State to send $25M to help clean up a dozen abandoned coal mine sites

A pile of waste coal sits abandoned in Fredericktown. Photo: Reid Frazier

A pile of waste coal sits abandoned in Fredericktown. Photo: Reid Frazier

Pennsylvania announced approval of $25 million in funding for cleanup of abandoned mines at 12 sites around the state.

The money for the projects comes from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands fund, a Department of Interior program. The program is funded by a fee on current coal production, and goes to clean up mines that were developed before modern environmental rules were created for mines in the 1970s.

The work can include removing acid mine drainage from streams, repairing acidity in soil, and addressing other hazards, like sinkholes, unstable strip mine banks, and mine fires.

The Department of Environmental Protection selected the sites, which include four in Luzerne County and two in Schuylkill County:

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Penn Township fracking dispute heads to court, with state’s Environmental Rights Amendment at center of lawsuit

Protect PT is challenging Penn Township's zoning ordinance, which allows drilling in the green areas of the map.

Protect PT is challenging Penn Township's zoning ordinance, which allows drilling in the green areas of the map.

A dispute over a local law that opens up much of a Pittsburgh suburb to oil and gas drilling has made it to a Westmoreland County courtroom.

The citizens group ProtectPT is challenging Penn Township’s zoning ordinance, finalized in 2016, that allowed drilling in parts of the township zoned as “rural resource” areas.

These are typically open parts of the community, like farms and other sparsely populated areas. The community, about 20 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, contains a mix of planned suburban subdivisions and farmland.

The group is arguing that the ordinance deprives residents in more densely populated parts of the township their rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution to a clean environment.

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‘The Shale Dilemma’ goes global: Author discusses shale gas development across the world

Across Europe, laws on fracking vary. In 2016, after years of debate over environmental concerns and economic interests around fracking, Germany banned some forms of it. Environmentalists are calling for a total ban. Photo: Robin Wood / flickr

Across Europe, laws on fracking vary. In 2016, after years of debate over environmental concerns and economic interests around fracking, Germany banned some forms of it. Environmentalists are calling for a total ban. Photo: Robin Wood / flickr

Fracking may have been born in the U.S., but there are shale gas reserves in dozens of other countries. Will these countries say yes or no to fracking? Shanti Gamper-Rabindran a University of Pittsburgh professor and editor of The Shale Dilemma, sat down for an interview about the topic. The book examines decisions being made around the globe about fracking. Here are some highlights:

Q: What are the benefits and drawbacks of shale development countries are weighing?

A: In every country that is pursuing shale, the government generally states four different reasons why they pursue shale.

One is long term energy security. Second is broad-based economic development, not just economic development. Third is climate protection by shifting from coal to gas. And the fourth is air quality protection by switching from coal to gas at the point of combustion. Continue Reading

Mayor from Puerto Rico aims to rebuild a new, modern grid

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, right, of Puerto Rico speaks on a panel at Carnegie Mellon University alongside Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and CMU Interim Provost Laurie Weingart.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, right, of Puerto Rico speaks on a panel at Carnegie Mellon University alongside Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and CMU Interim Provost Laurie Weingart.

Six months after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, 200,000 residents still lack electricity, the mayor of the island’s capital city told a crowded Carnegie Mellon University ballroom Wednesday night.

Carmen Yulín Cruz, who received a master’s degree from CMU in the 1980s, came back to the campus to speak at “Energy Week” alongside Pittsburgh’s mayor.

She said the situation in Puerto Rico is still dire for many.

“You have no idea what it is to spend months and months and months with not a flicker of light,” she said. “We don’t want energy to be able to bathe in warm water or to have air conditioning, we want it so our children can go to school. We want it so that our doctors can operate in the operating rooms without having to use the light from their cell phones.” Continue Reading

Vandals damage Mariner East equipment in Chester County, Sunoco says

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline begin an 'additional investigation' of geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines.

Jon Hurdle

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline begin an 'additional investigation' of geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines.The company says their construction equipment was vandalized.

Sunoco Pipeline offered a $10,000 reward on Thursday for information leading to the arrest of vandals who the company said attacked construction equipment along the route of the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline in West Whiteland Township, Chester County.

The attacks on April 2 and 3 caused “significant damage” to two pieces of equipment, the company said in a statement. Continue Reading

Poll: Climate change causing problems for significant number of Pennsylvanians

Sandy left more than 1.3 million Pennsylvanians in the dark

Getty Images

Scientists have been studying the link between climate change and extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy, which left more than 1.3 million Pennsylvanians in the dark in 2012.

