Documents

FERC, called a ‘rubber stamp’ by critics, begins policy review for approval of natural gas pipelines

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed properly quantify greenhouse gas emissions linked to a pipeline expansion project in the southeastern U.S.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed properly quantify greenhouse gas emissions linked to a pipeline expansion project in the southeastern U.S.

The federal government has opened a review on whether its policies governing approval of interstate natural-gas pipelines should be revamped, an issue often raised by critics of the rapid expansion of industry infrastructure in New Jersey.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week launched an inquiry into whether its policies, unchanged since 1999, dealing with its oversight of pipelines ought to be updated.

The decision comes amid concerns raised by pipeline opponents about the current policy, including how the agency decides if a pipeline is needed and whether enough weight is given to the environmental impact of a new project. It also is expected to seek input on policies regarding eminent domain, which allow private land to be acquired through condemnation proceedings.

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Sunoco to residents near sinkholes: We’ll pay to relocate you during investigation

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline begin an 'additional investigation' of geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines. The company offered to relocate residents of the five homes whose yards are crossed by the pipeline right of way. The work is expected to take 4-6 weeks.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline begin an ‘additional investigation’ of geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines. The company offered to relocate residents of the five homes whose yards are crossed by the pipeline right of way. The work is expected to take 4-6 weeks.

Sunoco is offering to relocate residents at a Chester County site where drilling for the Mariner East pipelines has caused sinkholes to open up in recent weeks.

The company sent at least one letter to homeowners at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township last week, saying that it would pay for their relocation, plus a food allowance for an estimated four to six weeks while it conducted an “additional investigation” of geological conditions behind their houses.

“To alleviate any inconvenience to you, SPLP has offered to relocate you and provide a per diem reimbursement for the food for the duration of the scheduled work,” said a letter dated March 30.

The letter said the company will be looking for “any subsurface anomalies and additional areas that should be investigated further.”

Sunoco spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger confirmed that the company sent the letters to Lisa Drive residents. She did not respond to questions on the reasons for the new investigation.

Report: Severance tax proposal could cost mineral owners millions

FILE PHOTO: This 2011 file photo shows a farmhouse in the background framed by pipes connecting pumps where the hydraulic fracturing process in the Marcellus Shale layer to release natural gas was underway at a site in Claysville, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

FILE PHOTO: This 2011 file photo shows a farmhouse in the background framed by pipes connecting pumps where the hydraulic fracturing process in the Marcellus Shale layer to release natural gas was underway at a site in Claysville, Pa.

A new analysis published Thursday by Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office estimates mineral owners could wind up losing tens of millions of dollars in natural gas royalties if Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed severance tax becomes law.

The administration says the report has it wrong because it doesn’t take into account a key detail in Wolf’s proposal. On Friday, the IFO added a footnote acknowledging that detail, but it did not amend its report.

The calculation was requested by state Sen. Lisa Baker (R- Luzerne), who asked the IFO to examine how a potential severance tax could affect the post-production costs many landowners already see gas companies deducting from their monthly royalty checks.

“States that levy a natural gas gas severance tax allow those costs to be treated like a post-production cost,” IFO director Matthew Knittel wrote.

Post-production costs are the expenses of moving natural gas from the wellhead to the market. Some Pennsylvania landowners allege the costs are exorbitant and leave them with little to no royalty money. The controversy has spurred lawsuits and proposed legislation. Earlier this month, West Virginia passed a new law prohibiting gas and oil companies from deducting post-production expenses in certain types of leases.

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State says PES owes $3.8 billion in back taxes, urges court hold up bankruptcy plan

Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest oil refining complex on the Eastern seaboard. Half of all Bakken Crude traveling across the country by rail ends up at the PES plant.

Nat Hamilton/WHYY

Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest oil refining complex on the Eastern seaboard. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is urging a federal bankruptcy court to withhold approval of a bankruptcy petition by Philadelphia Energy Solutions, saying the company owes the state $3.8 billion in back taxes.

Shapiro, in a document filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware on Friday, said the taxes are owed for “liquid fuel and sales and use taxes,” and have arisen from a pending audit of the company’s refining and marketing arm.

The document said the liability “may be adjusted” after the audit but may mean that the PES’s pre-packaged bankruptcy, filed in January, may not work.

“The Commonwealth believes, however, the final audit may produce a substantial liability which could impact the feasibility of the debtors’ plan,” the document said.

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At Greene County coal mine, dwindling production means 370 lost jobs

Austin Turner, 19, of Gladesville, W. Va. is one of 370 miners getting laid off at the 4 West Mine in Mt. Morris, Pa. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Austin Turner, 19, of Gladesville, W. Va. is one of 370 miners getting laid off at the 4 West Mine in Mt. Morris, Pa. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Austin Turner was headed back home to West Virginia on a recent afternoon from his job at the 4 West Mine in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania. It was going to be one of his last shifts there, as the mine would be shutting down soon.

