Energy. Environment. Economy.


State regulators take a closer listen to gas compressor stations

Most of the noise created by natural gas development is temporary. After drilling and fracking, the workers and equipment are gone. A gas well in production is pretty quiet; it’s basically just a bunch of pipes in the ground.

But compressor stations can stay noisy for years– even decades. The facilities are necessary to process and transport gas through pipelines. When it comes to noise regulations, they’re governed by a patchwork of local, state, and federal rules.

This summer the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), which manages public forest land, is trying to get a handle on how these persistently noisy places affect both people and wildlife.

The agency launched a pilot study to analyze the components of compressor station sound. It’s aimed at figuring out which parts of the noise are the most irritating.

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Transparency about fracking chemicals remains elusive

Paul Woods, left, and David Manthos with the nonprofit SkyTruth check out results from their data-scraping bot at their office in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. SkyTruth says the chemical disclosure website FracFocus is flawed.

Courtesy of Tom Jones, SkyTruth

Paul Woods, left, and David Manthos with the nonprofit SkyTruth check out results from their data-scraping bot at their office in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. SkyTruth says the chemical disclosure website FracFocus is flawed.

The website was built to give the public answers to a burning question about the shale boom: what exactly were companies pumping down tens of thousands of wells to release oil and gas?

Today, FracFocus has records for more than 77,000 wells. Pennsylvania is one of 14 states requiring operators to use the website as part of their chemical disclosure laws, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

However, transparency about those chemicals remains elusive.

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Gas boom starts to hit home for residents of Southeastern Pa.

In the past few years, the Marcellus Shale has rapidly become one of the most productive gas plays on the planet. But for many people in Southeastern Pennsylvania– the state’s most populated region– the boom has been out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

Until now.

The region is beginning to experience the tradeoffs long familiar to those who live on top of the Shale—more job opportunities and more disruption.

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Thousands rally in Harrisburg to support Marcellus Shale development

IMG_4127Thousands of supporters of natural gas development marched to the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg today. Estimates of up to 3,000 people from all over the state hopped on buses and turned out for the day-long event, hosted by the state’s main gas industry trade group—the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Bob Beck works for a company called New Pig Energy, which builds liners to help contain spills.

He lives outside State College and came to the Capitol to show his support for what he feels is a misunderstood business.

“I think there’s a lot of people who really don’t understand the industry,” he says. “They feel there’s a lot of contamination that goes on. I don’t think really realize everything the industry does to prevent that from happening.”

Others at the rally felt the same way.

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Economics may hinder Berks County gas-to-liquids plant

A proposal to build a plant that would transform Pennsylvania’s cheap, abundant natural gas into more expensive motor fuel is generating controversy in Berks County. If built, the gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant would be one of the first facilities of its kind in the United States.

But industry analysts say there’s a reason these kinds of plants are so rare– the economics often don’t make a lot of sense.

“Homes all around”

Jen Byrne watches and worries as children run around the playground behind the day care she owns. If the plant is built in South Heidelberg Township, it would be—literally–in her backyard.

Jen Byrne

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Jen Byrne owns SpringRose Childcare in Sinking Spring.

“I thought there’s no way they’d put that right there,” she says, looking out at the empty lot. “We have all these children here. There’s homes all around. My biggest concern is air and water pollution.”

The idea behind the GTL facility is to transform Pennsylvania’s natural gas into expensive liquid motor fuel–it would produce gasoline that can go right into a car.

The facility is projected to cost $800 million to $1 billion and produce about 500,000 gallons per day of gasoline and liquid petroleum. It’s planned for a 63-acre site about 10 miles west of Reading. Although the land is zoned for light industrial uses, it’s currently an empty field surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

The newly-formed South Heidelberg Township Community Association opposes the GTL plant.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

The newly-formed South Heidelberg Township Community Association opposes the GTL plant.

Once word got out about the plans, a concerned citizens group quickly organized. They printed up bright red “Stop the gas refinery” yard signs, t-shirts, and flyers. Nearly 300 people attended a recent meeting hosted by the group.

A Canadian developer, EmberClear, is seeking to develop the GTL plant. Jim Palumbo is a project manager for the company. He says the plant will create about 150 permanent jobs.

“We have an abundance of natural gas in the state. It makes all the sense in the world to use it in some fashion,” he says. “We want to be good neighbors. We don’t want to do something that would be a detriment to the neighborhood.”

