Pennsylvania

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Parents protest fracking near schools

Nichole Mazurek, of Middlesex Township, at an anti-fracking protest with her three children, Samantha, 8, Ian, 3, and Alyson 6.

Reid Frazier

Nichole Mazurek, of Middlesex Township, at an anti-fracking protest with her three children, Samantha, 8, Ian, 3, and Alyson 6.

More than 50 protesters stood in front of the Mars Area High School in Middlesex Township, Butler County on Wednesday, bearing signs that said “Ban Fracking Now” and “Stop Fracking by Our Schools”.

The protesters targeted a plan that would allow hydraulic fracturing near local schools. Rex Energy has a permit to drill several wells at the Geyer well site, about a half mile from the high school.

Nichole Mazurek, of Middlesex, said she was concerned for the safety of her three children, all of whom would be headed to schools in the district this fall.

“I’m worried about an explosion, and what are they going to do with 3,500 kids? Where are they going to put them? Where are they going to take them?” Mazurek said.

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Environmental groups urge Wolf to block drilling in Loyalsock State Forest

A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Environmental groups are urging Gov. Wolf to block plans to expand drilling there.

Joe Ulrich/WITF

A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Environmental groups are urging Gov. Wolf to block plans to expand drilling there.

Representatives from more than a dozen environmental groups sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf Tuesday, urging him to block efforts to expand gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest.

The Save the Loyalsock Coalition includes the state’s the Sierra Club chapter, PennFuture, and the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters.

“This area is the last unfragmented forest in Lycoming County and deserves the strongest protections,” they wrote.

Although drilling is already occurring in many state forests– including Loyalsock– there are controversial plans to place 26 new wellpads and four compressor stations in a 25,000 acre area popular for recreation, known as the Clarence Moore lands.

Shortly after taking office, Wolf issued a moratorium on all new oil and gas leasing in state parks and forests, but it doesn’t apply to this tract of land.

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Study shows increased hospitalizations in Pennsylvania shale gas region

In this photo made on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, a worker walks on top of a container of chemicals used in the making of a brine water that is then pumped below the surface in a hydraulic fracturing process to release natural gas from shale deposits at a gas well site in Zelienople, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

A worker walks on top of a container of material used in the gas drilling process in Zelienople, Pa.

A study released today in the journal PLOS ONE shows a rise in hospitalization rates that researchers say correspond to an increase in the number of shale gas wells in Northeast Pennsylvania. The report used information from the Department of Environmental Protection along with data from the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council between 2007 to 2011 in Bradford, Susquehanna and Wayne counties. Bradford and Susquehanna counties experienced a drilling boom during that time period, as well as an increase in the number of patients admitted to hospital.

Wayne county remains free of gas wells due to the de-facto moratorium on drilling in the Delaware River Basin. Wayne county’s hospitalization rates actually decreased in keeping with nationwide trends. Wayne county, which has similar demographics as Bradford and Susquehanna counties, served as the control for the study. Prior to 2007, hospitalization rates were trending down in all three counties.

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Senate Republican leader isn’t ruling out gas tax

State Senate GOP leader Jake Corman opposes Gov. Wolf's severance tax plan, but isn't ruling out some kind of new tax on drillers.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Senate GOP leader Jake Corman opposes Gov. Wolf's severance tax plan, but isn't ruling out some kind of new tax on drillers.

Governor Tom Wolf and state lawmakers are still at an impasse over the budget. Now, three weeks into the new fiscal year, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman is signaling he may be open to one of Wolf’s top priorities– a new tax on gas drillers.

Corman (R- Centre) tells the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he won’t rule out a new severance tax, but he also won’t support the plan Wolf is advocating for.

“If we can put together a package that benefits the industry, we might be willing to consider it,” Corman told the newspaper. But with gas prices so low he says, “we cannot take action that would damage this valuable vehicle for economic development and job creation. At the same time, if we could tailor a tax that may also have provisions that would allow the industry to continue to develop and maintain job growth, then it might be something we consider.”

Republican leaders met with Wolf on Monday, but emerged no closer to a budget deal. Wolf’s severance tax proposal calls for a five percent tax on the value of the gas, plus 4.7 cents for every thousand cubic feet. It would also set a minimum value of $2.97 per thousand cubic feet, regardless of the actual sale price. The governor wants use the money to boost funding to public education.

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Philadelphia’s top emergency planner won’t disclose oil-train plans

Protesters say crude-by-rail tank cars are unsafe and should be banned.

Jon Hurdle

Protesters say crude-by-rail tank cars are unsafe and should be banned.

The City of Philadelphia’s top emergency-management official said on Monday she will not disclose the city’s tactical plans for dealing with any oil-train derailment or explosion despite fresh calls from environmentalists for the city to be more open about how it would handle such an emergency.

Office of Emergency Management director Samantha Phillips said the City does not publicly state plans such as where residents would be evacuated to in the event of an oil-train incident because it’s a public-safety issue that should not be open to comment from activist groups.

She said members of the public need to make their own individual plans for responding to an emergency. She argued that people would not be helped by knowing, for example, what kind of equipment or protective clothing would be used by first responders in such an incident.

“Understanding how the City would respond does not change the actions the public should take,” she said.

Phillips also argued that disclosure of the city’s emergency plans would risk being exploited by terrorists. “We live in a really volatile time when it comes to people wanting to do bad things,” she said. “That information could be used to influence an ill-intentioned actor. We don’t think we should provide that.”

