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.
Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaking at an event in the Capitol Rotunda.
Governor Wolf has nominated the acting DEP chief Patrick McDonnell as the state’s permanent top environmental regulator. If approved by the senate, McDonnell will replace John Quigley, who was ousted by the Wolf Administration last May over an email controversy. McDonnell has been serving in that role since Quigley’s departure.
Environmentalists praised Wolf’s decision, saying McDonnell will have an easier time working with the legislature than his predecessor, who was looked upon with suspicion by lawmakers loyal to the oil and gas industry, and apparently clashed with other members of the Wolf Administration.
David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, says he hopes McDonnell can help quiet the partisanship at work in Harrisburg, especially when it comes to protecting the environment. Continue Reading →
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Bismarck, N.D. The oil and gas industry, usually a reliable fundraising base for the Republican nominee, has only given about $244,000 in individual donations to Trump.
One thing we can say about this year’s presidential election, it’s not following the rules of the game. Take the oil and gas industry for example. Although Donald Trump is the keynote speaker at the annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh this week, industry executives and employees have not been opening their wallets to the Republican nominee.
But in a typical election they would. As of last week, Republican nominee Donald Trump raised a paltry $245,000 from individuals working in the oil and gas industry, according to figures provided by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. While union members and Hollywood entertainers are reliable donors to the Democratic candidate in Presidential races, industries like oil and gas line up behind the Republican.
So what’s going on here?
At an oil and gas conference in North Dakota last May, Trump came across like Santa Claus – ready to shower gifts all over coal and oil country, stripping away environmental regulations.
“We’re going to lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas,” Trump told the industry crowd. “We’re going to revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies….we’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement.”
When you hear that, you think, oil and gas industry employees should be lining up to give Trump money, right? Wrong.
A tree clearing crew member on property in Huntingdon County where Sunoco was permitted to cut trees along the pipeline path before obtaining water crossing or earth moving permits from DEP.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has rejected Sunoco Logistics current proposal to protect waterways and wetlands at risk of damage by construction of the company’s Mariner East 2 pipeline. Sunoco recently submitted what DEP refers to as “technically complete” permit applications necessary for moving forward with the pipeline project. DEP’s critiques of the permit applications come after a year of working with agency staff to resolve problems with the company’s initial proposals. And yet, more than a year since Sunoco first applied for the permits, DEP has documented hundreds of issues remaining in each of the 17 counties along the pipeline route. DEP’s response documents, known as “deficiency letters,” detail missing or insufficient information about how the company plans to protect the environment, drinking water sources, and cultural heritage sites along the 350-mile long route from Ohio to Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
The $2.5 billion Mariner East 2 project would take propane, butane and potentially ethane though 17 counties from the Marcellus Shale of eastern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania to a terminal at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia, where the fuel will be shipped overseas.
Pipeline construction on the 20-inch diameter high pressure line will tunnel beneath 17 counties in the commonwealth, cut through 2,700 properties, require a 50 foot right-of-way, and cross more than 1,200 streams or wetlands. The project, which has already begun tree clearing in parts of the state, requires state approved plans to prevent erosion and sedimentation, as well as mitigate harm to waterways, before any pipe is put into the ground. Chapter 105 permits, a necessary step for any construction project that may impact a waterway, are aimed at protecting streams and wetlands. Chapter 102 permits focus on erosion and sedimentation. Continue Reading →
Marcia Stober holds up a sign in Lebanon County. Protesters staged events across the country Tuesday to show solidarity with Native Americans opposing the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Protesters staged demonstrations across the country Tuesday in solidarity with Native Americans trying to stop an oil pipeline from being built on their land in North Dakota. The anti-pipeline demonstrations took place in Lebanon and Lancaster counties, as well as in Philadelphia, where President Obama made a visit to stump for his former rival, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The president spoke to about 6,000 people gathered in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum while about 100 protesters stood behind barricades across the street, and periodically chanted “water is life.”
Catherine Blunt from West Philadelphia said she wanted to show support for the Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“The pipeline is an intrusion on the Native American people’s right to their ancestral homeland,” she said, “their holy land, you know, that should not be going on.”
Sticks mark a section of forest where an independent consultant hired by the property owners in Huntingdon County surveyed land before tree clearing for the Mariner East pipeline. Landowners and environmentalists say Sunoco has submitted incomplete permits for stream crossings and erosion control, including permits that leave out known streams and water crossings.
As landowners battle Sunoco Logistics in court over eminent domain takings, critics are pushing back against the pipeline on another front — permits the project needs from the state to move forward with construction. Sunoco has already begun felling trees along the 300-mile long proposed pipeline route through Pennsylvania, but the company can’t lay any pipe without erosion and sedimentation control permits from the Department of Environmental Protection. It also can’t cross any waterways without the water crossing permits.
The deadline for public comment period on the Chapter 105 permits, which regulate stream and wetlands crossings, has already passed. The deadline for public comment on the erosion and sediment control permits, known as Chapter 102, is Tuesday. Residents at recent public hearings on the pipeline project have complained that DEP went ahead with the public comment periods without having received completed permit applications from Sunoco.
“That’s what makes this different,” said Alex Bomstein, an attorney with the Clean Air Council, which along with several environmental and landowner organizations, submitted a 34-page detailed comment letter outlining the deficiencies in Sunoco’s permit applications for stream and wetland crossings. Continue Reading →
A Pennsylvania appeals court has ruled that the Department of Environmental Protection has the authority to consider the impact of gas drilling wells on public and natural resources including, but not limited to, public drinking water supplies, parks, forests, game lands, habitats of rare and endangered species, historic and archeological sites, scenic rivers, and historic landmarks. The Commonwealth Court ruled 5-2 in favor of DEP, and against the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, or PIOGA, which includes about 550 members primarily engaged in conventional drilling operations.
Acting DEP secretary Patrick McDonnell praised the ruling.
“Today’s ruling is important for DEP’s permitting of oil and gas wells across Pennsylvania,” McDonnell said in a statement. “It unconditionally confirms that the Department has legal authority under Act 13 (the 2012 Oil and Gas Act) to consider the impact that a proposed well site will have on public and natural resources. This decision will assist the Department in its work to ensure responsible development of natural resources in Pennsylvania.”
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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