Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Feds show Pennsylvania gas revenues sharply lower than other leading producers

The Schramm T500XD is a self-erecting drill rig and can move from well pad to well pad.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

The Schramm T500XD drill rig at a site in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

As Pennsylvania lawmakers continue to wrangle over whether to impose a severance tax on natural gas production, a new study finds that the state derives dramatically less revenue from its gas industry than some other leading oil and gas states that have a severance tax.

The study from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed Friday that Pennsylvania gathers less than 1 percent of its total tax receipts from an impact fee based in part on the number of wellheads drilled.

That compares with North Dakota which gathers more than half of total tax revenue from its severance tax; Alaska, where the tax accounts for 72 percent of the total, and Wyoming which draws 39 percent of its income from the tax. Continue Reading

Oil trains and Pope Francis — not perfect together?

Oil trains like this one in central Philadelphia are the focus of security concerns by officials planning for huge crowds during the visit of Pope Francis to the city in late September.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Oil trains like this one in central Philadelphia are the focus of security concerns by officials planning for huge crowds during the visit of Pope Francis to the city in late September.

Yes, it has occurred to city officials that some of the oil trains that rumble through Philadelphia pass right below Eakins Oval and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, site of two huge events during the papal visit weekend, Mayor Michael Nutter said Thursday.

At a news conference to update the public on the city’s preparations for the influx of a predicted 1.5 million people, Nutter said officials have been working with the railroads on the issue of oil trains.

“We are working with the railroads, we are sensitive to the issue,” Nutter said after being asked whether officials had considered halting the trains during the massive event, when Philadelphia will be attracting global attention.

A festival of families on the Saturday evening of papal weekend in late September will be held on the Parkway, as will the public Mass on Sunday that is expected to attract more than a million people. Continue Reading

Talking methane rules, oil trains on WITF’S Smart Talk

A Cabot Oil & Gas drill rig nestled into the landscape in Kingsley, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A Cabot Oil & Gas drill rig nestled into the landscape in Kingsley, Pa.

President Obama’s latest effort to stem climate change includes new rules to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. The administration cut methane leaks from this sector by 40 to 45 percent by the year 2025. Methane is the second most common greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S., accounting for 10 percent of the country’s contribution of climate-altering gases. It’s a potent greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

StateImpact Pennsylvania and Allegheny Front reporter Reid Frazier spoke with WITF’s Scott LaMar about the impact of the new regulations on Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry and environment.

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State says gas industry still ignoring minority, female hiring law

Workers undergoing a training for the natural gas industry at a community college in Fayette County, Pa.

Reid Frazier

Workers undergoing a training for the natural gas industry at a community college in Fayette County, Pa.

A state agency says the oil and gas industry is failing a requirement to report on hiring of women and minority owned businesses.

The Department of General Services is calling on the legislature to make it harder for the industry to avoid its reporting requirements.

It says 70 percent of businesses it contacted did not return its survey on their use of “Small Diverse Businesses.” Producers are required to fill out the survey under a provision of Act 13, the state’s oil and gas bill, meant to encourage the industry to patronize businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans.

“To see such a low rate of response to the survey is disappointing, considering our commitment to ensure that opportunities are being afforded to small diverse businesses in Pennsylvania,” DGS secretary Curt Topper said in a statement.

It was the third year in a row of dismal reporting from the industry on the survey. As StateImpact Pennsylvania reported, each of the past surveys have showed low response rates: 27 percent in 2013 and 40 percent in 2014.

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EPA’s methane plan puts pressure on states to achieve bigger cuts, advocates say

Methane emissions from natural gas transmission facilities like these would be cut under new federal regulations.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Methane emissions from natural gas transmission facilities like these would be cut under new federal regulations.

Environmentalists on Tuesday called on Pennsylvania to act to reduce methane emissions from existing natural gas infrastructure and build on proposed federal standards that would cut emissions of the gas from new and modified plants.

Natural gas companies say they already have made strides to cut the emissions and called the new federal proposal unnecessary.

Environmental advocates welcomed the federal plan as a step in the right direction but said it would not address the majority of the industry’s methane emissions.   Those come, they say, from existing oil and gas production facilities, such as those in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.

“The rules will not tackle the thousands of tons of methane pollution currently leaking from Pennsylvania’s expansive gas industry because they will only apply to new or modified gas facilities, while expecting voluntary cooperation from operators of existing sources,” said Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council. “Pennsylvania needs to act quickly to address both new sources of methane pollution as well as existing natural gas infrastructure.” Continue Reading

Report urges more than two dozen measures to make oil trains safer

Oil trains like this in central Philadelphia would be subject to more safety measures if new recommendations are adopted.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Oil trains like this in central Philadelphia would be subject to more safety measures if new recommendations are adopted.

Pennsylvania’s oil trains could be made safer through a number of steps, more inspections, additional technology, lower speed limits, and improved preparation for emergency responders along the routes, according to a report released on Monday.

Gov. Tom Wolf commissioned the report amid growing fears that a derailment by one of the trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil across the state could lead to catastrophic explosions in densely populated areas like Philadelphia.

