Energy. Environment. Economy.

Constitution Pipeline Accuses NY of ‘Flagrant Misstatements’ in Denying Permit

New proposals for natural gas pipeline projects took center stage in 2015.

Reid Frazier

A pipeline construction site. Builders of the Constitution Pipeline say New York's decision to deny permits was based on politics, not science.

The builders of the proposed Constitution Pipeline hit back at New York State on Monday after state officials denied a water-quality permit, halting construction of the controversial natural gas line from northeastern Pennsylvania into New York State.

The pipeline builders, led by Williams Partners of Oklahoma, said the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation had made “flagrant misstatements” and “inaccurate allegations” in defense of its permit denial, and accused the DEC of acting on the basis of New York State politics rather than environmental science.

Williams said it remains “absolutely committed” to building the 124-mile pipeline, which would carry gas from the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County to markets in New York and New England. Continue Reading

Budget bill gives natural gas projects $12 million boost

Budget bill

AP Photo/Hektor Pustina

The bill provides $12 million in grants to expand access to natural gas.

Natural gas infrastructure projects are getting a $12 million boost in a budget bill Governor Tom Wolf has allowed to become law without his signature. The money shifts from the state’s Alternative Energy Investment Act and will be used as grants to hospitals, businesses, schools and local governments to expand access to natural gas.

The language is part of a broader bill known as the fiscal code–a companion piece of legislation to the state budget, which Wolf also allowed to become law last month. With this latest move, the state’s unprecedented budget impasse is finally over, two months before next year’s budget is due on July 1st.

GOP House spokesman Steve Miskin says legislative leaders have already begun talks with the Wolf administration.

“We obviously plan on an on-time budget,” he says. “Nobody wants to go through last year again– underscore, nobody.”

Wolf announced his intention to let the fiscal code become law in a press release late Friday afternoon.

“I look forward to coming together to reach a long-term solution to fix our deficit and to fund education at all levels,” he said. “I remain adamant that we must take additional steps to restore the cuts from the previous administration.”

Wolf recently vetoed a previous version of the fiscal code with more controversial energy and environmental provisions.

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New York State denies permit to Constitution Pipeline, halting construction

.Megan Holleran stands by a sign on her family's land. The Hollerans lost their court battle to save their maple trees from eminent domain seizure. The trees are being cut to make way for the new Constitution Pipeline.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Megan Holleran stands by a sign on her family's land. The Hollerans lost their court battle to save their maple trees from eminent domain seizure. The trees were cut to make way for the new Constitution Pipeline, which has been blocked by New York.

New York State on Friday denied a crucial water-quality permit to builders of a controversial natural gas pipeline, halting its construction through about 100 miles of that state and another 25 miles of Pennsylvania.

The decision was hailed as a big victory by environmental campaigners, who have argued that the Constitution Pipeline would destroy swathes of open land in order to pump fracked gas from Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale to markets in New York and New England.

“This is a critical turning point for pipeline battles across the nation,” said Maya van Rossum, who heads the Pennsylvania-based environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which opposes the development of thousands of miles of pipeline in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Continue Reading

Gas exec apologizes for suggesting Range Resources avoids rich neighborhoods

Range Resources Executive Terry Bossert.

PA Dept. of State Photo

Range Resources executive Terry Bossert has apologized for suggesting the company avoids putting gas wells near wealthy neighborhoods.

A senior executive at natural gas driller Range Resources has apologized for suggesting the company tries to avoid putting its wells near big houses, where residents may have the financial means to challenge them.

The comment was made by Terry Bossert, Range’s Vice President for Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, at a legal forum in Harrisburg earlier this month. It was first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Let me apologize as my attempt to interject dry sarcasm was clearly a mistake,” Bossert said in a statement released Thursday. ”We always work hard to create the biggest buffer between our operations and all residents.”

Bossert served as chief counsel for the state Department of Environmental Protection from 1995 through 1999. He said it is unfortunate that his “poor choice of words” would call into question his and the company’s commitment to working with people regardless of their economic means.

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State commission OK’s new oil and gas regulations

The new rules will affect both the conventional industry, which has been drilling in Pennsylvania since the 19th century and the newer, deeper wells of the Marcellus Shale industry.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

The new rules will affect both the conventional industry, which has been drilling in Pennsylvania since the 19th century and the newer, deeper wells of the Marcellus Shale industry.

A state commission has signed off on significant changes to rules governing Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry. The approval signals a final step in an often contentious, five-year effort by the Department of Environmental Protection to modernize drilling regulations.

After a seven-hour public meeting Thursday, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted 3-2 to give the green-light. The commission is charged with evaluating regulations for economic impact, public health and safety, reasonableness, impact on small businesses, and clarity.

The state House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committees now have 14 days to review IRRC’s decision.

“I believe the department has addressed this regulation as earnestly and honestly as it claims it has– intending to balance the interests of the affected industries and the public good,” says IRRC commissioner Murray Ufberg. “ [The regulations] have not been modified in so many years, and the industry has undergone dramatic changes which affect our population.”

