Energy. Environment. Economy.


Big power plant ignites political fight in small Pennsylvania town

A wave of new gas-fired power plants is hitting the nation, with uncertain implications for the climate. The local consequences can be just as thorny.

Lackawanna Energy Center

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

At 1,485 megawatts the Lackawanna Energy Center is one of the largest natural gas power plants in the works nationwide.

JESSUP—The biggest new natural-gas power plant in a state awash with them is taking shape on a mountain ridge overlooking the community it cleaved apart.

First came questions about pollution and property values. Lawyers and public-records requests followed. Now this borough of 4,500, where it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that everybody knows everybody, is embroiled in a full-out political revolt.

Pro-plant incumbents up for election this year — two council members and the mayor — were booted in the May primary. A ticket organized by plant opponents boasts five people on the ballot in next week’s general election — candidates for all the open council seats and even school board director, which shows just how far the fault lines over the Lackawanna Energy Center extend. Relationships have been upended. Mistrust in local government has surged.

“It’s like a raw nerve,” said Ellen Nielsen, president of the school board.

Pennsylvania has long been a power-plant colossus, exporting electricity to other states because it makes more than it uses — historically with coal and nuclear. The Jessup plant is at the vanguard of a new boom fueled by the state’s plentiful natural gas.

Only Texas has more planned gas-fired generation in the queue, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Energy firms have proposed over 40 gas-fired projects in Pennsylvania since 2011, including in Jessup’s neighbor Archbald. Fourteen are under construction or operating. At 1,485 megawatts, Jessup’s Lackawanna Energy Center is one of the largest in the works nationwide, according to EIA data — part of a dramatic coast-to-coast expansion of gas-fired plants.

Developers have proposed more than 40 gas-fired power plants in Pennsylvania since 2011, spread around the state. Red icons on the map represent small projects using internal combustion engines. The plant-shaped orange icons represent larger, combined-cycle turbine projects. (Map by WITF’s Tom Downing.)

Map tiles by Stamen Design, under CC BY 3.0.

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Mapping Sunoco’s drilling mud spills

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

This map was created by FracTracker Alliance with data provided by the Clean Air Council.

Sunoco’s pipeline construction has resulted in 90 spills at 42 distinct locations across the state, according to new information provided as part of ongoing litigation. The amount of drilling mud spilled into aquifers, streams and wetlands across the state is estimated at about 220,000 gallons.

The Clean Air Council, which has challenged the DEP’s permits to Sunoco to build the pipeline, acquired the information as part of discovery. Responding to a petition by the Council last week, a judge with the Environmental Hearing Board halted drilling in 55 locations. On Friday, the order was lifted in three locations for safety reasons. They include one in Cumberland County, and two in Lebanon County.

Fractracker created the map above, which shows the locations of the spills. For more on our investigation of the spills, click here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story put the number of drilling mud spill locations at 61, reassessment of the data puts it at 42.

1.5 million at risk in PA for crude oil derailment

 The aftermath of the CSX Bakken crude oil train derailment in Mount Carbon, W. Va.

Photo by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The aftermath of the CSX Bakken crude oil train derailment in Mount Carbon, W. Va.

In Pennsylvania, nearly 1.5 million people are in potential danger if a train carrying crude oil derails and catches fire, according to a PublicSource analysis.

That is about one in every nine Pennsylvanians, or 11.5 percent of the state’s population.

The analysis also found 327 K-12 schools, 37 hospitals and 61 nursing homes in the state are at risk.

These numbers take on new meaning in the wake of the recent calamitous derailment near Mount Carbon, W. Va. And, a federal report predicts 15 trains carrying crude oil and ethanol in the United States could derail in 2015 alone.

On Feb. 16, the nation watched as blazing orange clouds of fire shot out of crushed tank cars in West Virginia from a derailed CSX train carrying Bakken crude oil. Fires burned for days,   drinking water was affected, a house was leveled and hundreds were evacuated from their homes.

The scene had many Pennsylvanians wondering: Will it happen here next?

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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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Rural Pa. Residents Fight to Keep Marcellus Waste Out of Swamp

When you drill for natural gas, for every gallon of gas produced, some amount of wastewater gets created as well.

Sometimes it can be simple brine that can be disposed of in simple ways, such as using it to melt  snow on Pennsylvania’s roads in winter. Or to keep the dust down in summer.

But the wastewater can also be pretty nasty stuff, which can’t be cleaned up by water treatment plants. One option is to dump it down an old gas well, shooting it deep into the earth. It’s a method used in thousands of wells across the country.  Only five of those currently operate in Pennsylvania.

Click on the above map to get more information on Pennsylvania's deep injection wells.

A proposal to add to that number is stirring concern among some who live in Warren County, Pennsylvania, near the New York state border.

Fueling those concerns are the headlines such deep injection wells, or underground disposal wells, recently made when one such well in Youngstown, Ohio, caused several earthquakes. But residents are also worried about the impact on water supplies and natural areas. With the Marcellus Shale boom, the EPA has received several new applications for deep injection wells in Pennsylvania. Continue Reading

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