Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Pipeline protesters walk out of DEP hearing, calling it a ‘sham’

Dozens of people walked out of a hearing on an air quality plan for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Dozens of people walked out of a hearing on an air quality plan for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline (ASP).

Dozens of people walked out of a Department of Environmental Protection hearing Monday in Lancaster County, while wearing surgical masks and accusing state regulators of failing to protect public health and safety.

The purpose of the hearing was to accept public comment on an air quality plan for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline– a controversial interstate transmission line designed to link natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to markets along the eastern seaboard. The project is one of nearly a dozen major pipelines planned to move Marcellus Shale resources within the U.S. and abroad.

“We’re in a war for our clean air, our clean water, and our rights as landowners,” says Kim Kann of Conestoga. Williams, the company building the Atlantic Sunrise recently used eminent domain to condemn a portion of her property.

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New Jersey oyster farmers betting on a comeback, climate permitting

The Delaware Bay was once known as the capital oyster of the world. In the 1920s, there were about 600 boats fishing wild oysters from the bay.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

The Delaware Bay was once known as the oyster capital of the world. In the 1920s, there were about 600 boats fishing wild oysters from the bay. Today, there are only 12 oyster boats.

Delaware Bay oysters are on their way back after decades of decline. But questions remain on how climate change will impact the resurgence in the South Jersey towns once known for shipping oysters across the country.

Last century, the South Jersey communities of Bivalve and Shell Pile in Cumberland County, produced over 1 million bushels of oysters, or about 80 million pounds, a year. In 1905, there were 588 boats fishing wild oysters from natural beds in the bay. And oysters were shipped, by train, all over the country and up to Canada. In 2016, the oyster fishery harvested 100,095 bushels a year.

“At one time there were car dealers and movie theaters, and department stores, and tons and tons of speakeasies,” Bivalve Bayshore Center’s restaurant manager Sheri Gatier said. “(Bivalve) was a very big thing when the oyster industry was booming. Unfortunately, when (the oysters) died… it died.”

 

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PennEast urges new FERC quorum to quickly approve pipeline

A yard sign in the New Jersey town of Milford protests the PennEast pipeline.

Emma Lee / WHYY

A yard sign in the New Jersey town of Milford protests the PennEast pipeline. PennEast Pipeline Company urged FERC to quickly approve the controversial project.

PennEast Pipeline Company urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to quickly approve its controversial plan to build a natural gas pipeline through Pennsylvania and New Jersey now that FERC has a quorum of commissioners for the first time since February.

The pipeline company said in a letter to FERC dated Aug. 10 that it had met all of the agency’s environmental requirements, and noted that FERC already issued its final Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which found there would be no significant impacts. Continue Reading

Gas severance tax won’t have big impact in Pennsylvania, says researcher

A Lycoming County rig

Tim Lambert / WITF-FM

The severance tax recently approved by the state Senate is unlikely to have a major impact on drilling activity or government revenues, according to a researcher from an environmental economic think tank.

A natural gas severance tax has been a hot-button issue in Harrisburg for nearly a decade, but the plan recently approved by the state Senate is unlikely to have a major impact–  either in terms of government revenue, or drilling company investment decisions, according to a researcher from the nonpartisan environmental economic think tank, Resources for the Future.

The severance tax is now in the GOP-controlled House where its future is uncertain. Republican legislative leaders have argued over the years it would harm the state’s economy. Yet passing the tax has been a major focus of Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

The tax rate approved by the Senate last month would change, based on the average annual price of natural gas– ranging from 1.5 cents per thousand cubic feet to 3.5 cents. It’s expected to raise $100 million this year to help plug a $2.2 billion budget hole. It would be added on top of the roughly $200 million in impact fees gas companies already pay, which are based on the number of wells they drill.

StateImpact Pennsylvania talked about the new tax measure with Daniel Raimi, a senior research associate at Resources for the Future and author of the forthcoming book, The Fracking Debate.

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Judge approves deal to step up water protection during Sunoco pipeline construction

Benjamin Eckert, a resident of Chester County's West Whiteland Township, with some 30 cases of bottled water that Sunoco had delivered to his house after water from his well turned cloudy. Sunoco was drilling nearby for the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline, and hit the aquifer from which Eckert and his neighbors draw their water.  On Wednesday, a judge signed off on a deal requiring the company to step up its protection of water supplies during future construction.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Benjamin Eckert, a resident of Chester County’s West Whiteland Township, with some 30 cases of bottled water that Sunoco had delivered to his house after water from his well turned cloudy. Sunoco was drilling nearby for the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline, and hit the aquifer from which Eckert and his neighbors draw their water. On Wednesday, a judge signed off on a deal requiring the company to step up its protection of water supplies during future construction.

A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday approved an agreement between Sunoco Pipeline and three environmental groups, requiring the company to step up its protection of water supplies during construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board signed off on the deal, which was first published Tuesday in response to settlement talks by the two sides.

The company agreed to do more to protect private water wells, some of which have been damaged by Sunoco’s drilling for the $2.5 billion cross-state pipeline. Sunoco also agreed to give nearby landowners 10 days’ notice of its plans to drill; to test their water, and to re-evaluate the geology of the sites to prevent more spills of drilling fluid.

In return, the environmental groups withdrew a court challenge that sought to extend a ban on drilling that was ordered by the judge last month in response to dozens of water-contamination incidents.

