Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Susan Phillips

Reporter

Susan Phillips tells stories about the consequences of political decisions on people's every day lives. 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 2013 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Journalism Award for her work covering natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. She has also won several Edward R. Murrow awards for her work with StateImpact. She recently returned from a year as at MIT as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow. A graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, she earned her Bachelor's degree in International Relations from George Washington University.

New study links gas drilling to migraines, fatigue and chronic sinus symptoms

The DEP recently made changes to proposed regulations governing the  state's oil and gas industry.

AP Photo David Smith

A new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows an association between heavy gas drilling and migraines, fatigue and nasal symptoms.

A new study published today in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives shows an association between living near heavy gas drilling activity and common ailments like chronic nasal and sinus symptoms, severe fatigue, and migraines. The report is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Geisinger Health System and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“These three health conditions can have debilitating impacts on people’s lives,” says Aaron W. Tustin, MD, MPH, a resident physician in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “In addition, they cost the health care system a lot of money. Our data suggest these symptoms are associated with proximity to the fracking industry.”

The researchers used health surveys gathered from almost 8,000 patients of Geisinger Health System from 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania and divided the results into two groups. One group reported no symptoms, while the other reported two or more. This data was then matched with the proximity of respondents to heavy gas drilling activity. The researchers used gas drilling locations and intensity of shale gas production provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and satellite imagery from the group SkyTruth. Continue Reading

Gas company fined for building pipelines in the wrong place

A natural gas gathering pipeline in the Loyalsock State Forest.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A natural gas gathering pipeline in the Loyalsock State Forest. Gathering lines are not regulated in rural areas but they do need permits from DEP for construction.

A natural gas company and a pipeline builder in southwestern Pennsylvania will be paying a combined $184,000 for constructing gathering lines outside the bounds of their permits. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says in one case, the pipeline was constructed several hundred feet from where the line was supposed to be installed. In another case, the pipeline crossed a waterway several hundred yards away from the permitted stream crossing. These gathering lines are the smaller pipelines that carry gas from the wellhead to larger transmission lines, or gas processing facilities.

DEP fined CNX Gas Company, a subsidiary of Consol Energy, $139,000, while CONE Midstream Partners has been assessed $45,000 for violating the state’s Clean Streams Law and the Oil and Gas Act.

DEP employees discovered the violations during a routine inspection in December 2015. Not only did the inspector find pipelines where they were not permitted to be, but DEP also discovered a gravel road and a pad for a pipeline valve that were not permitted at all. Continue Reading

DEP releases Climate Action Plan for Pennsylvania

Micro-wind turbines and solar panels installed at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia generate renewable energy. The state's Climate Action Plan recommends rooftop solar and more energy efficient buildings.

Mark Stehle/Invision / NRG/AP Images

Micro-wind turbines and solar panels installed at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia generate renewable energy. The state's Climate Action Plan recommends rooftop solar and more energy efficient buildings.

Pennsylvania’s climate change action plan reports the greatest potential reductions in the state’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions could also create new jobs and increase household income by reducing energy costs. The Department of Environmental Protection released its 2015 Climate Change Action Plan Update on Friday, which outlines the economic impact of steps the state could take to cut climate warming emissions. Organized into 13 work plans, it serves as a roadmap for reducing the state’s carbon footprint and details legislative recommendations.

Topping the list of carbon reduction strategies is making newly constructed buildings more energy efficient. The DEP recommends that new buildings be built to use 60 percent less fossil fuels on average, based on energy consumption by structures built in 2005. The DEP recommends energy consumption reductions of 80 percent in new buildings, and by 50 percent in existing buildings, by 2030. That work plan ranks 5th in terms of economic benefits.

The winner for economic gains, includes making simple, inexpensive changes to tractor trailers, such as “truck skirts” that reduce drag and help 18-wheelers become more fuel efficient. Although that plan includes the most economic gains, it has the least amount of impact regarding carbon reductions. The EPA recently announced new rules that would force the country’s trucking fleet to become more fuel efficient by 2027. Continue Reading

Air pollutants from Pa. oil and gas sites continue to rise

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.

