Energy. Environment. Economy.

New gas well regulations slipped into budget bill

Natural gas wells in Springville Township, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Natural gas wells in Springville Township, Pa.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports state Republican leaders have inserted controversial last-minute language to one of the budget bills that would change how Pennsylvania’s natural gas wells are regulated.

The bill requires state regulators to distinguish between two types of oil and gas wells– conventional, shallow wells, and deeper modern unconventional shale wells.

From the Inquirer:

Environmental groups say inserting the language into the fiscal code is tantamount to circumventing the legislative process, including debate on the floor.

They also say they object to the fact that the proposed language does not make it clear what the new regulations would be for traditional shallow wells.

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Federal court dismisses doctor’s lawsuit over Act 13 “gag rule”

Capitolwire reports a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from a Luzerne County doctor over an aspect of Pennsylvania’s drilling law (Act 13) that deals with health professionals’ access to information about the chemicals used in fracking.

More from Capitolwire:

Federal District Judge Richard Caputo found Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez lacked standing to sue the Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Commission because he failed to meet certain criteria to show he suffered an “injury in fact” that “must be concrete in both a qualitative and temporal sense.”

Rodriguez, a Luzerne County physician, claimed the law violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights. A nephrologist who specializes in the treatment of renal diseases, hypertension, and advanced diabetes, Rodriguez said he was unable to obtain critical information about the quality of local water needed on a daily basis for his practice from gas drillers as a direct cause of the “medical gag rules” contained in Act 13, according to the court order.

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New York’s highest court allows towns to ban fracking

A fracking site in Harford Township, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A fracking site in Harford Township, Pa.

New York State’s highest court ruled today that towns are allowed to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders.

From the New York Times:

The two towns at the center of the case – Dryden, in rural Tompkins County, and Middlefield, in Otsego County – amended their zoning laws in recent years to ban fracking, on the basis that it would threaten the health, the environment and, in Middlefield’s case, the “rural character” of the community.

Subsequently, an energy company that had acquired oil and gas leases in Dryden and a dairy farm in Middlefield that had leased land to a gas drilling company filed legal complaints, arguing that the town ordinances were pre-empted by state oil and gas law.

On Monday, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed a lower-court ruling rejecting that argument, and found that the towns did indeed have the authority to ban fracking through land use regulations.

The seven-judge panel was split 5 to 2 on the case. The majority, in its decision, made clear that it was not ruling on the benefits or risks of fracking, simply on a question of the division of power between state and local governments.

Shale gas development has been on hold in New York since 2008 when the state began an ongoing environmental review process.

Earlier this year the head of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation told reporters he believes it’s “extremely unlikely” his agency would issue permits before 2015. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has remained largely silent on the issue, saying he will allow science to decide the matter.

Over the years, the state has missed a series of self-imposed deadlines to finalize its environmental review.

Legislators seeking an extra $20 million from forest leasing

A gas well pad in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A gas well pad in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

State legislators are looking to expand gas leasing of public parks and forests to raise more revenue in an effort close this year’s budget gap.

Lawmakers are set to vote on a $29.1 billion spending plan today that anticipates $95 million in revenue from leasing more public land to drillers– that’s $20 million more than Governor Corbett proposed in his executive budget.

Corbett was seeking to lease about 25,000 acres. Under the latest version of the budget, the total may exceed 31,000 acres.

In May Corbett issued an executive order which bars companies from creating new surface disturbances. It instead allows drillers to extract gas horizontally from wells located on adjacent private land or in areas of state forests where leases already exist.

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EPA withholding release of report on earthquakes linked to disposal wells

The Environmental Protection Agency is holding back the release of a report on earthquakes related to drilling and related operations, EnergyWire reports. 

A team of EPA officials has been looking into concerns that deep injection wells – where wastewater from oil and gas drilling is disposed underground – have caused a spate of earthquakes in Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Colorado.

EnergyWire reports the team sent a final draft to EPA headquarters in January, but has not officially released it to the public five months later.

More from EnergyWire:

[The] report did not recommend that all disposal wells be tested for seismic dangers. Because of that, one member of the working group that drafted the report voted against it.

“The authors and I are not comfortable in having the work product recommend seismic monitoring for every Class IID well across the country, as there are just too many variables that exist,” wrote the chairman of the group, Kurt Hildebrandt, with EPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program in EPA Kansas City-based Region 7.

