Pennsylvania

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As drought persists, DRBC steps up efforts to repel salt front in Delaware River

A view of the Delaware River at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County.

Kimberly Paynter/WHY

A view of the Delaware River at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County.

A months-long drought in the Delaware River Basin has prompted officials to declare a drought watch, giving them more power to conserve water in reservoirs in an effort to keep salty water from the Delaware Bay away from drinking water intakes in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

In the current dry conditions, the Delaware River Basin Commission has been releasing water from two Pennsylvania reservoirs in an effort to boost sluggish river flows and keep downstream pressure on the so-called salt front which has been creeping up the river in recent weeks despite the water releases.

Under the new drought watch, announced last week, the DRBC will reduce its target for the rate of flow in the river, as measured at Trenton, allowing it to reserve more water that can be used to repel the salt front if the drought persists. Continue Reading

Do Trump’s climate comments signal U.S. will remain in Paris accord?

President-elect Donald Trump walks past a crowd as he leaves the New York Times building following a meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in New York.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

President-elect Donald Trump walks past a crowd as he leaves the New York Times building following a meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in New York.

Comments by President-elect Donald Trump suggesting that he might not pull out of the Paris climate accord after all fueled some hopes that the latest global effort to curb climate change could retain crucially important U.S. participation.

In an interview with The New York Times Tuesday, Trump refused to repeat his campaign promise to pull the United States out of last year’s historic Paris agreement to curb carbon emissions, saying that he is “looking at it very closely” and has “an open mind to it.” He was also quoted as saying that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

The comments, to the newspaper’s editors and reporters, seemed to indicate that the president-elect is reconsidering his previous positions, and offered some hope to climate activists who fear that the efforts by some 190 countries to limit a rise in global temperatures would be gravely hurt by the absence of the United States, the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter.

But some observers dismissed the idea that Trump – who has called climate change a hoax – is backing away from his campaign statements on climate, saying that the president-elect has a record of telling people what he thinks they want to hear.

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Coal may outpace natural gas in electric power generation this winter

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

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

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

Coal is projected to surpass natural gas as the dominant fuel source in electric power generation this winter, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Until the mid-2000’s about half the electricity in the country was produced by burning coal, and 20 percent or less came from gas. But the recent boom in shale gas production caused gas to close in on “king coal’s” lead. The mix of fuels in power generation fluctuates, but these days, gas and coal each supply roughly a third of U.S. power, with gas surpassing coal for the first time in April 2015.

During the first half of this year, natural gas supplied the fuel for 36 percent of U.S. electricity generation, while coal was 31 percent.

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Oil and gas jobs down sharply in Pennsylvania

A man fills up a pickup truck that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG) at a gas station in Towanda, Bradford County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A man fills up a pickup truck that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG) at a gas station in Towanda, Bradford County.

Jobs in Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry dropped sharply in the first quarter of 2016, compared to the same time period last year, according to new data from the state Department of Labor and Industry.

Overall, the industry shed about a third of its workforce, dropping to 20,524 jobs in 2016 compared to 30,313 the previous year. Those figures are not seasonally adjusted and reflect employment in six core areas of oil and gas operations:

  • Crude petroleum and natural gas extraction
  • Natural gas liquid extraction
  • Drilling oil and gas wells
  • Support activities for oil and gas operations
  • Oil and gas pipeline and related structures
  • Pipeline transportation of natural gas

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, the Marcellus Shale industry has been going through a particularly rough patch recently amid low commodity prices.

“If there is a turnaround in the price levels, or a change in demand for natural gas, it is possible these trends could reverse,” says James Martini an economist with the state Department of Labor.

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New methane rules coming for Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry

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Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Pennsylvania regulators are soon planning to introduce new regulations to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, despite expectations President-Elect Donald Trump may seek to roll back new federal rules.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is expected to unveil new general permit requirements for Marcellus Shale well pads at a meeting of its Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee on December 8th. A broader regulatory package, designed to curb methane leaks from existing sources, is expected in early 2017.

“A lot of these issues now revert to the states to take action,” says Matthew Stepp, policy director for the environmental advocacy group, PennFuture. “The environmental community is rightly concerned at the federal government reversing course.”

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Pennsylvania academics find inspiration at climate conference

Diane Husic (C), with Franco Montalto (second from right) sit with a group of students and professors from Pennsylvania universities under a tent at the climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Nov. 17, 2016.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Moravian College dean Diane Husic (C), with Drexel University professor Franco Montalto (third from right) sit with a group of students and professors from Pennsylvania universities under a tent at the climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Nov. 17, 2016. Although all were disappointed by the election of Donald Trump, they say the conference has inspired them to work even harder on climate change issues.

The climate change conference in Morrocco ended over the weekend with an urgent message to president-elect Donald Trump – join the battle against global warming or risk contributing to catastrophe and moral failure. About 25,000 people attended the gathering aimed at keeping the earth from over-heating, and staving off the impacts like rising seas, droughts and increasingly destructive storms.