Air pollutants from Pennsylvania’s natural gas production sites increased from 2013 to 2014, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Environmental Protection. The air inventory data for shale gas production relies on information submitted by the industry, and includes emissions from compressor stations that utilize gas from coal beds, conventional, and unconventional wells. Although the number of well sites reporting information to the DEP dropped by 2.7 percent from 2013 to 2014, the number of pipeline related infrastructure sites increased by 12 percent.

Sulfur dioxide emissions saw the greatest jump, increasing 40 percent over 2013 levels. Sulfur dioxide contributes to acid rain, and causes respiratory problems including asthma.  Other air pollutants that contribute to public health impacts also increased, including nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds.

Acting DEP secretary Patrick McDonnell said that despite a growth in production, he’s optimistic air pollution from these sites can be reduced. Continue Reading

Feds unveil new rules to cut carbon emissions from trucks

Trucks head eastbound on Rt 50 in Bowie, Md., Friday, June 19, 2015.  The Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled tougher mileage standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks, the latest move by President Barack Obama in his second-term drive to reduce pollution blamed for global warming.

Susan Walsh / AP Photo

Trucks head eastbound on Rt 50 in Bowie, Md. The Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled tougher mileage standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks, the latest move by President Barack Obama in his second-term drive to reduce pollution blamed for global warming.

As part of its final push to combat climate change, the Obama administration has unveiled tough, new fuel efficiency rules for heavy duty vehicles.  The new standards will force manufacturers to reduce carbon emissions from big-rigs, tractors, garbage trucks and buses.

Speaking to reporters about the move, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said there’s a lot at stake.

“2016 is on pace to be the hottest year ever recorded by a significant margin,” McCarthy said. “Average temperatures and sea levels keep rising, coastal flooding is getting worse and arctic sea ice is melting at alarming rates.”

And  more and more big trucks are barreling down the highway carrying everything from new cars to refridgerators to new clothes ordered online, making trucks the fastest growing source of transportation greenhouse gas emissions. Continue Reading

Attorney General reaches agreement with XTO over criminal charges

Kimberly Paynter/Newsworks.org

Kimberly Paynter / Newsworks

A natural gas well in Lycoming County. After bringing criminal charges against driller XTO Energy, the attorney general's office has settled on a fine.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office has reached a settlement with XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, over criminal charges filed in 2013 for a wastewater spill that occurred in 2010. The AG’s office has used a rehabilitation program primarily reserved for drunk drivers with no prior record, to avoid trial. Under the program, known as accelerated rehabilitative disposition, XTO will pay a $300,000 fine to the Department of Environmental Protection, and an additional $100,000 to the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership for environmental clean up in Lycoming County and continue to comply with a federal consent decree issued by the EPA.

“This settlement will result in additional oversight over a company that was allegedly responsible for discharging thousands of gallons of fracking wastewater into the environment,” Attorney General Kane said in a statement. “This is an important step toward accountability, and we will continue to pursue prosecutions against companies and individuals who pollute the environment.”

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Obama instructs FERC to review climate impacts of pipelines

A pipeline construction site in Northeast Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A pipeline construction site in Northeast Pa.

The Obama Administration instructed federal agencies to factor climate change impacts into required environmental reviews of large projects. The White House Council on Environmental Quality released its guidance this week, six years after the original draft proposal. The move clarifies reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Under NEPA, projects such as interstate pipelines and LNG export terminals undergo environmental reviews known as environmental impact statements, before gaining federal approval.

“In many cases, Federal actions have the potential to contribute to climate change by producing greenhouse gas emissions or alternatively, be affected by many of the impacts of a changing climate, such as rising sea levels, extreme weather, drought and wildfires,” read a statement released by the White House.