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Chevron pizza controversy puts southwest Pa. coal town in the spotlight

Bobtown is having its 15 minutes of fame. The small town in southwest Pennsylvania has been on the lips of late-night comedians, Twitter wits and anti-fracking activists. First, in February, a Chevron natural gas well near Bobtown exploded, killing a young worker. Then, the company responded by giving community residents free coupons to Bobtown Pizza.

This struck Chevron’s critics as outrageous. More than 12,000 people from the Netherlands to San Francisco have signed a petition demanding Chevron apologize for insulting the people of Bobtown.

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Court bars anti-fracking activist from more than 300 square miles of Pa.

Scroggins has to research where Cabot holds leases in Susquehanna County to figure out where she can and can't go.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Scroggins has to research where Cabot holds leases at the Susquehanna County courthouse, to figure out where she can and can't go.

A judge has signed off on an order which bars an anti-fracking activist from setting foot on more than 300 square miles–or nearly 40 percent–of Susquehanna county. It’s all the land owned or leased by the area’s biggest driller, Cabot Oil and Gas.

Although Cabot asked for the court order, a spokesman for the company says it didn’t mean for it to be so broad.

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Lawmakers focus on rail safety as more oil trains to move through Pa.

As many as 500 people have been working around the clock to turn an old coal-fired power plant in Eddystone, Delaware County into a terminal for crude oil. Starting in April, trains pulling 120 tanker cars of crude will come to Eddystone where the oil will be pumped out and put on barges for delivery to nearby refineries.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

The former Exelon Generating Station in Eddystone, Delaware County is being converted to a rail terminal for crude oil.

As many as 500 people have been working around the clock to turn an old coal-fired power plant in Eddystone, Delaware County into a terminal for crude oil. By the end of April, trains hauling 80,000 barrels of crude will arrive every day from North Dakota to help feed refineries along the Delaware River.

“That was the opportunity… to see if we could be part of the solution to save the refineries in the Philadelphia area,” says Jack Galloway, CEO of Canopy Prospecting Inc.

Galloway’s company has teamed up with North American energy distributor Enbridge to form the new Eddystone Rail Company.

Most elected officials in river towns like Eddystone are happy to see people going back to work at the old plant, but they worry it comes with some risk.

“We welcome the industrial businesses coming in, we understand the benefits of the economic growth,” says William Stewart, President of the Eddystone Borough Council. “However, we want to make sure we’re educated so in the event something was to happen, our first responders are prepared to do what they need to do.”

Two trains carrying crude oil derailed recently in Pennsylvania. They join a string of similar accidents across North America, including one last summer that killed 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

At a packed legislative committee hearing this week in Delaware County, former Congressman Curt Weldon – a former mayor and fire chief in Marcus Hook – warned state lawmakers that state and local first responders may not be prepared for accidents.

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Lt. Governor Cawley: Chesapeake Energy royalty practices are ‘egregious’

Lt. Governor Jim Cawley.

Scott Detrow/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Lt. Governor Jim Cawley.

Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley sat down with StateImpact Pennsylvania recently to talk about how the Corbett administration is handling allegations of fraud against the state’s biggest natural gas driller– Chesapeake Energy.

Corbett recently reached out to state Attorney General Kathleen Kane and asked her to investigate complaints the company is cheating Pennsylvania landowners out of royalty money.

For an overview of the issue, listen to our audio report:

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Pa. towns with no zoning rules unlikely to limit gas drilling

It seemed like a game-changer late last year when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court restored the power of local communities to limit natural gas development within their borders. After all, three out of every five municipalities on the Marcellus Shale have zoning laws to that would apply. However, in the state’s rural Northern Tier, where drilling has flourished, some towns aren’t eager to wield this new clout.

In most of Pennsylvania, industrial activities are controlled by local governments using zoning. They have community plans that tell businesses how loud they can get or how high they can build, or how close they can be to your house. But in the northeast, many communities don’t have these kinds of rules and most people like it that way.

In Susquehanna County, Planning Director Bob Templeton says the idea of zoning has never gone over well.

“People are not rich in Susquehanna County, but what they do own is their land and they’re very proud of that,” he says. “It’s been passed down for generations, so don’t mess with my land.”

After the natural gas industry moved in, the county passed an ordinance to deal with noisy compressor stations that move the gas through pipelines. Otherwise, Templeton says many residents in Susquehanna – where only six of the county’s 40 municipalities have adopted zoning codes – just accepted the changes to their rural lifestyle.

“If I’m out in the townships and I’ve leased my land and now I’m looking forward to royalties, I don’t want somebody controlling it,” he says. ”How can you say this area is allowed to be drilled upon and this area is not?”

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