When Moravian College professor Diane Husic woke up the morning after election day in Marrakech, she headed to the United Nations climate change conference with a cloud over her head.

“We came in and it didn’t matter what country you were from,” said Husic, “this place was just in a fog. And everyone was coming up to us and saying, ‘did you vote for Donald Trump and what is that going to mean for us?’ I think most of us on Wednesday were in shock and didn’t know what to say.”

Husic is a veteran of these climate change conferences, she’s been bringing students here since 2009.

But she never expected that a man who called climate change a “Chinese hoax” and vowed to pull the U.S. out of the landmark climate agreement etched out in Paris last year, would be leading the country. Continue Reading

U.S. cities and states poised to take on new role in climate diplomacy

Participants at the COP22 climate conference stage a public show of support for climate negotiations and Paris agreement, on the last day of the conference, in Marrakech, Morocco, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.

David Keyton / AP Photo

Participants at the COP22 climate conference stage a public show of support for climate negotiations and Paris agreement, on the last day of the conference, in Marrakech, Morocco, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.

A gathering of about 200 nations working to combat climate change wrapped up on Friday in Morocco with a call to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to join the fight against global warming. Trump’s election shocked delegates and activists assembled in Marrakech for two weeks of talks. Trump has said he would pull the U.S. out of the international climate treaty negotiated in Paris last year.

The election raises questions about the staying power of the Paris Agreement, hammered out at last year’s conference. After decades of failure, the climate accord negotiated last year and ratified earlier this month, was seen as an historic achievement. Finally, the nations of the world had come together to help lessen the growing impacts of climate change – melting glaciers, rising seas, drought, and devastating storms.

With the role of the federal government in doubt, some see American cities and states serving as a place-holder for U.S. participation.

Marrakech was billed as the climate conference of action. But the election of Donald Trump turned the rock-star U-S climate delegation into lame ducks.

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New fracking reports clash over effects on health, environment, climate change

A new compilation of reports and studies on fracking says there's growing evidence of a link between ill-health and gas wells like these in Lycoming County.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

A new compilation of reports and studies on fracking says there's growing evidence of a link between ill-health and gas wells like these in Lycoming County.

A long-running fight over whether unconventional oil and natural gas development harms air, water and human health entered its latest round with the simultaneous release of reports from both camps claiming accumulating evidence for their arguments.

Two groups of physicians on Thursday released their latest compilation of scientific studies, government and industry reports, and journalistic investigations that claim fracking for oil and natural gas damages human health, pollutes air and water, and contributes to climate change.

At the same time, the American Petroleum Institute issued its own summary of scientific studies, state and federal regulations, and peer-reviewed reports to defend last year’s finding by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that after a six-year investigation it had found no widespread, systemic impact from fracking on drinking water.

The API said it wanted to present a range of evidence for its case ahead of the expected finalization of the EPA report before the end of 2016, while the medical groups presented the fourth edition of their digest of hundreds of studies, saying that most show fracking causes actual or potential harm to human health and the environment.

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Natural gas and renewables will be ‘big winners’, says IEA chief

Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, speaking in Philadelphia Thursday.

Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, speaking in Philadelphia Thursday.

The head of the International Energy Agency said Thursday that Pennsylvania will be among the states that will continue to benefit from strong global demand for natural gas. He also said renewable fuels will see big increases in coming years as countries try to cut their carbon emissions to hit the goals of the Paris agreement.

Fatih Birol said natural gas from major reserves like the Marcellus Shale will meet an increasing share of world energy demand regardless of the policy decisions taken by world governments. The rosy outlook is driven by the low gas price that is undercutting coal, and the environmental risks associated with coal.

“Given the economics natural gas can provide for the energy system, whatever policy we have, natural gas always comes out one of the big winners,” Birol said in an interview with StateImpact during a visit to the University of Pennsylvania.

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State lawmakers discuss ways to improve pipeline safety

Representatives from the oil and gas industry answer questions about pipeline safety at a hearing in the state Capitol Wednesday.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Representatives from the oil and gas industry answer questions about pipeline safety at a hearing in the state Capitol Wednesday. From left to right: Joe McGinn of Sunoco Logistics, Pam Witmer of UGI Energy Services, and Stephanie Catarino Wissman of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania.

State lawmakers, regulators, oil and gas industry representatives, and concerned citizens discussed ways to improve pipeline safety at a joint committee hearing Wednesday, following a building boom of new projects and several recent incidents in Pennsylvania including one work accident that killed a man and a pipeline explosion that left another man severely burned.

“When everything’s going good, we all forget about it, but infrastructure is something we have to look at constantly,” said Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R- Allegheny), who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committee.

Stephanie Catarino Wissman, head of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, says the industry is constantly seeking to improve its safety record.

“When it comes to emergency and spill response, the industry’s first line of defense is preventing a spill in the first place,” she told the committees. “We are proactively funding research, including ‘smart pigs’ used to identify defects such as corrosion, dents, or cracks.”

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