Pennsylvania

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Royalty advocates rally at State Capitol

Joe Moore of Wyalusing, Bradford County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Joe Moore of Wyalusing, spoke on behalf of his mother, who he says is being cheated out of gas royalty money, "I'd like to think there is such a thing as right and wrong," he says. "This is wrong. It's criminal."

Anger over gas royalties has reached a fever pitch in Pennsylvania, as the House considers a bill aimed at protecting landowners accusing drilling companies of predatory payment practices.

About 150 royalty advocates rallied at the State Capitol Tuesday, accusing lawmakers of turning a deaf ear to their concerns, and allowing themselves to be manipulated by industry lobbyists.

“I’m here today for my mom,” says Joe Moore, of Bradford County. “She’s a 75-year-old widow, and what the gas companies are doing to her is very, very wrong. It’s criminal. Those pumps are taking gas from her land 24/7, and at the end of the month, she gets nothing.”

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Dakota Access pipeline controversy hits home for Pa.

Pipeline projects used to fly under the radar but have now become part of an intense public debate over the nation's energy future.

Reid Frazier

Pipeline projects have become part of an intense public debate over the nation's energy future.

The ramifications of the Obama administration’s recent decision to temporarily halt construction on the Dakota Access oil pipeline are being felt throughout the country– particularly in Pennsylvania. Industry executives worry about growing public opposition to pipelines, while activists have been encouraged by the success of Native American protesters.

Once under the radar, pipeline projects have taken center stage in an intense battle over the nation’s energy future and global climate change.

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Why the oil and gas industry is not giving to Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Bismarck, N.D.

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo

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.

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Coal town wary of Clinton and Trump campaign promises

Every year the King Coal parade winds through the center of Carmichaels. Hundreds of people line up to see the fire engines, classic cars, floats, and marching bands.

It’s fair to say the presidential race has people pretty fired up –and worried– in this small town in Greene County, about an hour’s drive south of Pittsburgh. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has promised to bring back coal, with few details on how he will accomplish it. Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton has said she’d put miners out of work, but is pushing a big plan to reinvest in coal communities.

Despite the black and yellow banners hanging around Carmichaels proclaiming, “King Coal”, times are changing for mining communities.

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Whose gas is it anyway?

JS INEOS Inspiration was in Philadelphia in July to pick up ethane for export to Europe. The Mariner pipeline project, which transports natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to the coast has been met with legal challenges from landowners throughout the state.

Tomas Østberg- Jacobsen via shipspotting.com

The JS INEOS Inspiration carries exported ethane to Norway. The ethane is produced in western Pennsylvania and moved across the state via the Mariner East 1 pipeline. Some landowners are now fighting plans by Sunoco Logistics to build a second line, the Mariner East 2, arguing the project doesn't benefit Pennsylvania.

As Ralph Blume walks through his farm field on a hot afternoon in July, he surveys the damage. By his estimate, he’s out about $4,000. That’s because a year ago, he says workers for Sunoco Logistics destroyed an acre of his wheat crop.

The company hasn’t reimbursed him and he doesn’t want them back.

“When they step foot on my property, things will get started,” Blume says darkly. “I’m gonna run them off. I don’t care what anybody says. They are not allowed on my property.”

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Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

"They're not nice people to deal with." Ralph Blume says of Sunoco Logistics. "They treat us like second-class citizens. We've lost our property rights."

Last summer Sunoco was digging up parts of his Cumberland County farm to work on an old pipeline that used to carry gasoline from east to west across the southern part of state.

The company had decided to re-purpose it, reverse the flow, and call it the Mariner East 1. It’s now moving natural gas liquids from the shale fields of western Pennsylvania to Sunoco’s Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. Natural gas liquids (NGLs) include products such as ethane, propane, and butane and are a byproduct of gas drilling.

Blume’s now upset again because Sunoco wants to build another pipeline, the Mariner East 2, next to the old one. The company’s threatened to use eminent domain to take his land. If built, the Mariner East 2 would span 350 miles of southern Pennsylvania and pass through 17 counties.

“Taking my property for their gain and I get nothing,” says Blume. “The way Sunoco has treated me over the years– they lied and threatened. [It's] just not a good company to deal with.”

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields says the company is responsible for offering Blume fair market value for his land.

“He can’t say he’s getting nothing,” says Shields. “Mr. Blume, like any landowner, has the ability both in an out of court to establish what that compensation should be.”

But Blume says he doesn’t want the money. He is one of dozens of landowners along the pipeline’s route taking Sunoco to court, arguing the Mariner East 2 won’t benefit Pennsylvanians.

 

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Clean energy advocates urge DNC to ban fracking, promote renewable fuels

Opponents of the Algonquin Pipeline cheer speakers at a rally after the clean energy march in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.

Jonathan Wilson / Newsworks

Opponents of the Algonquin Pipeline cheer speakers at a rally after the clean energy march in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.

Thousands of campaigners for clean energy marched through the center of Philadelphia on the eve of the Democratic National Convention on Sunday, urging the party to adopt policies that would ban fracking and promote the use of renewable energy.