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In draft deal, Sunoco agrees to new pipeline drilling conditions as groups withdraw court challenge

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Sunoco is drilling beneath the lake as part of construction. On Tuesday, the company agreed to meet new environmental safeguards for drilling on the project in return for withdrawal of a court challenge by three environmental groups.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In the distance, construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Sunoco is drilling beneath the lake as part of construction. On Tuesday, the company agreed to meet new environmental safeguards for drilling on the project in return for withdrawal of a court challenge by three environmental groups.

Sunoco Pipeline agreed on Tuesday to meet new environmental safeguards for drilling on its Mariner East 2 pipeline project in return for withdrawal of a court challenge by three environmental groups.

The two sides reached a draft settlement agreement that may avert a hearing before Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board if the judge in charge of the case approves the details. A ban on many of Sunoco’s horizontal directional drilling sites, imposed by Judge Bernard Labuskes on July 25, remains in place until he decides whether to sign off on the deal.

The hearing that was due to begin Wednesday has been canceled.

If the judge confirms the agreement, Sunoco will take steps to protect private water wells, some of which were contaminated by the drilling in recent months. The company agreed to notify landowners within 450 feet of a horizontal drilling location ten days before it starts work there, and to offer to test their water before, during and after the operation.

“Sunoco will immediately notify a landowner with a water supply within 450 feet of an HDD when Sunoco or the Department has determined that there is a substantial possibility that the operation of the HDD will impact his or her water supply,” the agreement said.

The company also agreed to re-evaluate the geology at drilling sites after puncturing aquifers in some locations, disturbing the water supplies of some residents whose private wells draw on those aquifers. Sunoco also said it would file reports of its plans to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The re-evaluation of horizontal directional drilling sites, as agreed to by Sunoco, includes sites where there was an “inadvertent return” of drilling fluid, the term used by the company for a spill. The company said it would consider data that are specific to each drilling site, and conduct extra geotechnical evaluations such as seismic surveys and ground-penetrating radar as appropriate. The re-evaluations will be certified by a professional geologist with relevant experience, the agreement said.

For each site, the company agreed to file a report with the DEP explaining how it plans to “eliminate, reduce or control” the release of drilling fluids. And it said the DEP could modify the new drilling plans if appropriate.

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Business groups slam energy tax proposal

A coalition of seven business trade groups is criticizing new energy tax legislation.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A coalition of seven business trade groups is criticizing new energy tax legislation.

A coalition of Pennsylvania business groups is pushing back against legislation that would raise energy taxes.

A bill approved last month by the Republican-controlled state Senate imposes a new severance tax on natural gas production, and a new gross receipts tax on natural gas consumers.  On Tuesday a coalition of seven business and energy trade groups held a conference call with reporters to denounce the measure, which is now before the House.

“If this Senate proposal is enacted, natural gas will be taxed at four different points,” says Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President Gene Barr. “With an impact fee– or impact tax– at the drilling, with an extraction severance tax when that product is taken out of the ground. The third point will be when it’s utilized by the end-user– either residential, commercial, or industrial. If you’re a company in the natural gas business and you happen to make money after all this, then that income will be taxed as well.”

Aside from the Chamber, the coalition includes the Energy Association of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania, Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, Marcellus Shale Coalition, and Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association.

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Judge partially lifts drilling ban on Sunoco pipeline, postpones hearing

Tree clearing for construction of the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline at  site in Delaware County.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

Tree clearing for construction of the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline at site in Delaware County.

A Pennsylvania judge has allowed Sunoco Pipeline to resume horizontal directional drilling at 16 sites along the Mariner East 2 pipeline route.  Previously he had banned drilling throughout the route in response to dozens of water contamination incidents during construction.

Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board mostly agreed to a Sunoco request to exempt 17 of 55 active drilling operations covered by the two-week ban imposed on July 25.

The judge said in an order Thursday that the company could restart drilling at all but one of the 17 locations. The exception was at a creek in Lebanon County. Continue Reading

PennEast pipeline set for FERC approval after Senate confirms new commissioners

Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner, protested plans to build the PennEast natural gas pipeline, at a FERC 'listening session' near Jim Thorpe, Pa. in 2016

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner, protested plans to build the PennEast natural gas pipeline, at a FERC ‘listening session’ near Jim Thorpe, Pa. in 2016

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is likely to issue its final approval to the controversial PennEast Pipeline project through Pennsylvania and New Jersey now that it has a quorum of commissioners for the first time since February, observers said on Friday.

The top federal regulator of interstate pipelines is expected to issue a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to the project this summer, allowing it to use eminent domain to take land for construction from landowners who have refused its offers of compensation.

FERC has a quorum now that the U.S. Senate approved two of President Trump’s nominations Thursday.  Robert Powelson, a member of Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission, and Neil Chatterjee, an energy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will serve on the panel. Continue Reading

Gov. Wolf: pipelines necessary to ‘live the life we want’

Gov. Tom Wolf

Tom Downing / WITF

Speaking Thursday at the state Capitol, Gov. Tom Wolf says pipelines are necessary to "live the life we want to live," and transporting natural gas products should be done as safely as possible.

Governor Tom Wolf is addressing public concerns about pipeline safety, after construction on a major natural gas liquids line was halted by a state judge.

Speaking Thursday on WITF’s Smart Talk, Wolf noted pipelines are an integral part of modern life, while stressing the importance of safety.

Wolf says he’s spoken directly with Matthew Ramsey, Chief Operating Officer of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Construction on the project was recently suspended for two weeks, following water contamination incidents and environmental violations by the builder, Sunoco.

“I have spoken personally with the CEO of the pipeline company to express the concerns and dissatisfaction that I’m hearing from constituents,” says Wolf.

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