water disposal wells that have caused earthquakes.

U.S. EPA officials say oil and gas wastewater injection wells that are causing earthquakes should stop operating if there’s no way to stop the shaking. But there is a variety of other options to consider first, according to a “decision model” outlined in a draft report obtained by EnergyWire. That includes scaling back how much well owners can inject, requiring more data collection or public education about “the complexities of injection-induced seismicity.”

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Rising Natural Gas Prices Make Electricity More Expensive Nationwide

Average wholesale electricity prices jumped in the first half of 2013 compared to 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration. The EIA reports that the increase is linked to the rising price of natural gas, which has gone up 40 percent to 60 percent this year compared to the first six months of 2012. The price jump for natural gas was caused by colder winter temperatures, lower production, and reduced storage inventories.

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 11.14.28 AM

courtesy of the Energy Information Administration

“Average on-peak, day-ahead wholesale electricity prices rose in every region of the Lower 48 states in first-half 2013 compared to first-half 2012. The most important factor was the rise in the price of natural gas in 2013 compared to 10-year lows in April 2012. However, the increase in power prices was not uniform across markets as regional natural gas supply issues drove larger increases in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest.” — EIA

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