Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

As gas boom cuts into forests, scientists study how to put it back together

 

In the seven years since Marcellus Shale gas companies began working in Pennsylvania’s state forests, none of the nearly 1,700 affected acres has been fully restored and put back the way it was before drilling began.

Now state foresters and Penn State scientists are trying to plan for the future and help gas companies figure out the best ways to clean up after themselves.

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FracFocus upgrades availability of data on oil & gas operations

Information on fracking at gas wells like this one in southwest Pennsylvania will be more easily available through a new FracFocus project. (AP Photo/David Smith)

AP Photo/David Smith

Information on fracking at gas wells like this one in southwest Pennsylvania will be more easily available through a new FracFocus project. (AP Photo/David Smith)

A national project that collects and disseminates data about hydraulically fracked U.S. oil and gas wells raised its game on Friday by making the information available in aggregate form for anyone to download.

FracFocus, which draws data from most states, including Pennsylvania, that host unconventional oil and gas development, has been gathering information such as the use of water, chemicals and sand, and the depth and location of individual wells, since 2011.

The data have been available to the public but only in the form of pdfs containing data for each well.

The project, which is funded by industry trade groups, has been criticized by researchers as being too cumbersome to be an effective disclosure of the substances used by oil and gas operators. Some of those drillers have been accused of hiding their practices from public view amid persistent claims of air and water contamination. Continue Reading

Pipeline expansion could bring more shale gas to Philly

Spectra Energy wants to expand the capacity of the Philadelphia Lateral, shown here.

Spectra Energy

Spectra Energy wants to expand the capacity of the Philadelphia Lateral, shown here.

Philadelphia may be getting more Marcellus Shale gas if all goes well with plans for an expansion of the Philadelphia Lateral, a section of the Texas Eastern pipeline system. Spectra Energy, the pipeline company that operates Texas Eastern, has plans to enlarge the capacity of the pipeline that connects the transmission line to Philadelphia.

Devin Hotzel, a spokesman for Spectra Energy, says the current pipeline needs to be larger to meet demand for Marcellus gas in Philadelphia.

“The demand has gone beyond what we can deliver through those pipes,” said Hotzel.

Hotzel says Spectra is in the earliest stages of planning the “Greater Philadelphia Expansion Project.” ”Open season” for the project, which allows potential customers to request additional capacity through the pipe, ends today. That information will be used to decide if and how the project moves forward.

“It’s as early as it gets in the project,” said Hotzel.

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Wolf’s pick to head PUC will promote energy-saving policies, green groups say

Gladys Marie Brown is the new Chair of the Public Utility Commission.

Gladys Marie Brown is the new Chair of the Public Utility Commission.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s pick as the new head of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is a sign that the new administration is serious about choosing key officials who can make a difference on energy efficiency and climate change, environmental campaigners said on Thursday.

The Democratic governor named Gladys Brown, a current member of the utilities regulator, as its new chair, replacing Robert Powelson, who remains on the panel as a commissioner.

Brown’s record as an advocate for energy efficiency, especially among low-income populations, indicates that she will steer the panel toward policies such as efficient appliances and renewable fuels to reduce carbon emissions, said Jackson Morris, director of eastern energy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“We are very excited about the announcement, and see it as an indication that Governor Wolf really wants to put his stamp on clean-energy policy,” Morris said. “Gladys Brown will be a great chair of the PUC to push through policies that are supportive of clean energy and energy efficiency.” Continue Reading

Industry warns of negative impacts from Wolf’s gas tax

Gov. Wolf made taxing the natural gas industry a central campaign pledge and a key part of his budget proposal.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Wolf made taxing the natural gas industry a central campaign pledge and a key part of his budget proposal.

Governor Wolf’s proposed severance tax on natural gas drilling will cost Pennsylvania thousands of jobs and billions of dollars, according to a report released Thursday by the American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas trade group.

API projects the governor’s tax will result in 1,364 fewer wells over the next decade, resulting in a cumulative drilling investment loss of $11.5 billion to the state.

“When Pennsylvanians see what this tax could do to a vibrant industry, they’ll have to think twice about it,” says Stephanie Catarino Wissman, head of API’s Pennsylvania division in Harrisburg.

Wolf’s tax proposal is part of his broader budget package. It calls for a five percent tax on the value of the gas, plus 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet. It would also set a minimum value of $2.97 per thousand cubic feet, regardless of its actual sale price.

“He is setting an artificial price,” says Wissman. “What I equate that to, is someone earning $40,000 a year having to pay the same in income taxes as someone earning $100,000 per year.”

Wolf expects his tax to raise $1 billion in the first year and says he wants to spend much of the money to increase funding to public education.

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Environmentalists sue FERC over Cove Point LNG project

Twenty-four protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July, 2014.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Twenty-four protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July, 2014.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court today challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to approve Dominion Energy’s Cove Point LNG export terminal in Lusby, MD. FERC had granted approval to the $3.8 billion project back in September, and construction on expanding the idled import terminal into an export terminal began in October. But environmental groups had sought to halt construction, and force FERC to consider the upstream impacts of an export facility on Marcellus Shale development. FERC rejected those arguments in a decision posted Monday.

The environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in D.C. circuit court on behalf of a number of groups including the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Patuxent Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.