The long-awaited report, written by Allan Zarembski, an expert in rail operations and structures at the University of Delaware, said there is “concern about the level of risk” on lines where Norfolk Southern and CSX haul oil trains, even though safety measures recently taken by the railroad industry and the U.S. Department of Transportation have been “of great value.” Continue Reading

PUC steps up efforts to advocate for pipeline safety

A marked interstate natural gas pipeline runs through Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A marked interstate natural gas pipeline runs through Lycoming County. These lines are regulated by the federal government.

Public Utility Commission vice chairman John Coleman Jr. spoke about pipeline safety with Scott LaMar, host of WITF’s Smart Talk on Friday. Coleman praised StateImpact’s reporting on pipeline safety, and told LaMar that no one regulatory authority has a map of all the pipelines in the state. “Mapping of pipelines in Pennsylvania is an important priority,” said Coleman.

The federal government has authority over large, interstate pipelines. The PUC has authority over smaller pipelines that do not cross state boundaries. Some of these are called gathering lines, and feed the gas or oil from a well into the larger network of transmission lines. But in rural areas, known as “class one,” gathering pipelines fall into a regulatory black hole. Pipeline operators in those areas are required under Pennsylvania’s Act 127, to register with the PUC. But they only have to report the mileage totals for each county in which they operate. Since the state’s new pipeline law went into effect in 2012, operators have submitted records for about 13,000 miles of gathering lines. But because most of those lines are in rural areas, the PUC only has authority for regulating about 1100 miles, or about eight percent.

Coleman also published an op-ed detailing the efforts of the PUC to regulate the pipelines currently under its jurisdiction, and advocated for operators in rural areas to be required to register with PA One Call.

Lawmakers have introduced legislation to extend PA One Call registration to rural pipeline operators. But conventional oil and gas operators have opposed the effort, saying the risk and consequence of pipeline accidents in rural areas are low, and the costs of PA One Call are high.

Future oil and gas regulations to focus on public health issues

Skylar McEvoy holds up a sign at a rally in Butler, Pa. She and her family moved after they say fracking polluted their water. Her mother Kim says the DOH was no help.

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Skylar Sowatskey holds up a sign at a rally in Butler, Pa. She and her family moved after they say fracking polluted their water. Her mother Kim says the DOH was no help.

The Department of Environmental Protection says the agency is developing a new set of oil and gas regulations to address public health concerns. DEP Secretary John Quigley told reporters on Wednesday of the planned regulatory package during a press call outlining the Department’s latest round of updates to Chapter 78, the section of the Pennsylvania Code that governs construction and operation of oil and gas sites.

“We’re looking in part at public health protections because that’s certainly one of the areas of biggest concern,” said Quigley. “We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect health and the environment and given the time frame it takes to get regulations enacted, it’s clear to us that we need to begin immediately on the next set of regulatory proposals.”

Quigley said those rules will likely be proposed by the end of the year.

Public health advocates have long been pushing to be heard in Harrisburg regarding shale gas drilling issues, but had felt rebuked by the Corbett Administration.

StateImpact Pennsylvania reported last year that Department of Health workers were silenced on drilling-related health inquiries. One veteran employee told StateImpact she was instructed not to return phone calls from residents who expressed health concerns about natural gas development. Continue Reading

DEP’s new oil and gas rules irk both environmentalists and industry

Workers vacuum water or fluids surrounding a frack site in Harford Township, Susquehanna County, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Workers vacuum water or fluids surrounding a frack site in Harford Township, Susquehanna County, Pa.

State environmental regulators are asking for comments on the final version of new oil and gas rules. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released detailed updates to its oil and gas rules Wednesday. The proposals result from a four-year process that garnered nearly 30,000 public comments to DEP.  Still, this latest version is getting push back from both industry and environmentalists.

In a call with reporters, DEP Secretary John Quigley called the announcement a “great step forward in responsible drilling in Pennsylvania.”

“DEP’s definition of responsible drilling is protecting public health and the environment while enabling drilling to proceed,” said Quigley.

Although the release of the draft rules marks the final leg of a long process that began as a result of the passage of the state’s drilling law Act 13 in 2012, Quigley says there’s more to come.

“This is not the end of the process,” he said. “There is more study needed on additional measures, and there will be more rule making in a separate process to ensure responsible drilling and protection of communities, public health and the environment.” Continue Reading

Sunoco launches eminent domain proceedings for Mariner East 2 pipeline

The planned Mariner 2 trans-Pennsylvania pipeline is running into resistance from landowners

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

The planned Mariner East 2 trans-Pennsylvania pipeline is running into resistance from landowners.

As Sunoco Logistics steps up efforts to create a pathway for its Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline across southern Pennsylvania, some landowners are resisting the company’s moves to build the pipeline across their properties.

Residents in at least eight counties are rejecting the company’s offers of cash compensation as too low or unacceptable at any level, and say they will go to court to challenge any assertion of eminent domain that the company makes in an attempt to force its way across private land.

Landowners contacted by StateImpact Pennsylvania accuse Sunoco of making low-ball compensation offers; proposing to locate the $2.5 billion pipeline in places where it could endanger water sources or buildings in the event of a leak or explosion, and of failing to state its plans clearly. Some who have rejected cash compensation have been served with documents that initiate an eminent domain action in court.

The confrontations may represent just the beginning of a process that will pit local communities against energy companies that are sharply expanding Pennsylvania’s pipeline infrastructure in order to ship the abundant resources of the Marcellus Shale to domestic and international markets. Continue Reading

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