Pennsylvania

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DEP approves Mariner East 2 permits

A map of the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline across Pennsylvania. Conflicting statements have fueled confusion over when construction might start.

Sunoco Logistics

A map of the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline across Pennsylvania. DEP issued permits for the project on Monday, clearing the way for construction of the line.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has approved earth-moving and water-crossing permits for Sunoco’s controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline project, paving the way for construction on the 350-mile line that would begin in Ohio and West Virginia, and travel through 17 counties across Pennsylvania to Sunoco’s Marcus Hook plant in Delaware County. The pipeline would carry natural gas liquids from Marcellus and Utica Shale fields to Sunoco’s export terminal, where the plan is to ship the gas to Scotland to make plastics.

The company began its permit applications in May 2014, and was sent back to the drawing table several times by DEP for glaring deficiencies. Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a release that permits were issued “after extensive review.”

“I am proud of the immense undertaking our staff took to hold this project accountable within the confines of state law and DEP’s role in this process over the last few years,” said McDonnell in a release. He said DEP staff spent more than 20,000 hours reviewing the application. Continue Reading

PA DEP approves water permits for PennEast pipeline

A sign opposing the PennEast pipeline project on a lawn in Durham Township, Pa. The Pennsylvania DEP issued the pipeline water permits on Friday.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign opposing the PennEast pipeline project on a lawn in Durham Township, Pa. The Pennsylvania DEP issued the pipeline water permits on Friday.

PennEast pipeline company says it has received a significant water quality permit from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, suggesting confidence by state regulators that the pipeline can be built while minimizing impacts to waterways during and after construction. The 401 Water Quality Certification indicates the company has met requirements under the Clean Water Act, a prerequisite for federal approvals.

“The Department’s year-long review and conclusion provides additional assurance that PennEast can protect the environment,” said PennEast spokeswoman Pat Kornick, specifically water resources.”

Kornick says the permits are a significant step in the long regulatory process that began in 2014, and that DEP informed PennEast Friday afternoon that the permits were issued.

“PennEast has reviewed hundreds of route options, and made dozens of modifications to the pipeline to minimize impact on the environment,” she said. Continue Reading

Lawmaker urges Wolf to modernize campaign finance website

Computer

Logan Ingalls / via Flickr: http://bit.ly/1ryPA8o

A Democratic lawmaker is calling on the Wolf administration to overhaul Pennsylvania's archaic campaign finance website.

A Democratic state lawmaker is calling on Governor Tom Wolf’s administration to modernize Pennsylvania’s archaic campaign finance website.

Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) says updating the site would go a long way toward transparency. Vitali recently published a report on the natural gas industry, showing what he describes as its outsized political influence in Harrisburg. He blames the lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions for stymieing efforts to enact a gas severance tax and new drilling regulations. He estimates the gas industry spent more than $7 million last year on lobbying and over $62 million since 2007.

Vitali notes it’s incredibly time-consuming to wade through the campaign finance reports online. The website discourages journalists from doing real-time analysis, he says, which could show links between the money and lawmakers’ votes. Unlike federal data, Pennsylvania’s campaign finance information is not available in a machine-readable format, like an Excel file, which can be easily downloaded and analyzed.

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Local governments hurt by declining impact fees, says Moody’s

Moody's says local governments budgets are taking a hit from the slower pace of drilling in Pennsylvania.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Moody's says local governments budgets are taking a hit from the slower pace of drilling in Pennsylvania.

Declining impact fee revenue from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale natural gas industry is hurting many local governments’ budgets, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service.

“The data show that hydraulic fracturing has been very important to these towns,” says Moody’s analyst Michael Higgins.

But he points out that as natural gas production has risen over the past three years, the impact fee distributions to local governments declined. Pennsylvania is the only major energy-producing state that doesn’t tax gas production. Instead, an impact fee is levied on each well.

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Study: Methane levels increase as well sites decline

Cabot Oil & Gas operations in Susquehanna County include some of the most productive wells in the state.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Cabot Oil & Gas operations in Susquehanna County include some of the most productive wells in the state.

A new study shows that background levels of methane in Northeast Pennsylvania increased significantly at a time when well drilling activity decreased, pointing to leaks of natural gas during production and transportation. Researchers from Drexel University found that atmospheric levels of the potent greenhouse gas increased by 100 parts per billion between 2012 and 2015. Typically, background levels of methane would have increased by 18 parts per billion in three years, according to the study’s director Peter DeCarlo, who runs Drexel’s Air Resource Research Laboratory.

“So there’s clear increases in emissions happening in that region over this time span,” DeCarlo said.

The study adds to a growing body of research on the overall climate impact of switching power plants from coal to natural gas. Methane is considered more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide because although it breaks down more quickly than CO2, it traps heat 28 times more effectively over the course of 100 years. This week, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection issued new proposals for regulating methane emissions. Continue Reading

DEP’s McDonnell meets with Mariner East pipeline opponents

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaks about climate change at an event hosted by the Academy of Natural Sciences, January 27, 2017.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaks at an event in Philadelphia, January 27, 2017. (file photo) McDonnell met with a group of Mariner East 2 pipeline opponents on Monday who had hoped to convince the Acting Secretary to extend public comment on the project.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection held a hastily arranged meeting on Monday with several opponents of the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline in an apparent attempt to calm public concerns over the project which may soon get its final environmental approvals.