“After months of delay, we will finally get our day in court to challenge the fundamentally flawed approval of Dominion’s climate- and community-wrecking project,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in a release. “Time and again, FERC has shown a blatant disregard for the health and safety of people and the climate and, we believe, the law. Tragically, FERC’s foot-dragging has allowed Dominion bulldozers to start construction before Calvert County residents had legal recourse to challenge the agency’s decision.”

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FERC rejects environmentalists appeal on Cove Point LNG exports

A seagull takes flight from the offshore loading pier out into the Chesapeake Bay.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A seagull takes flight from the offshore loading pier at Cove Point out into the Chesapeake Bay. Construction on the idled terminal in Lusby, MD is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has denied a request by several environmental groups to halt construction on Dominion Energy’s Cove Point LNG export terminal in Lusby, MD and conduct a more thorough environmental review. Environmentalists have been fighting the conversion of the mothballed import terminal into an import/export facility, saying FERC should consider the environmental impact of upstream Marcellus Shale production.

FERC had approved the project in September, after conducting an environmental assessment, which is less stringent than an environmental impact statement. The project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 will ship out more than 5 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas each year. Cove Point is the fourth export terminal approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The agency issued its opinion regarding environmental opposition this week.

Ryan Talbott, an attorney and executive director of the Allegheny Defense Project, says he wasn’t surprised by FERC’s decision.

“One of the problems with FERC’s environmental analysis, and every analysis they do whether it’s for compressor stations or pipelines, is it’s all being done to develop to Marcellus and Utica shales,” said Talbott. “Under federal law they have an obligation to consider the cumulative effects.”
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Fracking activist permanently barred from Cabot gas sites

Fracking activist Vera Scroggins speaks with a reporter outside the courthouse in Montrose after her most recent hearing in April.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Fracking activist Vera Scroggins speaks with a reporter outside the courthouse in Montrose after her most recent hearing in April.

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will be permanently barred from sites operated by Cabot Oil and Gas, according to a recent court order.

Scroggins is already facing a $1,000 fine and possible jail time for getting too close to a Cabot site in January. Since 2013, she has been subject to a temporary injunction, requiring her to stay away from the company’s gas sites. This new court order means the restrictions will be permanent. It requires her to stay off Cabot sites and adhere to 25 to 100 foot buffer zones. She intends to challenge the order.

“They have invaded our county,” Scroggins says of Cabot. “Why should I let them tell me where to park, where to walk, and where to stand?”

Scroggins initially agreed to the restrictions last fall, but she later changed her mind and refused to sign the final document. She objects to the fact that the buffer zones extend out onto public roads and other people’s private property.

Cabot successfully argued her signature on the deal didn’t matter. The judge sided with the company and found that she had authorized her attorneys to agree to it on her behalf.

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Crude-by-rail shipments to eastern refineries hit new high in Feb., EIA says

Oil trains like this one en route through Philadelphia carried their largest monthly total of crude to East Coast refineries in February, the federal government said.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Oil trains like this one en route through Philadelphia carried their largest monthly total of crude to East Coast refineries in February, the federal government said.

Rail shipments of crude oil accounted for more than half of the input to U.S. East Coast refineries in February, their highest level ever, displacing some imports, according to new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As crude oil production rises in the Bakken Shale oil field of North Dakota and eastern Montana, railroads have taken advantage of strong demand from eastern refineries such as Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ plant in South Philadelphia, and Delaware City Refinery which process 160,000 barrels a day and 120,000 barrels a day, respectively.

In February, crude by rail accounted for 52% of the 24.4 million barrels shipped to refineries in the EIA’s “PADD 1” region of the Northeast, despite the fact that they have been operating at below “typical” levels, the agency said on Tuesday. Continue Reading

Shell’s cracker air emissions plan gets hearing

More than 100 people heard Shell managers talk about the proposed ethane cracker in Beaver County Tuesday.

Reid Frazier/ The Allegheny Front

More than 100 people heard Shell managers talk about the proposed ethane cracker in Beaver County Tuesday.

Note: This story is from The Allegheny Front, a public radio program covering environmental issues in Western Pennsylvania. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) heard from the public Tuesday on the impacts Shell’s proposed ethane cracker in Western Pennsylvania would have on air quality and the local economy.

Before a crowd of more than 100 residents, activists, and officials at Central Valley High School in Monaca, agency and company officials took questions from the public on the proposed petrochemical plant.

Residents asked about prevailing winds, potential odors, health impacts, and whether the plant would use union labor. The meeting was part of the public comment period for a DEP air quality permit Shell has applied for. The DEP has given notice it intends to approve the permit.

Jeff Krafve, Shell’s project general manager assured the crowd the facility would be safe. “We’re using the best technology we have in 2015 to have the lowest emissions we possibly can have,” said Krafve. “Stuff happens in our industry. Things break, we can have leaks. We will have the best, most sensitive detection technology to identify those leaks and have procedures to correct them.”

In 2012, Shell announced that it was considering a site at the former Horseheads zinc plant in Potter Township, Beaver County, for an ethane cracker. The plant would use natural gas from the region to make plastics, and would be eligible for up to $1.65 billion in tax credits from the state. The company has taken steps to move the project along, but has not announced a final decision.

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