Her comments follow renewed calls by critics of Philadelphia’s many oil trains for the City to disclose its plans for an oil-train disaster. At a rally on Saturday, activists said the tank cars currently in use are unsafe and risk causing a disaster like the one which killed 47 people in Lac Megantic, Quebec in 2013.

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Project would bring 400,000 tons of drilling waste to Pa.’s ‘Grand Canyon’

The Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Plans call for 400,000 tons of natural gas drilling waste to be placed on a steep embankment near a tributary to the Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County. The gorge is often called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.

As Marcellus Shale gas drilling has proliferated, so has the amount of waste it generates. Last year in Pennsylvania, over two million tons of drill cuttings were sent to landfills.

Cuttings are the waste dirt and rock that comes up from drilling wells. The material contains naturally occurring radiation, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals.

Over the past three years, a Montgomery County waste disposal company has found a novel way to avoid landfills, by processing and recycling drill cuttings. But critics argue it’s simply a way to avoid regulations.

Now plans to put the gas waste next to one of the state’s most pristine waterways have sparked a backlash.

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ACLU calls on Butler County plaintiffs to drop suit over zoning change

Civil-liberties campaigners say a lawsuit against opponents of gas rigs like this one in southwest Pennsylvania is a violation of free-speech rights.

AP Photo/David Smith

Civil-liberties campaigners say a lawsuit against opponents of gas rigs like this one in southwest Pennsylvania is a violation of free-speech rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is urging a group of gas-leaseholders and a real estate developer to drop a lawsuit against opponents of a zoning change that sharply increases the amount of a township’s land that can be used for gas drilling.

The ACLU said on Tuesday it has written to Dewey Homes & Investment Properties and 12 residents of Butler County, western Pennsylvania, saying it will ask a court to impose  sanctions against them if they do not drop the suit — which alleges that leaseholders have been deprived of income because local opposition to the zoning change has delayed construction of a well pad.

The civil-liberties organization argues that the suit, filed in May, is an attempt to stifle public debate and is therefore a violation of free-speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.  Continue Reading

Fracktivist gets uninvited from Wolf’s new pipeline panel

Scott Cannon was pretty surprised last week when he got a letter inviting him to be part of Governor Tom Wolf’s new gas pipeline task force.

He was even more surprised a few days later when his appointment was rescinded.

“I think somebody got a look at the list and said, ‘You can’t have that guy.’” says the self-described anti-fracking activist. “I have no idea who it would be.”

Cannon, a filmmaker who recently produced a documentary called The Ethics of Fracking, applied to be on the task force as a representative of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition–an advocacy group from northeastern Pennsylvania which seeks to expose the negative impacts of the industry. The group recently settled a lawsuit against the state after it was erroneously labeled a terrorist organization.

The Wolf administration is convening the task force to bring planning and best practices to a pipeline building boom that includes an estimated 4,600 new miles of interstate pipes over the next three years. In a letter dated June 30th, DEP Secretary John Quigley welcomed Cannon to be part of the task force’s Environmental Protection work group.

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Wolf Administration announces members of new pipeline task force

Workers build the Laser pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Kim Paynter / Newsworks/WHYY

Workers build the Laser pipeline in Susquehanna County, 2012.

Governor Wolf has announced members of the state’s new Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, which will be led by DEP Secretary John Quigley. The 48-member body was chosen from an applicant pool of about 200 people. An additional 101 people will serve on working groups that will help inform the task force, according to a press release issued today.

Although states have little authority when it comes to major interstate pipeline construction projects, the Wolf administration says it wants to bring all stakeholders together in an attempt to institute planning and best practices to a pipeline building boom that includes an estimated 4,600 new miles of interstate pipes over the next three years, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s in addition to thousands of miles of gathering lines, which carry gas from the well heads to the interstate lines. Much of those smaller lines are unregulated.

Strong opposition to new pipelines have sprung up across the state and have ranged from local attempts to ban pipelines, lawsuits and direct action. DEP Secretary John Quigley told StateImpact in March that the state is not interested in any new regulatory action and says participation in any new proposals would most likely be voluntary.

“We’re not under any illusion to reduce [pipeline construction] impact to zero,” Quigley told StateImpact. “There’s going to be impact but are there opportunities to plan smarter? Share rights of way for example? Can companies work together to optimize development? I don’t know the answers to those questions but I think they’re worth asking.” Continue Reading

PennFuture names new President and CEO

Larry Schweiger spent ten years at the helm of the National Wildlife Federation before being named head of PennFuture.

Courtesy: PennFuture

Larry Schweiger spent ten years at the helm of the National Wildlife Federation before being named head of PennFuture.

One of Pennsylvania’s largest and most active environmental advocacy organizations has named a new president and CEO.

PennFuture has announced the hiring of Larry Schweiger. He previously spent 10 years as head of the National Wildlife Federation. He replaces Cindy Dunn, who left earlier this year to join the Wolf administration as secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“We’re thrilled that Larry is willing and eager to lead PennFuture at this critical juncture for energy and the environment in Pennsylvania,” said David Lane, chair of PennFuture’s board of directors in a statement. “His depth and breadth of experience on these issues is unparalleled and he retains a passion and commitment for the work we do that is second to none.”

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