Pennsylvania

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DRBC confirms it will consider banning fracking in basin

Dan Plummer fishes for trout in the Delaware River, Delaware County New York. The Delaware watershed hosts world class trout fisheries. But a dispute over water allocation between New York City and New Jersey could put those fisheries in jeopardy.

courtesy of Friends of the Upper Delaware

Dan Plummer fishes for trout in the Delaware River, Delaware County New York. The Delaware River Basin Commission has proposed a ban on fracking along the river.

The Delaware River Basin Commission confirmed on Monday that it will consider adopting new rules that would ban natural gas drilling in the basin, a policy that would formalize a de facto moratorium that has been in place since 2010.

The interstate regulator of water quality and supply in the basin said in a statement that its public meeting this week will consider a resolution that would require its executive director to draft a new rule containing the proposed ban, which would be sent out for public comment by the end of November, and potentially adopted later.

“If the proposed resolution is approved by the commission on Sept. 13, the revised draft rules to be published on a later date would include prohibitions related to the production of natural gas utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing within the Delaware River Basin,” the DRBC said in a press release. Continue Reading

House panel rebrands Marcellus ‘impact fee,’ now calling it ‘severance tax’

A House committee has approved changing the name of the "impact fee" paid by gas drillers.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A House committee has approved changing the name of the "impact fee" paid by gas drillers.

What’s in a name?

A lot, apparently, when it comes to Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.

A state House committee voted along party lines Monday, to rebrand the impact fee levied on the state’s Marcellus Shale drillers, calling it a severance tax instead.

The two terms hardly seem interchangable: Impact fees are levied on a per-well basis, so each time drillers punch a hole in the ground, they pay. A “severance tax” is applied when resources are severed from the earth, so it would be a tax on the amount of gas produced.

When questioned about the difference, amendment sponsor Rep. John Maher (R-Allengheny) calls the terms, “artificial constructs.”

“This conversation needs to begin with the clear recognition there is a significant burden placed on that industry,” Maher says. “This would rechristen the ‘impact fee’ as a ‘severance tax.’”

The name change is viewed as a parliamentary maneuver by the GOP-led Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which Maher chairs. The amendment aims to block a discharge resolution filed by Democrats that could have forced a vote on a 3.5 percent severance tax bill.

But House Democratic Caucus spokesman, Bill Patton, says the resolution remains in play.

“The rules are very clear, unless the bill has come out of the committee, the discharge resolution would still be order,” he says. “The committee did not report the bill out. They only made an amendment to it.”

He says Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai could restart the clock, by referring the bill to another committee.

“I think there’s enough bipartisan support for a severance tax, nothing is certain,” says Patton.

Passing the tax is a top priority for Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

In July, the Republican-led state Senate approved a separate plan to raise about $100 million with a severance tax.

Debate has raged in Harrisburg for nearly a decade over whether the industry is paying its fair share. The stakes remain high this year, as Pennsylvania faces a $2.2 billion budget hole.

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Homeowners say Sunoco breached protective order during pipeline construction

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.  A homeowners group says the company is contacting residents in violation of a court order.

Jon Hurdle

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. A homeowners group says the company is contacting residents in violation of a court order.

A group of Delaware County homeowners ramped up a war of words with Sunoco Pipeline on Thursday, accusing it of violating a court order that forbids company representatives from contacting residents during construction work for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

And Sunoco’s lawyers began the process of applying to a judge for a writ of possession, which would give the company the right to exclude residents from an easement on land that is owned by their homeowners’ association.

Rich Raiders, an attorney for the Andover Homeowners Association in Thornbury Township, said Sunoco representatives were using “inappropriate conduct” and trespassing on private property at a site where their contractors are clearing trees and preparing ground for the pipeline.

Raiders said Sunoco and its contractors had contacted residents without his permission, as prohibited in a protective order issued by the Commonwealth Court on May 16. Continue Reading

AP: DRBC planning to propose permanent fracking ban

The Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side at the Delaware Water Gap.

Catalina Jaramillo / StateImpact PA

The Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side at the Delaware Water Gap. The Delaware River Basin Commission plans to propose a permanent ban on fracking, according to an AP report.

The Delaware River Basin Commission plans to propose a permanent ban on fracking, according to a report by the Associated Press. The AP cited an anonymous source within the DRBC, who said the agency planned an announcement on Friday. DRBC spokesman Clarke Rupert, would not comment other than to refer to the official DRBC agenda for its September 13 public meeting, which does not include a reference to gas drilling.

The five-member commission has been reviewing whether or not to allow the controversial natural gas drilling process along the Delaware River for several years. The ban would include Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pike and Wayne counties in Northeast Pennsylvania. New York has already imposed a shale gas drilling ban.

Maya van Rossum with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network pushed for a moratorium and has been advocating for a permanent ban on fracking since 2008.

“Translating our moratorium into a ban is just…it’s rewarding beyond words,” she said. Continue Reading

Sunoco contractors challenge residents’ presence on pipeline right-of-way

An orange fence separates a Delaware County development from a right-of-way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Jon Hurdle

An orange fence separates a Delaware County development from a right-of-way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Delaware County, three residents of Thornbury Township stepped over a spray-painted line marking the edge of a right-of-way where a contractor for Sunoco Pipeline was preparing land for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

The response from one of about eight hard-hatted workers was immediate: he got on his phone and called the police, claiming that the residents were trespassing.

