Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Health study shows connection between asthma attacks and gas drilling

Sixteen compression generators power a Cabot Oil & Gas hydraulic fracturing "fracking" site along with two "frack vans" that monitor the operations.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Sixteen compression generators power a Cabot Oil & Gas hydraulic fracturing "fracking" site along with two "frack vans" that monitor the operations.

People with asthma face a larger risk of asthma attacks if they live near heavy gas drilling activity in Pennsylvania, compared to those who don’t, according to research by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The report “Association Between Unconventional Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale and Asthma Exacerbations,” is the first to make use of extensive electronic health records from the Geisinger Health System, along with state well production data, to examine the impact on asthma.

“Ours is the first to look at asthma but we now have several studies suggesting adverse health outcomes related to the drilling of unconventional natural gas wells,” said Sara G. Rasmussen, the study’s lead researcher and a PhD candidate in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “Going forward, we need to focus on the exact reasons why these things are happening, because if we know why, we can help make the industry safer.”

Rasmussen and her colleagues looked at the health records of more than 35,000 Geisinger patients between the ages of 5 and 90 who had asthma. Geisinger has been keeping detailed electronic health records since the early 2000′s, which made for a large data set. The researchers looked at patients health records between 2005 and 2012. The healthcare system encompasses 40 counties in central and northeast Pennsylvania. Continue Reading

Commonwealth court upholds eminent domain in Sunoco pipeline case

A judge's ruling allows opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipeline to argue their case in court.

Dozens of eminent domain cases across the state have held up construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Commonwealth Court ruled Thursday that Sunoco was a public utility, granted eminent domain authority by the PUC.

A state appeals court dealt a blow to property owners fighting eminent domain takings by Sunoco Logistics on Thursday. Commonwealth Court ruled that in the case of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, Sunoco is a public utility subject to regulation by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which it says granted the company a certificate of public convenience that extends to all 17 counties along the hotly contested pipeline’s path. The majority 5-2 opinion cited the PUC’s decision:

[T]his authority [under existing CPCs] is not limited to a specific pipe or set of pipes, but rather, includes both the upgrading of current facilities and the expansion of existing capacity as needed for the provision of the authorized service within a certificated territory.

The Commonwealth Court decision, written by Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, determined that the Mariner East 2 pipeline is both interstate and intrastate, and therefore subject to jurisdiction by both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the PUC. Continue Reading

Report: Gas impact fee revenue will keep declining

A natural gas drill rig looms above a farm in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas drill rig looms above a farm in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Pennsylvania will continue to see less money from natural gas drilling, according to a new analysis from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office. This year the drilling impact fees brought in $187.7 million– the lowest amount ever. The IFO projects revenue will continue to decline next year, potentially setting a new record low.

“The impact fee revenues are very sensitive to the average price of gas. What we’ve seen is a dramatic reduction in the average price,” says IFO director Matthew Knittel. “That is in turn reducing revenues.”

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Feds propose new safety rules for oil trains

This aerial view provided by the Washington state Department of Ecology scattered and burned oil tank cars shows Saturday, June 4, 2016, after the train derailed and burned near Mosier, Ore., Friday. Union Pacific Railroad says it had recently inspected the section of track near Mosier, about 70 miles east of Portland, and had been inspected at least six times since March 21.

Washington Department of Ecology via AP

This aerial view provided by the Washington state Department of Ecology shows scattered and burned oil tank cars Saturday, June 4, 2016, after the most recent oil train derailment near Mosier, Ore. Union Pacific Railroad says it had recently inspected the section of track near Mosier, about 70 miles east of Portland, and had been inspected at least six times since March 21.

Two federal agencies have proposed new safety regulations for oil trains. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration, both divisions of the Department of Transportation, announced the proposals Wednesday, which are aimed at sharing information with state emergency management agencies. The agencies also want to require a new test for the flammable liquids.

“This rule goes one step further to hold industry accountable to plan and prepare for the worst case scenario,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a release.  ”It would help to ensure that railroads have comprehensive plans to respond to derailments when they occur and better ensure the safety of communities living near railroads.”

The rules would require railroads to boost their current response plans from “basic” to “comprehensive” under the federal Clean Water Act, as well as prepare for the worst case scenario. Continue Reading

PA cities headed for more ‘danger days’ as summer temperatures climb, report warns

A paving crew member takes a drink of water during a record-breaking heat wave, July 6, 2012, in Philadelphia.  is among Pennsylvania cities facing an increase in high temperatures and humidity caused by climate change, report warns.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

A paving crew member takes a drink of water during a record-breaking heat wave, July 6, 2012, in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania has five cities facing an increase in high temperatures and humidity caused by climate change, a report warns.

Pennsylvania will face more “danger days” of high heat and humidity in future when climate change pushes “real-feel” temperatures above 105 degrees F, a climate-research group warned in a national report published Wednesday.

The state has five of the 50 cities nationwide that have seen the biggest increase in atmospheric moisture since 1970, Climate Central said, identifying Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Lancaster, York and Reading. It warned that Pennsylvania is “particularly susceptible” to the hotter conditions.

