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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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Fracking health complaints received little follow-up from the Department of Health

Jeanie Moten with her sister on their mother's porch in Rea, Pa. She holds a stack of medical records. The Motens say they received no help from DOH regarding their fracking health complaints. A case file released by the DOH through a Right-To-Know request confirmed that.

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Jeanie Moten with her sister on their mother's porch in Rea, Pa. She holds a stack of medical records. The Motens say they received no help from DOH regarding their fracking health complaints. A case file released by the DOH through a Right-To-Know request confirmed that.

Newly released documents from the Pennsylvania Department of Health on fracking-related health complaints reveal a lack of follow-through and inaccurate record-keeping. The telephone logs, which span four years from 2011 to 2015, were gained through a Right-to-Know request by the environmental group Food and Water Watch.

The documents include about 87 separate complaints from residents and workers who feared exposure to fracking chemicals and were looking for advice from the Department of Health. But notes taken by agency workers show little information is collected from patients.  In some cases, doctors were looking for help. And at least in one case, important details were inaccurate.

The bulk of the complaints came from northeast and southwest Pennsylvania. They often included similar complaints of skin rashes, respiratory problems and nose bleeds.

The names of the patients, physicians and their addresses are blacked out. But Fayette county resident Linda Headley confirms that case number 59 is a complaint she made last August. Although Headley doesn’t own the mineral rights to a property she bought in 2005, she says she has five gas wells on her property, including one Marcellus Shale gas well. She says one of those wells is “problematic” and gas company workers regularly release toxic fumes from what she says is a condensate tank. She says a white misty cloud gets released, some of it gaseous and some of it liquid.

Headley says last July she went out to pick berries with her 6-year-old son. She noticed a gas worker on site.

“We were walking down the driveway and the well-tender kind of looked behind us and he just pushed the button and [waste from the condensate tank went] all over us,” she said. “You could feel the brine all over us and you could taste it. It has a salty bitter taste.”

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New pipeline could mean tax bonanza for NJ towns, but for Pa.? Not so much

Joe Kulick is township manager of Durham, Pa., one of 27 towns along the route of the PennEast pipeline.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Joe Kulick is township manager of Durham, Pa., one of 27 towns along the main route of the PennEast pipeline.

As Republican legislative leaders and the natural gas industry unite to beat back Gov. Tom Wolf’s severance tax proposal, here’s something lawmakers in Harrisburg are not talking about: Companies building new pipelines to grow markets for Pennsylvania’s natural gas don’t have to pay local property taxes on those lines to counties, towns and school districts.

So how much could local communities be missing out on?

In one case, StateImpact Pennsylvania has found that a proposed pipeline that would run beneath the Delaware River, the undulating boundary between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, could mean millions of dollars a year in new property tax revenue for towns in the Garden State. But on the other side of the river, Pennsylvania could be leaving millions of dollars a year on the table.

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Feds fine Marcellus driller XTO $2.3 million

A natural gas well operated by Northeast Natural Energy on Saturday, Aug.  6, 2011. The well is the subject of a dispute over a drilling ban recently enacted by the city of Morgantown, which is directly across the Monongahela River from the well. (AP Photo/David Smith)

AP Photo / David Smith

A natural gas well in West Virginia.

The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Department of Justice, have fined XTO, a subsidiary of ExxonMobile, $2.3 million for violating the Clean Water Act. The damage to streams and wetlands took place in West Virginia and includes an estimated $3 million remediation price tag. During drilling operations at eight separate sites, the company dumped sand, dirt, rocks and other material into streams and wetlands while constructing well pads, roads, and pits.

“American communities expect EPA and our state partners to make sure energy development is done responsibly,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case will help to protect clean water in West Virginia, and support a level playing field for energy developers that play by the rules.”

This isn’t the first time the EPA has sanctioned XTO. In July 2013 the EPA fined XTO $100,000 for dumping frack water into the Susquehanna river system in Penn Township, Lycoming County. Between 6,300 and 57,373 gallons of waste water contained high levels of strontium, chloride, bromide, barium, and total dissolved solids and flowed continually for more than two months in the fall of 2010, according to the EPA.