Within a few minutes, two state troopers showed up and began to question the contractors and the residents, some of whom are members of the Andover Homeowners Association, which represents a development of 38 substantial suburban houses a few yards from the pipeline route, and owns the land on which the pipeline will be built. Continue Reading

Sean Spicer to address Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer smiled as he departed the White House, Friday, July 21, 2017, in Washington.  He will deliver the closing keynote address at the annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer smiles as he departs the White House, Friday, July 21, 2017.

In what’s being billed as one of his first public appearances since leaving the Trump administration, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer will deliver the closing keynote address at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh later this month.

The annual event has brought thousands of representatives from the oil and gas industry to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

Last year President Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee, gave the closing keynote address and vowed to roll back environmental regulations in order to unleash the oil and gas industry’s full potential. Past speakers have included former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, former U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, and FOX News host Sean Hannity.

According to the agenda Spicer will discuss, “how we are poised to strengthen our nation’s geopolitical position, create manufacturing opportunities here at home and jobs for all Americans while continuing to protect our environment.”

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Gasoline price spikes caused by Harvey on par with Katrina

People watch heavy rain from the relative safety of a flooded gas station caused by  Tropical Storm Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

People watch heavy rain from the relative safety of a flooded gas station caused by Tropical Storm Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

The sharp uptick in gasoline prices across the country, caused by disruptions from Hurricane Harvey, is on par with what happened more than a decade ago during Hurricane Katrina, according to a new analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

On Monday the average retail gasoline price in the U.S. was $2.68 per gallon– 28 cents per gallon higher than the previous week.

The EIA says supply disruptions and refinery outages caused by Hurricane Harvey were having an even larger impact on the East Coast, and the Gulf Coast, where, “gasoline prices are 39 cents/gal and 35 cents/gal higher, respectively, than they were a week ago, before the full effects of the storm were felt.”

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DEP says Sunoco violated agreement on Mariner East 2 drilling

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. On Tuesday, the DEP said Sunoco had violated an agreement that sets new restrictions on drllling for the pipeline.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline at Raystown Lake Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. On Tuesday, the DEP said Sunoco had violated an agreement that sets new restrictions on drllling for the pipeline.

Sunoco Pipeline violated a court-brokered agreement imposing new restrictions on drilling for its Mariner East 2 pipeline when it spilled drilling mud into at least three waterways, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said on Tuesday.

“The spills constitute a violation of the permit conditions, which were modified by the Aug. 9 settlement agreement,” said Neil Shader, a DEP spokesman.

Shader said the company is due to respond on Wednesday to a notice of violation issued by DEP for two spills of drilling mud into the Susquehanna River after the agreement was signed by the company and three environmental groups that were challenging it before the Environmental Hearing Board. Continue Reading

Harvey-level damage probably won’t happen in Philadelphia, but intense flooding already does

A man waves for a tow truck after getting swamped trying to cross a flooded section of the Cobbs Creek Parkway, Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in Philadelphia. Cobbs Creek and Darby Creek merge in the Eastwick section of Philadelphia where flooding is expected to get worse due to rising sea levels.

AP Photo

A man waves for a tow truck after getting swamped trying to cross a flooded section of the Cobbs Creek Parkway, Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in Philadelphia. Cobbs Creek and Darby Creek merge in the Eastwick section of Philadelphia where flooding is expected to get worse due to rising sea levels.

Experts and city authorities say it’s unlikely for Philadelphia to experience a hurricane of Harvey’s magnitude, but parts of the city have been flooding for more than 20 years. And those rising waters are tied to some of the same reasons Houston has been inundated: paving over wetlands.

Janis Pugh, a longtime resident of Eastwick, said rain stresses her out. Her Southwest  Philadelphia neighborhood has flooded at least 10 times since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, causing severe damage to 130 properties.

“When it starts raining, everybody gets a little nervous,” Pugh said.

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Overall methane emissions from shale industry rise, other air pollutants down

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A compressor station pumps natural gas into the Tennessee Pipeline in Dimock, Pa.

Climate-damaging methane emissions, as well as volatile organic compounds from Pennsylvania’s shale gas industry are on the rise, while other harmful air pollutants have decreased, according to new data released Thursday by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The methane uptick is largely due to growth in the number of facilities filing reports, the agency says, while the average emission per facility is staying relatively level.

DEP’s latest data is from 2015 and is self-reported by the industry.

Releases of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) grew from 5,961 tons in 2014 to 6,410 tons in 2015. Methane emissions from the unconventional gas industry grew to 112,128 tons, up from 107,735 tons in the previous year.

That time period also saw natural gas production increase from 4.1 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2014 to 4.6 trillion cubic feet in 2015.

“The inventory presents a mixed picture of emissions from the unconventional natural gas industry” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. “Certain pollutants are decreasing as best practices are implemented more widely through the industry, while others – including methane, a potent greenhouse gas -  continue to increase, underscoring the need to do more to detect and fix leaks in order to reduce emissions.”

Critics have argued the data does not capture an accurate picture and uses outdated methods. Methane is the main component of natural gas. Although it stays in the atmosphere for a shorter time period than carbon dioxide, it is dozens of times more powerful as a climate-warming greenhouse gas. VOCs come from a variety of sources and can lead to short and long-term adverse health effects.

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