Philadelphia is especially vulnerable to increased heat and humidity in future, and is expected to see about 40 “danger days” a year by 2050 compared with about eight at present, said Alyson Kenward, senior scientist at the Princeton, NJ-based group. Continue Reading

Fracking opponents dump on Democratic Party platform

Tamara Clements with Food and Water Watch places dung beneath one of the DNC Donkeys Around Town sculptures. This donkey is at City Hall and represents Georgia.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

Tamara Clements with Food and Water Watch places fake dung beneath one of the Democratic National Convention ‘Donkeys Around Town’ statues in Philadelphia. This donkey is located at City Hall and represents the state of Georgia.

The Democratic Party’s draft platform, advanced by a committee last weekend, calls for a tax on carbon and other measures to tackle climate change. It also calls for a “phase down” of drilling on public lands.

However, that’s not enough for some environmental groups, which have called for a nationwide ban on fracking.

To protest what they feel is lacking in the Democratic platform, members of Food and Water Watch placed placed piles of papier-mâché poop beneath 19 of the 57 painted donkey statues set up around Philadelphia to welcome delegates to the Democratic National Convention here in two weeks.

In order to make sure the conventioneers got the message, they also spray painted the sidewalk  with “No ban on fracking, the Dem platform is crap.”

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Senate approves bill weakening drilling regulations

The amendment bars state environmental regulators from implementing some of the  new drilling regulations they have proposed.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The amendment bars state environmental regulators from implementing some portions of the new drilling regulations they have proposed.

The state Senate voted Monday to approve an amendment that would undo parts of the state’s pending oil and gas regulations.

SB 1229 is now in the House. The bill was introduced in May and initially pertained to horse breeding, however an amendment approved Monday restricts state environmental regulators from implementing some of their proposed regulations for Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale industry (known as Chapter 78a), which are currently under review at the Attorney General’s office.

It’s the most recent maneuver in a protracted battle over the proposed rules between Governor Tom Wolf’s administration and the Republican-led legislature. Last month it seemed a detente had been reached, when Wolf signed a bill that tossed out half the regulatory package– eliminating the rules for the conventional oil and gas industry.

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Environmentalists challenge grid operator’s new ‘reliability’ regulation

PPL's Brunner Island three-unit coal-fired plant located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River. A bill recently approved by the state House and Senate would give legislators more time to review Pennsylvania's compliance with federal climate regulations.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

PPL's Brunner Island three-unit coal-fired plant located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River.

via NJ Spotlight

A new rule designed to promote reliability of the power grid is being challenged by a quartet of interest groups saying it increases prices to consumers and hinders clean-energy alternatives.The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, and the Union of Concerned Scientists filed a lawsuit Friday challenging a federal agency’s approval of the new regulation adopted by the operator of the nation’s largest power grid, PJM Interconnection.

The regulation provides power suppliers with more lucrative payments if they agree to provide electricity at times when it may be needed because of high demand, but slams them with stiff penalties if they fail to deliver when called upon.

The controversial regulation was adopted by PJM in the wake of an unusually bitter cold snap in the winter of 2014, when many suppliers were unable to supply power, straining the reliability of the grid. New Jersey officials were not happy with the rule, fearing it could spike prices to consumers. Continue reading at NJ Spotlight.

DEP plans public hearings for Sunoco’s Mariner 2 pipeline

The Mariner East 1 line (blue) is already shipping natural gas liquids. State regulators will hold meetings on the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline (dotted red line).

Courtesy: Sunoco Logistics

The Mariner East 1 line (in blue) is already shipping natural gas liquids across Pennsylvania State regulators will hold meetings on the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline (dotted red line).

State environmental regulators will hold a series of public hearings in August to get public feedback on pending permit applications for a major natural gas liquids pipeline project.

The so-called Mariner 2 line, would run parallel to its predecessor (the Mariner East 1) through 17 counties in Pennsylvania’s southern tier. But unlike that project, which involved reversing the flow of an existing line, this pipeline needs to be built from scratch. The Mariner 2 aims to transport natural gas liquids from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus and Utica Shales 350 miles to the company’s terminal near Philadelphia. Continue Reading

EPA raises concerns about Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

A clearing shows the site of a pipeline, one of many running beneath Pennsylvania's farms, forests and waterways.

Kim Paynter / WHYY

A clearing shows the site of a pipeline, one of many running beneath Pennsylvania's farms, forests and waterways.

The Environmental Protection Agency is raising concerns about the potential impacts of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline.

In a letter sent last week to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the EPA criticizes FERC’s draft environmental impact statement, which found the pipeline would not create significant adverse impacts.

Although FERC is charged with making the final decision about whether the project moves forward, the commission did not fully examine alternative options to building a 197.7 miles of new pipeline, according to the EPA. The agency recommends further study on whether new construction might be avoided by expanding existing infrastructure, or expanding the proposed PennEast pipeline.

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