The regulations, known as Chapter 78 and 78a govern both conventional drillers and the newer, unconventional, Marcellus Shale industry. Changes include updates to the permitting process. Drillers will now have to identify public resources such as schools and playgrounds. They will also have to identify old or abandoned wells that could be impacted by new drilling. If a water supply is tainted, the driller will have to restore or replace it to federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, or the pre-drilling conditions, if they were better. The Marcellus Shale industry would also be barred from storing waste in pits, and using brine for dust suppression or de-icing.

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Pipeline task force was frustrating process, say industry reps

The Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Forty-eight people served on the governor's Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, and the meetings were often interrupted by pipeline opponents.

Two members of Governor Tom Wolf’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force say it was a frustrating experience.

“It was a difficult thing for me personally and professionally,” says Cindy Ivey of the pipeline company, Williams. “I was probably the only task force member called out by name in a very unflattering way. It was a very toxic environment.”

The volunteer panel was convened last year to develop best practices for Pennsylvania’s ongoing pipeline building boom. It was made up of representatives from industry, environmental groups, and government. They focused on things like siting, permitting, environmental protection, safety, and community engagement.

The gatherings in Harrisburg had a circus-like atmosphere at times, with organized anti-fracking protests and emotional pleas from landowners who say the industry has bullied them. At the final meeting in January, seven people were arrested for disorderly conduct.

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Federal appeals court hears arguments over LNG exports

One of seven holding tanks at Dominion's Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

One of seven holding tanks at Dominion's Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal.The former import terminal is getting converted to an export facility.

The battle over Dominion Energy’s Cove Point liquefied natural gas export terminal in Lusby, MD, is now in the hands of a federal appeals court, even as construction on the facility continues. The D.C. circuit court of appeals heard oral arguments from attorneys representing environmentalists, industry and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday over whether or not FERC violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving construction of the export terminal without conducting an environmental impact statement.

FERC granted approval to the $3.8 billion project in 2014, and construction on expanding the idled import terminal into an export terminal began in October, 2014. Cabot Oil and Gas has a contract with a Japanese power company to sell 350,000 MMBtu of Marcellus Shale gas per day for 20 years once the Cove Point plant is completed.

The Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Patuxent Riverkeeper and EarthReports Inc. sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after the commission rejected the environmental groups’ appeal to consider the upstream impacts of exporting LNG, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. Continue Reading

States should put fracking money in trust funds, says new report

A new Brookings report says states with oil and gas drilling booms should be better prepared for the bust.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A new Brookings report says states with oil and gas drilling booms should be better prepared for the bust.

States at the center of the recent oil and gas boom should prepare for the inevitable bust and put drilling revenues into permanent trust funds, says a new report from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings.

The researchers singled out Pennsylvania and argue it should enact a severance tax on gas production. Drillers currently pay a per-well impact fee, which has generated more than $860 million over the past four years. This year the fees are expected to bring in $185.5 million– the lowest amount ever.

“Pennsylvania would be wise to levy a severance tax on its oil and gas industry and deposit a portion of that in a permanent trust fund,” the authors write.

They note taxes from oil and gas development are affected by global energy markets and become a volatile revenue source if they are not in a well-managed fund. They also cite what’s known as the “resource curse,” in which economies based on natural resources grow more slowly than diverse economies.

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Report: drilling didn’t strain water supply in Susquehanna River Basin

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission says the surge in gas drilling has not adversely affected the water supply in the basin.

Scott LaMar/ WITF

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission says the surge in gas drilling has not adversely affected the water supply in the basin.

The surge in gas drilling has not put a major strain on water supply in the Susquehanna River Basin, according to a new report from the regulatory body that oversees water withdrawals.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) is charged with regulating water quantity, not quality. However last year the commission issued a report saying it hadn’t found any correlation between Marcellus Shale development and watershed impairment– although it began the monitoring after the boom took off.

In this new report the SRBC says generally speaking, “the basin’s water resources are sufficient in magnitude to accommodate the water demands of the industry concurrently with other water users.”

The report analyzes the time period between July 2008 and December 2013 and found the industry consumed 9.76 billion gallons of surface water and purchased another 1.97 billion gallons from public drinking water supplies.

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Pa. Attorney General candidates weigh in on fracking

Workers at a hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Workers at a hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County.

Democratic candidate for attorney general Josh Shapiro is taking a hard line on gas drillers in a TV ad that began airing more than a week ago.

“In the last eight years, the fracking industry has spent over $40 million dollars on lobbying in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro says in the ad, referring to a 2014 report by the watchdog group Common Cause Pennsylvania. The report found the industry spent nearly $50 million lobbying state lawmakers and donating to political candidates between 2007 and 2014.

“So it’s no surprise that even though they’ve had over 4,000 violations, all they’ve gotten is just a slap on the wrist,” Shapiro continues.

Under Pennsylvania’s current Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, the office brought criminal charges against XTO Energy in 2013 for a wastewater spill in Lycoming County. Then, in 2014, her office filed a criminal complaint against EQT Corp. on behalf of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission for an impoundment leak in Tioga County. Last year, the office filed suit against Chesapeake Energy, seeking millions of dollars for Pennsylvanians who accused the company of cheating them out of royalties.

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