In an event that mixed national politics with local opposition to specific energy projects, some demonstrators called on the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, to step up her support for renewable energy, while others – many of them backers of Clinton’s former rival, Senator Bernie Sanders — vowed never to support Clinton even if that increased the chances of the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, becoming president.

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Rift grows between Wolf and environmentalists

Governor Tom Wolf

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

"I don't know why he's caving on the environment," Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) says of Governor Tom Wolf. "But he clearly is caving."

As Pennsylvania’s July 1 budget deadline looms, Governor Tom Wolf is finding common ground with the Republican-led legislature on bills affecting climate change policy and regulations for the oil and gas industry.

But it’s leading to a growing rift between his administration and environmentalists.

“He’s caving on the environment”

“The environment has historically been the low man on the totem pole in budget negotiations,”says Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware).  ”It’s frequently been traded off by the Democrats to get other things.”

Last week Vitali called a press conference to blast Wolf for what he views as a failure to prioritize the environment. Vitali is particularly upset the governor is on board with a Republican-led effort to kill tougher regulations for the conventional oil and gas industry.

“I don’t know why he’s caving on the environment, but he clearly is caving,” Vitali says.

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Deepening the Delaware: Windfall or boondoggle?

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D) speaks at a press conference regarding the dredging of the Delaware to increase shipping traffic to the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal.

Brad Larrison / WHYY

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D) speaks at a press conference touting the benefits of the dredging the Delaware to increase shipping traffic to the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal. Philadelphia Congressman Bob Brady (D) stands to the left.

On a recent afternoon, local politicians and business leaders gathered at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia. Standing in front of a giant blue and white crane used to lift containers off cargo ships, U.S. Senator Bob Casey told reporters he’s confident Congress will approve the last chunk of federal funding needed to deepen the Delaware River’s shipping channel this year.

“It’s a great sense of satisfaction because it allows this region to be much more competitive and to chart its own course for the future,” said Casey.

That course for the future is the promise of lots of good-paying jobs. A controversial, $400 million project to deepen the Delaware River’s shipping channel will wrap up next year.

The project to dredge the river to a depth of 45 feet was held up for nearly three decades by state officials across the river in New Jersey and Delaware who didn’t think it was worth spending millions in taxpayer dollars, and by environmentalists worried about its impact on the Delaware River. Dredging proponents say it will be a boost to the local economy.

Dredging the Delaware has scientists worried about the impact of climate change

The Drillboat Apache sits in the Delaware River near Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. From December 2015 to March 2016, the crew on this boat was blasting rock outcroppings on the river bottom. It’s one of the last stages of a controversial project to deepen the river’s shipping channel by five feet.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

The Drillboat Apache sits in the Delaware River near Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. From December 2015 to March 2016, the crew on this boat was blasting rock outcroppings on the river bottom. It’s one of the last stages of a controversial project to deepen the river’s shipping channel by five feet.

The Delaware River is getting deeper thanks to a joint federal and state effort to dredge the shipping channel to make way for larger boats. It’s the culmination of a multi-million dollar project stalled for years by doubts over economic benefits and fears of environmental damage.

In the long fought battle over dredging the Delaware, environmentalists lost. They were worried about a laundry list of potential impacts to the endangered Atlantic sturgeon, oysters, horseshoe crabs, as well as what to do with all the potentially hazardous muck dredged from the river bottom. But there is one impact nobody at the time was talking about — climate change. Six years after the first shovels started scooping up the riverbed, reporter Katie Colaneri takes a look at how the deepening project could impact the health of the river, which provides drinking water for 16 million people.

 

Click here for more on our series about dredging the Delaware.

Invoking power of eminent domain, gas industry runs roughshod over private property

Elise Gerhart stands with a protest sign by an area of tree-clearing on her parents land.

courtesy of Elise Gerhart

Elise Gerhart stands with a protest sign after Sunoco crews cleared her family land of trees. Gerhart sat in a white pine tree while the tree-clearing happened around her. A continuing court case could not stop the tree cutting.

Pipelines criss-cross the countryside and lie scattered beneath the urban landscape. They bring us water, natural gas, gasoline. What if someone came knocking on your door wanting to put one through your front yard? That’s exactly what is happening across Pennsylvania right now, as pipeline companies use eminent domain to secure land from uncooperative landowners.

Our story begins with 29-year-old Elise Gerhart, sitting up in a white pine tree, on a platform she built about 40 feet high on her parents land in Huntingdon County. Chain saws roared around her.

“This is my home, you know, I grew up here,” Gerhart shouts down from her perch. My parents owned this place five years before I was born.”

Down below police officers were guarding work crews and arresting her mother on her own land.

This is eminent domain in action. The idea that the government can take land for the public good. That’s why we, the public, get to enjoy national parks, and drive on highways. One of the earliest enforcement of eminent domain by the federal government was used to expand the Gettysburg National Military Park. Continue Reading

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