Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Legislative scorecard finds waning support for environmental bills in 2015-16

Legislative measures to protect the environment from natural gas wells like these in Lycoming County got less support in Harrisburg in the 2015-16 session, according to an annual report card

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Legislative measures to protect the environment from natural gas wells like these in Lycoming County got less support in Harrisburg in the 2015-16 session, according to an annual report card

Pennsylvania’s state lawmakers voted less often for pro-environment legislation and more often for bills that would weaken environmental protection in the 2015-16 legislative session than they did the previous year, according to a tally published by four environmental groups on Wednesday.

An annual legislative scorecard from PennEnvironment, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania found that the environmental voting record of the House as a whole dropped to 35 percent from 48 percent in the 2013-14 session, while the Senate’s environmental record declined to 38 percent from 41 percent.

In the latest session, House Democrats as a whole had a 72 percent rating, down from 81 percent in 2013-14, while Republicans dropped to 9 percent from 21 percent, the scorecard said. In the Senate, Democratic support for environmental measures dropped to 66 percent from 68 percent while the Republican rating edged up to 20 percent from 19 percent. Continue Reading

Dakota Access pipeline controversy hits home for Pa.

Pipeline projects used to fly under the radar but have now become part of an intense public debate over the nation's energy future.

Reid Frazier

Pipeline projects have become part of an intense public debate over the nation's energy future.

The ramifications of the Obama administration’s recent decision to temporarily halt construction on the Dakota Access oil pipeline are being felt throughout the country– particularly in Pennsylvania. Industry executives worry about growing public opposition to pipelines, while activists have been encouraged by the success of Native American protesters.

Once under the radar, pipeline projects have taken center stage in an intense battle over the nation’s energy future and global climate change.

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Fracking billionaire backs Trump

Self-made oil tycoon Harold Hamm is one of Donald Trump's key energy advisers. He spoke Wednesday at the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm is one of Donald Trump's key energy advisers. He spoke Wednesday at the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

One of Donald Trump’s top energy top advisers warned an oil and gas conference in Pittsburgh Wednesday that a Hillary Clinton presidency would harm the drilling industry.

Fracking billionaire Harold Hamm spoke to the Shale Insight Conference, telling the conference that he was impressed with Donald Trump when the two met while working on the Mitt Romney campaign, and that he thought Trump was the right choice for the oil and gas industry.

Hamm is CEO of Continental Resources, one of the largest fracking firms in oil-rich North Dakota. The youngest of 13 children, he started his company in 1967, at the age of 21.

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Wolf nominates Patrick McDonnell to run DEP

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaking at an event Tuesday in the Capitol Rotunda.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaking at an event in the Capitol Rotunda.

Governor Wolf has nominated the acting DEP chief Patrick McDonnell as the state’s permanent top environmental regulator. If approved by the senate, McDonnell will replace John Quigley, who was ousted by the Wolf Administration last May over an email controversy. McDonnell has been serving in that role since Quigley’s departure.

Environmentalists praised Wolf’s decision, saying McDonnell will have an easier time working with the legislature than his predecessor, who was looked upon with suspicion by lawmakers loyal to the oil and gas industry, and apparently clashed with other members of the Wolf Administration.

David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, says he hopes McDonnell can help quiet the partisanship at work in Harrisburg, especially when it comes to protecting the environment. Continue Reading

Why the oil and gas industry is not giving to Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Bismarck, N.D.

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Bismarck, N.D. The oil and gas industry, usually a reliable fundraising base for the Republican nominee, has only given about $244,000 in individual donations to Trump.

One thing we can say about this year’s presidential election, it’s not following the rules of the game.  Take the oil and gas industry for example. Although Donald Trump is the keynote speaker at the annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh this week, industry executives and employees have not been opening their wallets to the Republican nominee.

But in a typical election they would.  As of last week, Republican nominee Donald Trump raised a paltry $245,000 from individuals working in the oil and gas industry, according to figures provided by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. While union members and Hollywood entertainers are reliable donors to the Democratic candidate in Presidential races, industries like oil and gas line up behind the Republican.

So what’s going on here?

At an oil and gas conference in North Dakota last May, Trump came across like Santa Claus – ready to shower gifts all over coal and oil country, stripping away environmental regulations.

“We’re going to lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas,” Trump told the industry crowd. “We’re going to revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies….we’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement.”

When you hear that, you think, oil and gas industry employees should be lining up to give Trump money, right? Wrong.

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Following audit, state recovers $1.3 million in gas royalties

A natural gas rig in the Tioga State Forest.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

A natural gas rig in Pennsylvania's Tioga State Forest. Like private landowners, the state has disputed some of the royalty payments it's received from drillers.

Following internal audits over the past year, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has recovered $1.3 million in gas royalty money from drilling in state forests.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has leased 386,000 acres of publicly-owned forest land for drilling, and like private landowners, it’s had problems getting paid properly. Recently the royalty disputes have led some local governments to try to halt production, alleging the gas is being stolen.