XTO is one of the top violators in Pennsylvania, with the most recent data showing 177 violations for a total of $227,199 in fines. The company also faces criminal charges stemming from the Penn Township incident.

DEP slaps Vantage Energy with massive fine for landslide and dumping

A Cabot Oil and Gas rig in Susquehanna County, which sits on one of the most productive "sweet spots" in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Marcellus Shale gas rig.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined the Colorado-based Vantage Energy almost $1 million for more than a dozen violations of the state’s Clean Streams Law and the  Oil and Gas Act. The sanction stems from a landslide at the company’s Porter Street well site in Franklin Township, Greene County. But it turns out the landslide was just the start of the company’s violations. While checking on site remediation months later, DEP inspectors discovered a contractor dumped two truckloads of wastewater off the side of the damaged well site, further polluting two unnamed tributaries to Grimes Run.

“They dumped it down the side of the well pad, which undid what little work they did to correct the [original] problem,” said John Poister, from DEP’s Southwest Regional Office.

In a year of multi-million dollar fines handed down by DEP, this $999,900 fine, just $100 short of one million, still stands out as one of DEP’s largest for Marcellus Shale drillers.

“This points out just how serious the problems are at this well site,” said Poister.

Poister says the original landslide on January 16, 2014 took off a corner of the well pad, traveling forty feet downslope and landing on top of two unnamed streams. Although the company notified DEP of the incident, Poister says drilling continued without adequate remediation. During an inspection on March 19, two months after the incident, DEP employees documented how the landslide “continued to move and grow.” Continue Reading

New York State bans fracking

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration will prohibit fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique.

AP Photo/Mike Groll

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration will prohibit fracking in the state, citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas extraction technique.

New York state officials have decided to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders, citing health concerns.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo made the announcement at an end-of-year press conference in Albany Wednesday afternoon.

From the New York Times:

The state has had a de facto ban on the procedure for more than five years, predating Mr. Cuomo’s first term. The decision also came as oil and gas prices continued to fall in many places around the country, in part because of surging American oil production, as fracking boosted output.

The decision has been fraught for Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat.

In June 2012, he flirted with approving a limited program in several struggling Southern Tier counties along New York’s border with Pennsylvania. But later that year, Mr. Cuomo bowed to entreaties from environmental advocates, announcing instead that his administration would start the regulatory process over by beginning a new study to evaluate the health risks.

New York’s acting health commissioner Howard Zucker acknowledged there are gaps in the data but said there are many “red flags” and questions about the risks of fracking.

“The science isn’t here,” Zucker said. “But the cumulative concerns based on the information I have read … gives me reason to pause.”

New York State’s Republican chairman, Ed Cox, slammed the health review as a “political charade.” Cuomo says he is expecting “a ton of lawsuits” in the wake of the decision.

Industry representatives in Pennsylvania have pointed out that New York’s decision on fracking will have little bearing here — at least in the near future — since most of New York’s share of the Marcellus Shale contains less economically attractive dry gas.

Christopher Robart, a consultant with IHS Energy, says the decision will have little to no impact on business in Pennsylvania.

“Folks in the industry have put a lot of money into parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania and built infrastructure,” he says. “Once that’s in the ground, there’s a certain amount of stickiness in the market.”

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Maryland Governor proposes stringent fracking regulations

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. The term-limited governor has proposed strict regulations on fracking. But it's unclear what will become of them once he leaves office in January.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. After three years of research, the term-limited governor has proposed strict regulations on fracking. But it's unclear what will become of them once he leaves office in January.

Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits lie beneath just a tiny sliver of western Maryland. But with three years worth of review, the state issued a 104 page report Tuesday detailing the pros and cons of fracking, along with recommendations for some of the most stringent rules in the country. Maryland’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Study was conducted by the state’s Department of Environment, and Department of Natural Resources at the behest of the outgoing governor, Martin O’Malley. It’s unclear what will come of the proposal because the newly elected incoming governor-elect, Republican Larry Hogan, has criticized the lack of drilling in the state’s two shale gas counties.