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Pa. DEP reviewing thousands of comments on overhaul of drilling regulations

The DEP is wading through thousands of public comments on a proposed overhaul of Pennsylvania's regulations for oil and gas drilling.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

The DEP is wading through thousands of public comments on a proposed overhaul of Pennsylvania's regulations for oil and gas drilling.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators are wading through more than 25,000 public comments on a proposed overhaul of the state’s oil and gas regulations.

The Department of Environmental Protection says those comments could represent as many as 5,000 different suggestions for changes from the industry, environmental groups, and Pennsylvania citizens. The regulations would update Chapter 78 of the state code and change how the industry operates above ground. 

Members of the DEP’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Commission heard an overview of the responses at a meeting Thursday in Harrisburg.

“The range of comments we got on these issues, I’ve never seen anything like it in my 21 years in the department working on any regulation,” said Kurt Klapkowski, DEP’s director of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management.

Klapkowski noted “there is no formula” for how the agency will incorporate these comments into the next draft of the rules.

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New legislation would require monthly reports on Pa. shale gas production

A bill introduced in May by Rep. Tina Pickett (R) would require drillers in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale to report how much gas they’re producing on a monthly basis.

Since 2010, Pennsylvania has required production reports to the Department of Environmental Protection twice a year. Landowners who want to verify what they’re getting from gas production on their leases have said that may not be enough, particularly as the state investigates allegations of underpaid royalties.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports monthly reporting could not only help landowners audit their royalty payments, but could also give analysts a better idea of how much gas is being produced in Pennsylvania on a regular basis.

More from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

A key factor for analysts trying to measure and forecast the size of any natural gas resource is the rate that wells decline in terms of the volume of gas they produce. The metric can reveal how quickly wells peter out and how much gas they can be expected to produce in their lifetime.

In a February report on the Marcellus Shale’s “astounding” growth, the investment research firm Morningstar noted that energy forecasters and other “in-the-know” groups had consistently underestimated the shale’s performance.

Morningstar analyst Mark Hanson said the slow pace of data releases from the states likely contributed to those errors.

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Shell’s proposed ethane cracker could be a big emitter

Shell construction manager Ken Conly talks about the ethane cracker project at a public meeting.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Shell construction manager Ken Conly talks about the ethane cracker project at a public meeting.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports Shell’s proposed ethane cracker in western Pennsylvania could be a significant new source of air pollution.

The company has not yet committed to building the multi-billion dollar petrochemical plant, but has applied to the Department of Environmental Protection for an air quality permit for the site in Monaca, Beaver County.

More from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Potential emissions of carbon monoxide, fine particulates and carbon dioxide would put the multibillion-dollar ethane cracker among the top 10 in those categories, though observers note the plant’s emissions could be lower than the estimates.

If Shell decides to build the complex in Center and Potter, it must meet heightened regulatory requirements and buy pollution credits from companies that closed plants or reduced air emissions. Those credits would offset emissions from the plant.

Nevertheless, Shell said it would use the latest technology and newest equipment to reduce pollution and its overall impact. That includes burning natural gas to produce its own electricity and steam.

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Royalties bill on the back burner until fall

A controversial bill aimed a limiting gas companies from withholding royalty money from landowners will be set aside until the fall legislative session.

House Bill 1684 would limit the practice of charging landowners for post-production costs– the expenses associated with processing and transporting natural gas.

Rep. Garth Everett (R- Lycoming) is the prime sponsor of the bill. He says House leadership told him the measure is on the back burner.

“They just said it’s not going to be a top priority for them right now, and I understand that. We have got the budget to do.”

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DEP fines Carrizo $190K for Wyoming County spills

Houston-based Carrizo Oil and Gas has agreed to pay a fine of $192,044 for two spill incidents in Wyoming County last spring.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Houston-based Carrizo Oil and Gas has agreed to pay a fine of $192,044 for two spill incidents in Wyoming County last spring.

Houston-based Carrizo Oil and Gas has agreed to pay a fine of $192,044 for two spill incidents in Wyoming County last spring, the state Department of Environmental Protection said.

In March 2013, three families were evacuated from their homes in Washington Township after a well began spewing fluid during a hydraulic fracturing operation. More than 200,000 gallons flowed out of the well before it was successfully capped the following day.

The following month, the company reported spilling about 9,240 gallons of fluid on another well pad in Washington Township when a hose moving the liquid from a truck to a tank slipped out.

The fluid – a mixture of produced water that flows back up to the surface after fracking, as well as clay and fresh water – seeped through the foundation of a nearby home and traveled into a pasture for livestock, the DEP said.

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