FirstEnergy's Hatfield Ferry coal plant in Greene County closed in 2013 amid poor market conditions, helping Pennsylvania to meet its emissions targets under the federal Clean Power Plan.
Every year the King Coal parade winds through the center of Carmichaels. Hundreds of people line up to see the fire engines, classic cars, floats, and marching bands.
It’s fair to say the presidential race has people pretty fired up –and worried– in this small town in Greene County, about an hour’s drive south of Pittsburgh. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has promised to bring back coal, with few details on how he will accomplish it. Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton has said she’d put miners out of work, but is pushing a big plan to reinvest in coal communities.
Despite the black and yellow banners hanging around Carmichaels proclaiming, “King Coal”, times are changing for mining communities.
The plant is about four miles from the Tennessee interstate gas pipeline in Towanda, Bradford County. It was sited in Pennsylvania's most drilled-on county to take advantage of the nearby shale gas.
In Pennsylvania when you flip on a light switch, odds are you’re burning coal. But as the fracking boom continues to unlock huge quantities of natural gas, the electric grid is changing. Power plants are increasingly turning to this lower-cost, cleaner-burning fossil fuel.
The shift is being driven by both market forces and new regulations.
The study looks at four reclamation techniques. On the far left, rocks and compacted soil are left in place, with some topsoil. On the far right, 20 inches furrows have been dug to loosen the soil, and topsoil has been added.
Saplings were planted along the edges of the site to simulate interim reclamation steps that can be taken by gas companies.
In the seven years since Marcellus Shale gas companies began working in Pennsylvania’s state forests, none of the nearly 1,700 affected acres has been fully restored and put back the way it was before drilling began.
Now state foresters and Penn State scientists are trying to plan for the future and help gas companies figure out the best ways to clean up after themselves.
Nancy Baker, 70, drives a mule to get around the 163 acres of forest. ‘I’m not the typical forest and land owner,’ says Baker.
In a 19th-century farmhouse deep in northern Pennsylvania’s Bradford County, Nancy Baker is looking at family photos dating back four generations.
One shows her grandfather with a team of horses on clear cut land. Another shows her mother and aunt on the same farm as a small child. Baker also has a series of aerial photos going back to 1939, which show how the forest cover has evolved in the past 70 years.
Her home was built by her great grandfather, Joseph Morrow Gamble, a Scots-Irish immigrant who cut timber from the virgin forest and shipped it down the Susquehanna River.
The story of how Baker’s family used its land to make a living was replayed up and down the East Coast after European settlers arrived. Her great grandfather cut down woods for timber. Then he turned to farming, yanking rocks from the stony soil to mark out cow pastures. His children inherited the land. But in the 20th century, their children left for better jobs in town. Baker’s own parents became teachers.
With the land left to itself, the forests returned. So Baker grew up playing in the woods and learning how to fell a tree ambidextrously with an axe.
“When we inherited this land from my mother I said, ‘OK, it’s our turn to steward the land,’” said Baker. “But how are we going to do this?”
A smallmouth bass with black spots on its skin caught in the Susquehanna River. State and federal researchers say they do not know what is causing these and other symptoms in the fish population.
For the last 10 years, a mystery has been unfolding in the Susquehanna River watershed.
Young smallmouth bass have been found with open sores and lesions. Many of the male fish that make it to adulthood have female sexual characteristics. The smallmouth bass population has dropped, threatening the state’s $3.4 billion recreational fishing industry.
What’s causing these strange symptoms? StateImpact Pennsylvania spoke with some of the detectives on the case and some people who are impatient with how long it’s taking to solve it.
One of eight compressor units at Seneca Resources' Hagerman station in the Loyalsock Forest. State regulators are trying to get a better handle on how the constant noise from the facilities affects people and wildlife.
Seneca spokesman Rob Boulware (left) talks with midstream manager Ian Vranich. There are currently 11 Marcellus-related compressor stations in public forest land. The state predicts between 100 to 200 could eventually be built.
Statewide, there were 374 compressor stations operating last year.
Pennsylvania will step up its monitoring of particulates in air near natural gas compressor stations like this one operated by Seneca Resouces
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.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held hearings today in Pittsburgh on a proposed rule to slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The plan is up against serious opposition from the coal industry, but environmental groups say it doesn’t go far enough.
Competing rallies for and against the EPA’s proposed carbon rules crossed paths in Downtown Pittsburgh today.
“No planet, no jobs!” shouted those who supported the EPA proposal.
“U-M-W-A!” chanted the United Mineworkers of America and their supporters.
Mark Sunyak, 54, of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, is a retired mineworker who came to protest the rule. He said it threatened his community.
“Our jobs, our security, our families,” Sunyak said when asked why he was there. “I’m a recent retiree, my benefits may be in jeopardy.”
About three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector come from burning coal. The EPA is trying to cut emissions from electric power plants by 30 percent of 2005 levels by the year 2030. The EPA’s own analysis shows that under the plan, coal production in Appalachia would decline. But it said other energy sectors would grow, and the overall economy would benefit.
Inside the hearings, the voices of coal were evident. Cindy Frich, a state legislator from Morgantown, West Virginia, was one of them.
“I have to admit I feel these rules are existential threat to my state,” Frich said. “We’re already having problems with our state budget. I really see problems ahead if these rules are implemented.”
Nearly 300 people attended an April meeting in Berks County held by a concerned citizens group opposing a proposed gas refinery.
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.
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.
Penn State researcher Alison Franklin holds up one of five prescriptions in her closet at home in Bellefonte, Pa. Flushing old pills down the toilet is how some pharmaceutical compounds get into our water systems. Most of them pass through our bodies when we take our medications.
Penn State University’s wastewater treatment plant in State College, Pa. takes in waste from about 46,000 students and 100,000 more people on football weekends. Plants like this one are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals.
A duck perches on a ledge in the chlorine contact tank at Penn State University’s wastewater treatment plant in State College, Pa. This is the last step of the treatment process before the water is sent to the Living Filter.
Penn State graduate student Alison Franklin fills a jar with water from a sprinkler at the Living Filter in State College, Pa. Franklin will test this water sample for traces of antibiotics.
At our discussion forum on the Susquehanna Watershed in January, a number of you asked about what we know about the drugs we take getting into our waterways and our drinking water, and whether they could pose a threat to humans or the environment. StateImpact Pennsylvania set out to find some answers.
Scientists have been detecting traces of pharmaceuticals in our water systems for about 30 years now, but the research shows no one is getting a full dose of say, Prozac, just from drinking tap water. However, scientists do wonder whether these compounds may be having more subtle, long-term impacts on human health.
“We don’t have an answer to that and there’s really no good research out there that says ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ at this particular time,” said Julie Becker, a public heath researcher at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
Bill Sowden, left, and Brian Scritchfield, right, are the co-owners of Bobtown Pizza in Bobtown, Greene County, Pa. Last week, producers with “The Daily Show with John Stewart” descended on the shop where Chevron bought 100 gift certificates for free pizza and soda for local residents after one of the company’s natural gas wells exploded.
Bobtown residents like Bonnie Gansor, who runs the local hair salon, say they want the town to be known for its kind people, not its "Chevron pizza."
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.