The hold up to Maryland’s shale gas boom has been the state’s extensive analysis of current research into the economic, public health and environmental impacts of fracking. Today’s report includes a long list of proposed recommendations that it says would allow gas drilling to occur with minimal risks.

“…provided all the recommended best practices are followed and the State is able to rigorously monitor and enforce compliance, the risks of Marcellus Shale development can be managed to an acceptable level.”

The proposed regulations include a five-year plan on each well, a 2000 foot vertical buffer between an aquifer and the targeted gas deposit, a setback of at least 1000 feet from the edge of a well pad to an occupied building, school or church and 2000 feet from a private drinking water well.

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Casey tells Obama administration: climate plan an unfair burden for Pa.

Sen. Bob Casey is criticizing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Emma Lee/NewsWorks/WHYY

Sen. Bob Casey is criticizing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey says the Obama administration’s plan to tackle climate change by cutting carbon emissions from power plants would place an unfair burden on Pennsylvania.

The overall goal is to cut emissions by 30 percent nationwide by the year 2030. States will be directed to craft plans to meet their own specific targets.

Pennsylvania – the nation’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide and fourth-largest coal producer – would be required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 32 percent over the next 15 years.

Casey’s comments were part of a 22-page letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. In the letter, he supports the general mission of the EPA’s proposal to stem the impacts of climate change, which Casey says would negatively effect public health and national security.

“So for all these reasons, we must reject the status quo and look in the other direction, our clean energy future in which we rise to the challenge of climate change…,” he writes.

However, Casey finds fault with how the plan would impact Pennsylvania.

More from the Associated Press:

He said Pennsylvania is being tasked with substantially increasing renewable energy such as wind or solar power, even though federal data show that the state is technically limited compared to other states to do so.

Mr. Casey also said the EPA plan fails to credit Pennsylvania for clean power sources such as existing hydropower and nuclear power. And he said the proposal does not take into account the environmental value of Pennsylvania plants that provide energy by burning coal refuse, which otherwise would litter the state’s landscape.

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New report counts more than 13,000 renewable energy jobs in Pa.

John Bennett is site manager at the Twin Ridges Wind Farm in Somerset County, Pa.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

John Bennett is site manager at the Twin Ridges Wind Farm in Somerset County, Pa.

A new report shows the renewable and alternative energy industry supports more than 13,000 jobs in Pennsylvania.

The Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance and Environmental Entrepreneurs – the two nonprofit organizations that put out the report – are touting it as the first full accounting of these jobs, which are not tracked by the state.

The state Department of Labor and Industry only counts employment in the coal, oil, gas, and nuclear energy sectors and puts out a monthly report on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling jobs. The agency gets statistics on solar and wind jobs, for example, from trade associations.

“There hasn’t been formal data on these types of jobs in Pennsylvania,” said KEEA Executive Director Brian Kauffman. “So that was one of the major motivations [for the report] to get a sense of where we are so we can get a sense of where we’re going.”

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PA Congressman launches frack waste investigation

A truck delivers fracking wastewater to a Susquehanna County recycling center

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A truck delivers fracking wastewater to a Susquehanna County recycling center.

The state’s new acting secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection, Dana Aunkst, has lots of questions to answer regarding how the state oversees frack waste disposal and transportation. On Wednesday, Congressman Matt Cartwright, a democrat from Schuylkill County, sent Aunkst a 3-page letter seeking information as part of an investigation into how states monitor waste generated by shale gas drilling. The states have responsibility for the waste because it’s exempt from federal oversight. The investigation comes on the heels of a report released by the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office in July, which criticizes the DEP’s role in protecting drinking water from contamination by gas drillers.

“The audit concluded that Pennsylvania’s current system for oversight of fracking waste “is not an effective monitoring tool” and “it is not proactive in discouraging improper, even illegal, disposal of waste,” wrote Cartwright in the letter.

Cartwright is leading the investigation through the Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Aunkst was just recently appointed acting secretary after former secretary Chris Abruzzo resigned in the wake of the porngate scandal. Aunkst has until November 12 to respond. Read the letter and Cartwright’s questions below. Continue Reading

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