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Environmental lawyer asks state Supreme Court to back up its order to Commonwealth Court

A drilling rig in Tioga State Forest. The Supreme Court ruled that all proceeds from oil and gas drilling on state land needs to be spent on environmental conservation. The court based its ruling on the state's Environmental Rights Amendment.

Scott Detrow/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drilling rig in Tioga State Forest. The Supreme Court ruled in June that all proceeds from oil and gas drilling on state land needs to be spent on environmental conservation. The court based its ruling on the state's Environmental Rights Amendment.

An environmental lawyer wants the state Supreme Court to direct Commonwealth Court to follow its order in a case centered on whether Pennsylvania must use oil and gas lease proceeds from drilling on state forest land only for environmental conservation.

John E. Childe of Camp Hill made that claim in a lawsuit against the state, but Commonwealth Court had ruled against the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation. Childe says in a new filing that when the Supreme Court on June 20 decided that the state was a trustee for public resources, it vacated the Commonwealth Court’s decision and sent the case back for “further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.”

Childe’s filing claims nothing has happened, and he is asking the Supreme Court to step in.

Here is his complete filing:

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Mariner East 2 construction has resulted in dozens of spills, documents show

An aerial view of Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Construction of the pipeline has resulted in dozens of incidents where drilling mud was released into surface water and groundwater aquifers.

Jeremy Long / Lebanon Daily News

An aerial view of Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Construction of the pipeline has resulted in dozens of incidents where drilling mud was released into surface water and groundwater aquifers.

Construction of Sunoco Pipeline’s $3 billion 350-mile long Mariner East 2 pipeline resulted in at least 61 drilling mud spills from April 25 through June 17, 2017, according to newly released documents. The spills have occurred in ten of the 12 counties along the route and range from minor releases of five gallons to larger more serious releases of tens of thousands of gallons. The documents, pasted below, include reports of “inadvertent returns,” and were released by the Department of Environmental Protection as part of ongoing litigation by the Clean Air Council challenging the department’s issuing of water crossing permits for the project last February.

The Council wants the Environmental Hearing Board to suspend construction while its case is pending review, but has so far been unsuccessful.

The spills primarily contain bentonite, a muddy clay substance used as a lubricant in drilling beneath waterways during horizontal directional drilling. Bentonite is non-toxic but can do damage to drinking water wells by clogging up an aquifer. A recent incident in Chester County forced 15 families to switch to bottled water and the company has since agreed to pay to hook residents up to the public water supply after some resident’s water wells went dry, and others experienced cloudy water.

If a large amount of the clay enters streams and wetlands, it can impact aquatic life. The drilling mud has entered trout streams, Exceptional Value wetlands, ponds, groundwater aquifers and uplands. Continue Reading

NJ blocks PennEast water permit again; company says it will reapply

A sign opposing the PennEast pipeline project on a lawn in Durham Township, Pa. The Pennsylvania DEP issued the pipeline water permits on Friday.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign opposing the PennEast pipeline project on a lawn in Durham Township, Pa. New Jersey DEP has rejected the company's application for water permits.

New Jersey issued its latest rejection of a water-quality permit for the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline, dealing a new blow to the embattled project.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection said Wednesday the PennEast Pipeline Co. had failed again to submit all the requested information in its application for the permit, which the department first rejected in April on the same grounds.

Although the company met one of the state’s requirements this time, the rest of the application for a freshwater wetlands permit was still deficient even after a 60-day extension that the DEP provided after the first denial, it said in a letter to the company. Continue Reading

DEP approved Mariner East 2 permits despite deficiencies, documents show

A worker clears trees for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Aston, Delaware County.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

A worker clears trees for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Aston, Delaware County. The 350-mile pipeline project will bring natural gas liquids to Marcus Hook, Delaware County. DEP issued permits despite lingering deficiencies.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection issued final permits for the Mariner East 2 pipeline even though the pipeline’s builder, Sunoco Logistics, had not met all regulatory requirements at the time of issuance, DEP documents show.

The state’s top environmental regulator acknowledged that the company’s applications for permits on water crossings and soil disturbance contained many “deficiencies,” but gave the multi-billion dollar project a green light anyway, according to the documents obtained by StateImpact.

One of the documents, issued for permits in Berks County, quotes the state’s Bureau of Waterways, Engineering and Wetlands as saying that the existence of deficiencies in the application for a Chapter 105 water permit would not stop the permit being issued for that section of the 350-mile natural gas liquids line.

“The Bureau explained that minimum standards have been met and many remaining identified deficiencies are not required to be addressed for permit issuance,” said the document, dated Feb. 10, three days before the permits were issued. “Therefore, at the direction of the Bureau, special conditions have been drafted to address the outstanding items.”

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Attorney General sues Chesapeake Energy for ‘deceptive’ gas leases

Chesapeake Energy's headquarters in Oklahoma City.

Joe Wertz/ StateImpact Oklahoma

Chesapeake Energy's headquarters in Oklahoma City.

State Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Chesapeake Energy, seeking millions of dollars for Pennsylvanians who leased land to the company for fracking.

The Oklahoma City-based driller is one of the most active in Pennsylvania. It was an early adopter of fracking and touts itself as the nation’s second largest producer of natural gas. It’s also been widely accused of unfair business practices– including using below-market gas prices, making improper deductions from royalty payments, and misreporting gas production data.

Kane spokesman Jeff Johnson says the lawsuit could affect more than 4,000 Pennsylvania landowners who signed leases with the company.

“It could conceivably be in the tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

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Report: Climate change brings hotter summers, wetter winters to Philadelphia

A downed tree blocks a section of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, as Hurricane Irene made its way along the Eastern Seaboard, Aug. 28, 2011, in Philadelphia.