DCNR says it recovered the money between April 2015 and July 2016, after ramping up its auditing efforts and hiring a new accountant.

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DEP gives Sunoco long to-do list on Mariner East 2 pipeline plan

A tree clearing crew member on property in Huntingdon County where Sunoco was permitted to cut trees along the pipeline path before obtaining water crossing or earth moving permits from DEP.

Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

A tree clearing crew member on property in Huntingdon County where Sunoco was permitted to cut trees along the pipeline path before obtaining water crossing or earth moving permits from DEP.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has rejected Sunoco Logistics current proposal to protect waterways and wetlands at risk of damage by construction of the company’s Mariner East 2 pipeline. Sunoco recently submitted what DEP refers to as “technically complete” permit applications necessary for moving forward with the pipeline project. DEP’s critiques of the permit applications come after a year of working with agency staff to resolve problems with the company’s initial proposals. And yet, more than a year since Sunoco first applied for the permits, DEP has documented hundreds of issues remaining in each of the 17 counties along the pipeline route. DEP’s response documents, known as “deficiency letters,” detail missing or insufficient information about how the company plans to protect the environment, drinking water sources, and cultural heritage sites along the 350-mile long route from Ohio to Marcus Hook, Delaware County.

The $2.5 billion Mariner East 2 project would take propane, butane and potentially ethane though 17 counties from the Marcellus Shale of eastern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania to a terminal at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia, where the fuel will be shipped overseas.

Pipeline construction on the 20-inch diameter high pressure line will tunnel beneath 17 counties in the commonwealth, cut through 2,700 properties, require a 50 foot right-of-way, and cross more than 1,200 streams or wetlands. The project, which has already begun tree clearing in parts of the state, requires state approved plans to prevent erosion and sedimentation, as well as mitigate harm to waterways, before any pipe is put into the ground. Chapter 105 permits, a necessary step for any construction project that may impact a waterway, are aimed at protecting streams and wetlands. Chapter 102 permits focus on erosion and sedimentation. Continue Reading

Bradford County ramps up campaign for gas royalties bill

Landowners in Bradford County sign petitions urging the state legislature to pass a bill aimed at ensuring gas companies pay royalties.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Landowners in Bradford County sign petitions urging the state legislature to pass a bill aimed at ensuring gas companies pay royalties.

About 700 people attended a meeting in Bradford County Wednesday night where state and local officials urged them to contact legislative leaders in Harrisburg about a bill aimed at ensuring gas companies pay fair royalties.

For years people in the region have complained some drilling companies charge exorbitant, and possibly fraudulent fees for processing gas– leaving landowners with little to no royalty money. In some cases, people have received notices their royalty account has a negative balance, saying they owe thousands of dollars to drilling companies.

“It’s what I call ‘the great royalty rip-off,’” says Bradford Commissioner Daryl Miller (R).

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New Jersey agencies and EPA add critiques to PennEast pipeline project

Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner outside a FERC meeting on the proposed PennEast pipeline where they displayed a banner objecting to the possible use of eminent domain by pipeline companies to enable construction on private land.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Roy Christman (left) and William Kellner outside a FERC meeting on the proposed PennEast pipeline where they displayed a banner objecting to the possible use of eminent domain by pipeline companies to enable construction on private land.

From our partners at NJ Spotlight:

Several government agencies have questioned the need for and significant aspects of the PennEast project, a new 118-mile natural-gas pipeline already facing wide opposition from residents of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The proposed pipeline would bring Marcellus Shale gas from Northeast Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River, to supply New Jersey utilities.

The comments from state and federal agencies repeatedly decry a significant lack of information and unanswered questions raised by the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) earlier this summer.

The response by the government agencies could trigger new delays in the $1.1 billion project, one of more than a dozen pipelines that have been proposed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey since cheap natural-gas supplies have been exploited in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. The new wells have driven down heating costs for consumers and manufacturing costs for businesses. Read more at NJ Spotlight.

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Pipeline protesters show solidarity with Native Americans in North Dakota

Anti-pipeline protesters staged events across the country to show solidarity with Native Americans opposing the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Marcia Stober holds up a sign in Lebanon County. Protesters staged events across the country Tuesday to show solidarity with Native Americans opposing the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Protesters staged demonstrations across the country Tuesday in solidarity with Native Americans trying to stop an oil pipeline from being built on their land in North Dakota. The anti-pipeline demonstrations took place in Lebanon and Lancaster counties, as well as in Philadelphia, where President Obama made a visit to stump for his former rival, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The president spoke to about 6,000 people gathered in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum while about 100 protesters stood behind barricades across the street, and periodically chanted “water is life.”

Catherine Blunt from West Philadelphia said she wanted to show support for the Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“The pipeline is an intrusion on the Native American people’s right to their ancestral homeland,” she said, “their holy land, you know, that should not be going on.”

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