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Lobbyist, lawmakers entwined in complex relationship: Is it influence peddling, or essential?

State Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, listens to his constituents lobby him about renewable energy proposals.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

State Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, listens as a group of his constituents lobby him about renewable energy proposals.

On the day of the Governor’s budget address last month, Amtrak’s 7:25 Keystone service from Philadelphia’s 30th street station to Harrisburg filled up with lobbyists on their way to the Capitol.

PennEnvironment’s David Masur was one of them.

“There’s non-profit folks on the train. There’s corporate lobbyists on the train. There’s folks who work for legislators,” he said. “When we took the escalator down, one of the attorney general’s staff was coming down the escalator with us, so it’s sort of a mix of folks making their way to Harrisburg this morning.”

Once the train pulled into the station, a line of men and women in suits trudged through the days-old snow to ply their trade — influencing and, some would say, educating lawmakers about the hundreds of issues the Legislature grapples with each session.

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Listen: Disputes over gas royalties fester throughout oil and gas states

A shale gas drilling rig in Washington, Pa.

AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam

A shale gas drilling rig in Washington, Pa.

When a company wants to drill for natural gas, it will typically approach the person who owns the underground minerals in that location and negotiate a lease. That lease grants the mineral owner a certain percentage of the revenue generated from the gas well, known as the royalty.

But as StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported, disputes can arise over royalty money, particularly when companies take deductions for “post-production costs.” The costs often include expenses associated with transporting and treating the gas.

While Pennsylvania landowners have complained for years about deductions, now landowners across the country are echoing their concerns.

StateImpact reporters Marie Cusick and Amy Sisk discussed the latest surrounding these disputes today on “The Confluence,” a show produced by Pittsburgh NPR station WESA.

You can listen here:

De-icing salt boosts safety during storms, but it poses a threat to fresh water

John Jackson, a senior research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center, measuring conductivity at the White Clay Creek at the center.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

John Jackson, a senior research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center, measures conductivity at the White Clay Creek at the center.

Applying salt on roads and sidewalks during storm events is a safety issue — it helps keep roads drivable during winter and can prevent people from falling when it’s icy.

But there’s a cost: Studies show that salt ends up running into streams and rivers, raising chloride and sodium levels in fresh waters across the country, which hurts the environment and can threaten public health.

John Jackson, a senior research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center, has been studying water quality in the Delaware River watershed for 28 years. Currently, he’s looking at the increasing salt concentration in surface waters from streams in Pennsylvania and the White Clay Creek at the Stroud Center, and its negative impact on aquatic organisms.

On Tuesday, a day before this week’s snowstorm, Jackson put a portable meter into the creek to measure conductivity, which shows the amount of salt dissolved in the water.

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Listen: here’s why some strike it rich in the gas patch and others strike out

A natural gas drilling site in Susquehanna County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas drilling site in Susquehanna County.

The United States lets private individuals own the right to the minerals under their land. While that sets it apart from virtually every other country, it also opens the door to a host of disputes.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania recently reported, disparities in how mineral royalties are paid spans the Marcellus Shale, and it’s popping up in other oil- and gas-rich regions across the country. It stems from a complex web of laws, court rulings and legal jargon that determines how money is distributed to property owners who allow energy companies to tap the minerals below their land.

Reporters Amy Sisk and Marie Cusick appeared on WITF’s Smart Talk Tuesday to explain.

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Royalties: Why some strike it rich in the natural gas patch, and others strike out

Jim Barrett stands next to a wellpad on his farm in Bradford County. He says Chesapeake Energy, which drilled four natural gas wells on his land, is cheating him out of royalty money.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Jim Barrett stands next to a wellpad on his farm in Bradford County. He says Chesapeake Energy, which drilled four natural gas wells on his land, is cheating him out of royalty money.

When natural gas companies approached Charlie Clark and Jim Barrett about the minerals under their farms, the northern Pennsylvania landowners in neighboring counties both decided to let them drill.

They hoped — like so many landowners — to bring in some extra cash.

For Clark, the decision has paid off. But Barrett says he feels cheated, and is now suing his gas company.

That disparity in how royalties are paid spans the Marcellus Shale, and it’s popping up in other oil- and gas-rich regions across the United States. It stems from a complex web of laws, court rulings and legal jargon that determines how money is distributed to property owners who allow energy companies to tap the minerals below their land.

Clark and Barrett might have started out with similar hopes, but their different experiences show how tough it can be for landowners to navigate the gas business — and how resolutions are hard to come by.

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PCN guests to field questions tonight about Gov. Wolf’s severance tax proposal

PCN will take calls on a live show tonight for two guests who will answer questions about Gov. Wolf’s proposal for a severance tax on natural gas drilling.

The program begins at 7 p.m. You can call 1-877-PA6-5001 or tweet @pcntv to ask a question.

Guests are Kevin Sunday, director of government affairs for the PA Chamber of Business and Industry, and Larry Schweiger, president emeritus of PennFuture, an environmental advocacy group.

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Landowners brace for eminent domain loss in PennEast pipeline cases

From the porch of her Palmerton farmhouse, Albertine Anthony looks out on the rolling hills of lower Carbon County. She believes the PennEast pipeline's proposed route through her 124-acre farm threatens her water supply.