At 19, he’d only been there eight months — but he loved it.

“It’s a nice place to work, a great group of guys, hard workers. I hate to see the place shut down, but it is what it is, move on to another mine,” he said.

His face was covered in black coal dust, after he’d spent the day few hundred feet below ground. He likes coal mining, he says, because it’s not like other jobs.

“It’s something most people never see. It has a little bit more of an adrenaline rush than most jobs,” he said. Plus, he said, he comes from a family of coal miners, and he liked carrying on the tradition.

And then there’s the pay. Less than two years out of high school, he was making $28.60 an hour. “Yeah, it’s pretty good,” he said. “I’m gonna miss it.”

In January, Morgantown, W.Va.-based Mepco LLC notified the state that it would begin idling the mine in early March. The company will keep a crew on for several months while it closes the mine. All told, 370 workers will lose their jobs.

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PUC shuts down Mariner East 1 pipeline, citing public safety concerns raised by sinkholes

Crews work to stabilize sinkholes in a West Whiteland Township neighborhood on March 3. The sinkholes appeared recently near a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Eric Friedman

Crews work to stabilize sinkholes in a West Whiteland Township neighborhood on March 3. The sinkholes appeared recently near a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission on Wednesday ordered a temporary shutdown of the Mariner East 1 natural gas liquids pipeline, saying it could have a “catastrophic” effect on public safety if it leaks.

PUC Chairman Gladys Brown approved a request by the commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement for an emergency order that would halt operation of the line until inspectors are satisfied that it meets safety standards.

The panel, in a petition issued earlier Wednesday, argued that the pipeline had been exposed by the appearance of sinkholes near the construction of two other pipelines – Mariner East 2 and 2X – at several places in Chester County’s West Whiteland Township in recent days.

The panel said that the construction of the two new pipelines and the sinkholes that resulted from drilling for the pipelines – all of it near ME1 – “compromise the safety of the public.”

In a four-page order, Brown agreed with the panel, saying that risks to the public outweigh risks to the shippers of natural gas liquids.

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FERC order effectively denies appeals of PennEast approval, critics say

A sign protesting the proposed PennEast Pipeline route in Carbon County, Pa. FERC issued an order which critics say effectively denies appeals against its approval of the project.

A sign protesting the proposed PennEast Pipeline route in Carbon County, Pa. FERC issued an order which critics say effectively denies appeals against its approval of the project.

Federal regulators have effectively denied a request to reconsider their approval of the planned PennEast Pipeline, the agency’s critics say.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday issued a “tolling order,” which gives it more time to consider requests for a rehearing of its “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity” for the pipeline.

But the order likely means that the agency will simply avoid making a decision on the requests for about six months and then summarily deny them, activists say.

Jennifer Danis, an attorney who represents the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, said FERC has used a tolling order for 99 percent of requests for rehearing over the last eight years, and that it dismisses the requests after an average of 175 days.

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Mariner East 2: Texts raise questions about Wolf administration role in permitting process

Sunoco's work on the Mariner East 2 pipeline has been suspended by the Pennsylvania environmental protection department. This photo, taken Wednesday, shows a work area off Fallbrook Lane in Glen Mills, near Philadelphia.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

On Jan. 2, the Pennsylvania environmental protection department suspended work related to permits it issued for the Mariner East 2 pipeline. This photo shows a work area off Fallbrook Lane in Glen Mills, near Philadelphia.

A senior staffer for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf asked the state’s chief environmental regulator not to send letters to Sunoco detailing problems with its permit applications for a controversial pipeline project until the governor was updated, according to text messages obtained through a lawsuit.

The texts also show the official asking the state’s Department of Environmental Protection whether some deficiencies cited in Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 plans could “remain flexible for field adjustments.”

In February 2017, soon after the series of texts, DEP approved Sunoco’s permits with conditions. Some landowners and environmentalists say that Wolf injected political pressure into a decision that should be based solely on environmental standards. They say those standards and regulations were subverted to help Sunoco make its projected timeline on the project.

And, they say, the texts bolster their claims.

“I don’t know if there’s a smoking gun here but there sure is a lot of smoke,” said Eric Friedman, a Delaware County landowner who, along with his homeowner’s association, is battling Sunoco’s eminent domain taking.

Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott and a past DEP secretary say the messages show an exchange of information among government agencies that is routine for a project of this size and scope. The 20-inch diameter high pressure natural gas liquids line tunnels beneath 17 counties, cuts through 2,700 properties with a 50-foot right-of-way, and crosses more than 1,200 streams or wetlands. It’s expected to cost more than $2.5 billion.

“These texts merely show coordination of information and schedules,” Abbott wrote in an email. “They are not orders or direction but seeking productive government services.”

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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

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