The White House guidance on climate change is just that – guidance. It’s not a new law or regulation and does not require congressional approval. But environmentalists who oppose pipeline projects reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for example, say it’s a step in the right direction. Raul Garcia is an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“Everybody has a boss,” said Garcia. “This is basically [FERC's] boss telling them this is how to go about doing this kind of analysis. And if they don’t, we hope there would be further measures to make sure that they do.” Continue Reading

Shale drillers produce more gas with fewer wells in 2015

Ethan Eckard, 23, a test technician at Schramm, Inc. in West Chester, sits in the control room of the T500XD drill rig.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Ethan Eckard, 23, a test technician at Schramm, Inc. in West Chester, sits in the control room of the T500XD drill rig.

Natural gas production in Pennsylvania is up despite a drop in the number of new wells. The Department of Environmental Protection released its 2015 annual oil and gas report on Monday, detailing such things as the number of wells drilled, locations, and inspections. The state’s shale wells produced 4.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2015, marking a continued increase since the start of the shale gas boom. This happened despite a drop in newly drilled wells. In 2015, shale producers drilled 785 wells, about half the number developed in 2014, which was 1,372.

The top three producers included Chesapeake Energy, Cabot Oil and Gas, and Range Resources. The top counties for shale gas production include Washington, Susquehanna and Greene counties.

The report also detailed the drilling activity for the Utica and Point Pleasant Shale Plays, which the DEP says could expand should the market for shale gas improve. Both of those formations lie beneath the Marcellus, and just 55 wells were drilled into those formations in 2015. Continue Reading

Former Gov. Ed Rendell: ‘I made a mistake’ on shale gas

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, center, greet Democratic National Committee (DNC) representatives Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, center, greets Democratic National Committee representatives in Philadelphia. At a panel discussion on Wednesday Rendell said he made a mistake prioritizing the economic benefits of shale gas ahead of environmental protection in the early days of the drilling boom.

Former Governor Ed Rendell said he regrets putting economic gain ahead of environmental protection at the start of Pennsylvania’s shale gas boom. Speaking at a DNC event hosted by Politico in Center City Philadelphia on Wednesday, Rendell said fracking has risks but those can be mitigated.

“I made a mistake in the rush to get the economic part of fracking delivered to Pennsylvania,” he said. “We didn’t regulate well construction and …. frack water as well as we should. We cured that in 2010 and we haven’t had any significant incidents since.”

Although the state did tighten regulations regarding drilling wastewater disposal into rivers and streams in 2010, some water treatment facilities were still discharging partially treated wastewater into state surface waters at the time. Pennsylvania also introduced some new well construction standards in 2010. But the state’s oil and gas law was not updated until 2012 under Rendell’s successor, Republican Governor Tom Corbett and the state still has not finalized its effort to modernize oil and gas regulations. Rendell also failed to get a shale gas tax before he left office in January, 2011. Rendell left the panel discussion without taking any questions from StateImpact. Continue Reading

Clinton energy adviser predicts Clean Power Plan will survive high court stay

Emissions from power plants like this in Homer City, PA will be regulated under the Clean Power Plan when it emerges from its Supreme Court review, an adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign said.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

Emissions from power plants like this in Homer City, PA will be regulated under the Clean Power Plan when it emerges from its Supreme Court review, an adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign said.

A future Clinton administration would assume that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to uphold both the Clean Power Plan and the Environmental Protection Agency’s responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, Hillary Clinton’s energy adviser said on Wednesday.

Trevor Houser also said that if the Democratic nominee becomes president, her administration will work to provide new economic opportunities to coal miners who have been displaced by the move away from coal in the nation’s energy mix.

During a panel discussion hosted by the media organization Politico during the week of the Democratic National Convention, Houser said the Clinton campaign is optimistic that the CPP will survive its current stay, as ordered by the Supreme Court, and that the EPA will continue to regulate carbon emissions despite current legal challenges.

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