Emma Lee / WHYY

From the porch of her Palmerton farmhouse, Albertine Anthony looks out on the rolling hills of lower Carbon County. She believes the PennEast pipeline's proposed route through her 124-acre farm threatens her water supply.

Albertine Anthony has been living in the same picturesque Carbon County farmhouse since she was born 93 years ago, and she’s not going anywhere even if PennEast builds a natural gas pipeline across her land.

Anthony, a tiny figure with a slight stoop and a shock of white hair, was offered $37,000 by the company as compensation for building the pipeline across a corner of her 124-acre farm that was first purchased by her grandfather, and where tenants now grow crops including corn and oats.

She might have gotten used to the idea if the company hadn’t changed its plans and redrawn the pipeline route so that it crossed a wetland containing the spring that has supplied her house with water for three generations.

The idea that pipeline construction might destroy the spring that provides fresh, clear water by gravity – even to the second floor of her house – has set her firmly against PennEast’s plans and led her to tell them that she’s not accepting their compensation at any price.

“You can give me any amount of money but you can’t replace that spring, and you can’t replace the good taste that it has,” she said in an interview at her kitchen table. “If they hit that vein when they are going down, then everything is finished.” Continue Reading

In New Jersey, opponents of offshore drilling gear up for a fight

Fisherman Jim Lovgren says drilling off the Jersey coast is not worth the risk. The Trump administration has proposed opening up the entire eastern seaboard to offshore drilling.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Fisherman Jim Lovgren says drilling off the Jersey coast is not worth the risk. The Trump administration has proposed opening up the entire eastern seaboard to offshore drilling.

Jim Lovgren is a third-generation fisherman and captains the Shadowfax. At the Fisherman’s Coop in Point Pleasant New Jersey recently, he watched as about a half-dozen men sorted freshly caught scup — or porgies — into bins.

“These fish they’ll be put in a cooler by tonight,” he said. “There could be 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of fish on the docks today. They will all be on their way to New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. We ship anywhere from Canada down past North Carolina.”

Lovgren grew up trawling the waters off Sandy Hook. He says the fishery is already stressed from rising ocean temperatures. While there used to be dozens of fishing boats here, Lovgren said today there’s only a handful. He worries that if oil and gas companies drill offshore, he’ll be put out of business.

“Blackback flounders are just about extinct in this area here,” he said. “That was a major fishery. yellowtail flounders, codfish, lobsters are disappearing off the Jersey coast and it’s all because the water’s getting too warm.”

Lovgren knows that burning fossil fuels is connected to climate change, warming oceans and his disappearing fish. Still, he said, he needs fossil fuel to trawl the ocean floor.

“Look, a fishing boat, it runs on diesel fuel. You have to have energy. We have to have energy.”

But President Trump’s offshore drilling proposal is an immediate threat to his livelihood, and he’s gearing up to fight it.

Lovgren, along with other fishermen, environmentalists, realtors, and local business owners, descended on a hotel near Trenton Thursday voicing their unified opposition to drilling for oil and natural gas off the coast of New Jersey. Continue Reading

Mariner East 2 critics don’t trust DEP, Sunoco agreement to improve company’s record

Sunoco/ETP's Mariner East 2 construction site in West Whiteland Township, Chester County. Critics doubt that the DEP's decision to lift a stop-work order will ensure fewer environmental violations when construction resumes.

courtesy of David Mano

Sunoco/ETP's Mariner East 2 construction site in West Whiteland Township, Chester County. Critics doubt that the DEP's decision to lift a stop-work order will ensure fewer environmental violations when construction resumes.

Pennsylvania’s decision on Thursday to allow Sunoco to resume construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline after a month-long shutdown failed to convince critics that the company will do so with any more respect for environmental regulations than they say it has had since starting the project a year ago.

Despite the Department of Environmental Protection’s $12.6 million civil penalty for the project’s many violations, and the company’s agreement to do a compliance review, critics said the measures don’t ensure Sunoco will meet regulations as it tries to get the natural gas liquids pipeline up and running after a long series of delays. Continue Reading

In Ohio, the hellbender population is declining. Are pipelines affecting this ancient salamander?

18-year-old Theresa Paff cares for eastern hellbender salamanders at the Penta Career Center in Toledo, Ohio.

Julie Grant

18-year-old Theresa Paff cares for eastern hellbender salamanders at the Penta Career Center in Toledo, Ohio.

High school students in Nicole Costello’s small reptiles class at the Penta Career Center in Toledo, Ohio are learning firsthand how to foster an aquatic species that experts say is in decline: the eastern hellbender salamander.

In a bio-secured room on campus, 18-year-old Theresa Paff is among the students cleaning the glass tanks and cutting up worms to feed to the young Hellbenders they’re raising. “They always like to move, and they’re so slimy and slippery,” she says as she picks up a 3-year-old salamander in her care. It’s really hard to hold.”

These are not the colorful little salamanders you might be imagining. They’re flat, brown and mottled with wrinkly sides and beady eyes. Their good looks have earned them nicknames like snot otters, Allegheny alligators and old lasagna sides. Some people would say they’re so ugly they’re cute,” says Greg Lipps, an expert on hellbenders at Ohio State University who works with the high school program. “Everything about them is made to live underneath a big rock in tight spots and darkness,” Lipps says.

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