Matt Rourke / AP

A downed tree blocks a section of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, as Hurricane Irene made its way along the Eastern Seaboard, Aug. 28, 2011, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is expected to get hotter in the summer, with wetter winter weather along with severe storms.

While almost 200 nations gather in Paris to hammer out an agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions, Philadelphia released its own report on how the city needs to adapt to rising seas and a warming Earth. Climate change will continue to bring hotter summers and wetter winters with more severe storms to the Delaware Valley. Much of the precipitation will be heavy, increasing the risk of flooding.

The city will still have four seasons, and maintain the same freeze thaw cycles.

Katherine Gajewski, Philadelphia’s sustainability director, says hotter summers and wetter winters, accompanied by more severe storms seems like a contradiction.

“So that’s really hard, I think, for people to wrap their minds around,” said Gajewski. “Its generally going to get warmer but yet we’re going to have more severe winters, how can those two realities coexist?” Continue Reading

Plans scrapped for drilling waste in PA’s Grand Canyon

  A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill worker covered in mud, shale, and drill cuttings seals off a well and cleans the blowout preventer at a Cabot Oil & Gas natural gas drill site in Kingsley, Pa.

A waste disposal company has backed off its controversial plan to use 400,000 tons of natural gas drill cuttings to help expand an airport in Tioga County. The proposal would have put the waste, which includes dirt and rock displaced by shale gas well-drilling, on a steep embankment near a tributary to the Pine Creek Gorge, a pristine watershed also known as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.”

The Department of Environmental Protection says the Montgomery County company, Clean Earth, did not respond to the agency’s questions on a number of issues with the permit application, which the DEP calls “technical deficiencies.” So Clean Earth decided to withdraw an erosion and sediment control permit application for the first stage of the project. StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported on the project back in July.

The DEP sent a letter to the company in February, detailing the agency’s concerns and seeking answers from Clean Earth. Drill cuttings, which can originate hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface, often contain naturally occurring radiation, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals. But instead of responding to the requested information, Clean Earth agreed to abandon the project.

In the February 24 letter, DEP Chief of the Waterways and Wetlands Program James Kuncelman outlines concerns about the company’s proposal to stockpile the waste without protecting it from the elements, which would have posed a risk to the watershed. Rain and snow falling on top of the drilling waste could have created contaminated run-off, leaching into ground water or making its way into the nearby Pine Creek Gorge. The letter, which is copied below, lists ten separate points of concern. Continue Reading

Emails show how Wolf, DEP unfriended fractivist from pipeline group

Scott Cannon holding a letter of acceptance to the DEP's pipeline task force.

Lily Cannon

Scott Cannon holding a letter of acceptance to the DEP's pipeline task force.

Scott Cannon, an anti-fracking activist, says he wants to get to the bottom of why he was uninvited from Governor Wolf’s new Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force.

But he hasn’t gotten there yet.

Cannon, 51, of Plymouth, was originally told that he would be a part of the task force environmental protection workgroup.

But Cannon was informed a few days later by Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley that his services would not be needed. So he filed a Right-to-Know request, and recently got a slew of redacted emails.

But those that weren’t redacted reveal a flurry of interest about Cannon’s candidacy.

The first email came July 2 from Richard Fox, a staff member for Senate Minority Leader John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), asking Sarah Clark, DEP’s Legislative Affairs Director, “do you know if Scott Cannon is on the task force or one of the work groups?”

Clark responded that Cannon was on the environmental protection workgroup.

That would soon change. Two hours later, an email from a staffer for Gov. Wolf, Yeseñia Rosado Bane asked: “Can someone from DEP uninvited {sic} Scott Cannon to the task force?” Continue Reading

DEP’s new oil and gas rules irk both environmentalists and industry

Workers vacuum water or fluids surrounding a frack site in Harford Township, Susquehanna County, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Workers vacuum water or fluids surrounding a frack site in Harford Township, Susquehanna County, Pa.

State environmental regulators are asking for comments on the final version of new oil and gas rules. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released detailed updates to its oil and gas rules Wednesday. The proposals result from a four-year process that garnered nearly 30,000 public comments to DEP.  Still, this latest version is getting push back from both industry and environmentalists.

In a call with reporters, DEP Secretary John Quigley called the announcement a “great step forward in responsible drilling in Pennsylvania.”

“DEP’s definition of responsible drilling is protecting public health and the environment while enabling drilling to proceed,” said Quigley.

Although the release of the draft rules marks the final leg of a long process that began as a result of the passage of the state’s drilling law Act 13 in 2012, Quigley says there’s more to come.

“This is not the end of the process,” he said. “There is more study needed on additional measures, and there will be more rule making in a separate process to ensure responsible drilling and protection of communities, public health and the environment.” Continue Reading

Water quality not impacted by drilling, according to new report

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Scott LaMar/ WITF

With continuous monitoring between 2010 and 2013, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission did not find any changes in water quality.

A new report shows no correlation between shale gas development and watershed impairment in the Marcellus region between 2010 and 2013.

This is the third such analysis from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. The multi-state compact is made up of representatives from Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and the U.S. governments. It oversees the water withdrawals gas companies need in order to do hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The commission also coordinates state and federal-level environmental efforts within the river’s 27,500-mile watershed. Nearly 85 percent of the Susquehanna River Basin sits atop shale gas wells.

“We see this as the beginning of keeping an eye on things,” says Tyler Shenk, a supervisor for restoration and protection with the SRBC. “As we gather more data, we’ll know more. But there are no giant red flags at this point.”

Shenk says this analysis will serve as the commission’s baseline reference, despite the fact the monitoring began about two years after the Marcellus Shale boom took off in 2008.

Pre-drilling data would be an ideal baseline, but we didn’t have the network set up yet,” he says.

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