Across Pennsylvania, four in 10 registered voters say they have personally experienced problems related to climate change, according to a recent poll from StateImpact Pennsylvania and Franklin & Marshall College.

Dealing with extreme weather is a common theme among Pennsylvanians who responded that they believe climate change is affecting them. Some have had to cancel vacations due to hurricanes, while others have experienced flooding in their basements.

For Carol Gingrich of Bushkill, a town in the Pocono mountains along the New Jersey border, it’s the seemingly nonstop storms.

“We have gone through four nor’easters just this winter,” she said. “Now, it’s not unusual to have a nor’easter come onto the East Coast like this. But four pretty much back to back, and one really devastated the area, is pretty intense.”

She said the first storm knocked out power for a week, forcing her and her 90-year-old mother to stay in a hotel an hour away that had electricity.

Scientists have not specifically linked this year’s nor’easters to climate change. More and more, scientists are researching whether to attribute climate change as the cause of an individual storm. But Gingrich’s comments and those of others in the poll echo the consensus of leading climate experts, that climate change is exacerbating extreme weather-related events across the globe, ranging from heat waves to wildfires to heavy rainfall.

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Poll: Public concern grows over natural gas industry’s environmental impact

A shale gas drilling rig in Washington, Pa.

AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam

A shale gas drilling rig in Washington, Pa.

A majority of Pennsylvanians still support the natural gas industry, but a new opinion poll shows the number of people concerned about its environmental impact is growing.

A Franklin & Marshall/StateImpact Pennsylvania poll found that 50 percent of respondents said they support the gas industry — while 42 percent say they don’t. But dig a little deeper, and another picture emerges.

In the latest poll, conducted in late March, 55 percent say the environmental risks of fracking  are greater than its economic benefits. A few years ago, that number was in the 30s.

“That’s a real change,” said Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion and Research at Franklin & Marshall, which conducted the poll. He thinks more people worry about the environmental risks of fracking now because the economy has improved, and because of reports of the industry’s environmental impacts.

“Now the economy is a little better, there’s been more negative publicity around fracking and the environmental damage it can create — I think that’s in part driving this change,” he said.

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While legislation stalls in Pennsylvania, West Virginia acts on natural gas royalties

drill rigPennsylvania landowners for years have tried and failed to get the Legislature to protect royalties they receive from natural gas companies, but mineral owners in West Virginia just scored a victory.

A bill addressing deductions from royalty checks sailed through the West Virginia statehouse and will soon go into effect. Now when drillers seek permits to drill on old leases, they cannot take out deductions to cover the costs of transporting natural gas from a well site or removing impurities.

These steps, taken once the gas has been produced from the well, help get the gas ready to be sold further down the processing chain. Continue Reading

FirstEnergy Solutions files for bankruptcy

FirstEnergy Corporation's Bruce Mansfield electricity generating plant is seen in Shippingport, Pa.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

FirstEnergy Corporation's Bruce Mansfield electricity generating plant is seen in Shippingport, Pa.

The power generation subsidiary of Ohio-based FirstEnergy, which owns two Beaver County power plants and several others in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company said over the weekend.

During the bankruptcy, FirstEnergy Solutions says its plants will run normally. Last week, the company said it was closing three nuclear plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio, including Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport. It is also seeking federal help to keep its fleet of aging coal and nuclear plants operating.

The company owns Bruce Mansfield Plant, in Shippingport, the largest coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania. The plant lost $90 million in 2017 alone, and is projected to lose even more – $104 million — this year, according to the company’s documents, filed in a federal bankruptcy court in Ohio.

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Sunoco to residents near sinkholes: We’ll pay to relocate you during investigation

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline begin an 'additional investigation' of geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines. The company offered to relocate residents of the five homes whose yards are crossed by the pipeline right of way. The work is expected to take 4-6 weeks.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline begin an ‘additional investigation’ of geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines. The company offered to relocate residents of the five homes whose yards are crossed by the pipeline right of way. The work is expected to take 4-6 weeks.

Sunoco is offering to relocate residents at a Chester County site where drilling for the Mariner East pipelines has caused sinkholes to open up in recent weeks.

The company sent at least one letter to homeowners at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township last week, saying that it would pay for their relocation, plus a food allowance for an estimated four to six weeks while it conducted an “additional investigation” of geological conditions behind their houses.

“To alleviate any inconvenience to you, SPLP has offered to relocate you and provide a per diem reimbursement for the food for the duration of the scheduled work,” said a letter dated March 30.

The letter said the company will be looking for “any subsurface anomalies and additional areas that should be investigated further.”

Sunoco spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger confirmed that the company sent the letters to Lisa Drive residents. She did not respond to questions on the reasons for the new investigation.

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