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell plus two other DEP officials and a legislative liaison met with four pipeline activists for about 70 minutes at the DEP’s offices in Harrisburg, two of the activists said.

In addition to McDonnell, the DEP officials were Ann Roda and John Stefanko, according to Eric Friedman, a Delaware County resident and outspoken pipeline opponent who was invited to attend the meeting. The other attendees were Eve Miari, a spokeswoman for Delaware County’s Middletown Coalition for Community Safety; Alison Chabot, another member of the Middletown group, and Lynda Farrell, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition.

Friedman said DEP invited him on Friday to attend the meeting on Monday but was not given a specific agenda. Continue Reading

Wolf renews call for natural gas tax

Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2017-18 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, is at left, and Lt. Gov. Michael Stack, is at right.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2017-18 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, is at left, and Lt. Gov. Michael Stack, is at right.

Governor Tom Wolf is renewing his call for a severance tax on Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry. It was among his central campaign pledges three years ago, but so far he’s been unsuccessful getting it through the Republican-led legislature.

In his annual budget address Tuesday, Wolf didn’t mention the tax at all– instead focusing on efforts to streamline government.

“By identifying specific programs that could be working more efficiently – and others that are no longer working at all – this budget proposes reforms that, altogether, will save taxpayers more than $2 billion,” says Wolf.

The 6.5 percent tax rate is the same level he sought last year. The administration predicts it will bring in an additional $293.8 million, which would help plug a $3 billion projected budget deficit. It’s a far cry from two years ago, when Wolf projected a gas severance tax could raise $1 billion and help fund public education.

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FERC approves Williams’ Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

Protestors who oppose the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project. The federal government gave the green light to the project late Friday afternoon.

StateImpact PA

Protestors who oppose the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project. The federal government gave the green light to the project late Friday afternoon.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved Williams Partners’ planned Atlantic Sunrise pipeline late Friday afternoon, just minutes before the agency became hamstrung by the departure of one of its commissioners. FERC chairman Norman Bay resigned at the close of business Friday, leaving the commission with only two of its five seats filled and now lacking the quorum necessary to approve projects. The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline approval was one of FERC’s final actions before Bay left the commission, leaving other billion dollar projects like the PennEast pipeline, in limbo.

Chris Stockton, spokesperson for Williams, said that although the company still needs permits from the Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps, FERC’s 11th hour approval was welcomed as good news.

“This was the big hurdle,” said Stockton. “This is what we’ve been working on for three years. It’s been the culmination of a lot of collaboration and we’re very excited to have gotten to this point and we’re looking forward to moving forward with the project.” Continue Reading

Communities along Mariner East 2 pipeline route brace for construction

Protesters outside of Sunoco headquarters in Newtown Square. Landowners along the route and anti-pipeline activists are preparing lawsuits to challenge any permits issued by DEP.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Protesters outside of Sunoco headquarters in Newtown Square. Landowners along the route and anti-pipeline activists are preparing lawsuits to challenge any permits issued by DEP.

Sunoco Logistics officials declined to say whether they are expecting Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to issue on Friday the final two state permits that the company needs to begin construction of the company’s controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline. A spokesman for DEP also said “there is no timetable for a decision.”

But according to rumors recently circulating among nonprofits, community groups, anti-pipeline campaigners – all citing unnamed sources in the DEP — the department will issue the long-awaited water-crossing and earth disturbance permits on Friday.

Some opponents of the 350-mile natural gas liquids line have predicted that DEP would issue the permits by the end of January following pressure from the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf to meet Sunoco’s stated schedule of beginning construction by “late winter or early spring” of this year and starting operation in the third quarter.

Asked about issues and delays regarding permit approvals for the $2.5 billion line, Wolf told a group of Philadelphia area business people in mid-January that the line could be approved. “We’re working through that,” he said. A spokesman for Governor Wolf has told StateImpact that the decision over Mariner East 2 pipeline permits rests solely with the Department of Environmental Protection.

Approval of the permits would bring Sunoco to the end, or close to it, of a long permitting process in which DEP has found many deficiencies in the company’s application, forcing it to resubmit documents, re-do applications, and delaying the start of construction. Continue Reading

Report: gas impact fee revenue will hit record low this year

Fewer new wells being drilled means there is less revenue being generated by Pennsylvania's gas impact fees.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Fewer new wells being drilled means there is less revenue being generated by Pennsylvania's gas impact fees.

Revenue from Pennsylvania’s natural gas drilling impact fee is expected to hit a record low this year, according to a report from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office.

The IFO projects the fees will bring in $174.6 million–down 7 percent compared to last year. It’s a 23 percent decline since peaking at $225 million three years ago.

The drop is largely driven by a decline in new drilling, due to depressed gas prices. Pennsylvania is the only major energy-producing state that doesn’t tax gas production. Instead, a so-called “impact fee” is levied on each well drilled. The fees are highest in the first year of a well’s life and can range from $40,000 to $60,000. As time goes by, the fees decline– ending completely after 15 years.

So without new drilling, older wells generate dwindling amounts of revenue.

“The aging wells and declining revenues– that’s a normal occurrence,” says IFO deputy director Mark Ryan. “Production can extend for a while, but it does tail off significantly after the first five or so years.”

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