Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Invoking power of eminent domain, gas industry runs roughshod over private property

Elise Gerhart stands with a protest sign by an area of tree-clearing on her parents land.

courtesy of Elise Gerhart

Elise Gerhart stands with a protest sign after Sunoco crews cleared her family land of trees. Gerhart sat in a white pine tree while the tree-clearing happened around her. A continuing court case could not stop the tree cutting.

Pipelines criss-cross the countryside and lie scattered beneath the urban landscape. They bring us water, natural gas, gasoline. What if someone came knocking on your door wanting to put one through your front yard? That’s exactly what is happening across Pennsylvania right now, as pipeline companies use eminent domain to secure land from uncooperative landowners.

Our story begins with 29-year-old Elise Gerhart, sitting up in a white pine tree, on a platform she built about 40 feet high on her parents land in Huntingdon County. Chain saws roared around her.

“This is my home, you know, I grew up here,” Gerhart shouts down from her perch. My parents owned this place five years before I was born.”

Down below police officers were guarding work crews and arresting her mother on her own land.

This is eminent domain in action. The idea that the government can take land for the public good. That’s why we, the public, get to enjoy national parks, and drive on highways. One of the earliest enforcement of eminent domain by the federal government was used to expand the Gettysburg National Military Park. Continue Reading

Lawmakers funnel $150K to industry group for Marcellus research (again)

drill rig

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

State lawmakers have repeatedly used a budget bill to funnel money to an industry-backed nonprofit for "independent research" on Marcellus Shale issues.

For the third time in as many years, $150,000 has been slipped into the state budget for “independent research” on Marcellus Shale issues. It’s intended for an industry-backed nonprofit called the Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA).

As StateImpact Pennsylvania previously reported, SAFER PA received a $150,000 earmark two years ago to do Marcellus research for the state Department of Environmental Protection. This time the money is being funneled through the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

In each instance, the sum was buried in the fiscal code, a companion piece of legislation to the budget. The Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think-tank, recently flagged it as part of long list of earmarks.

“The fiscal code contains millions in earmarks described in language vague enough to stump any detective,” says James Paul, a senior policy analyst at the foundation. “When it comes to the use of public dollars, Pennsylvanians deserve more than a big question mark.”

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Atlantic Sunrise pipeline gets a green light from FERC and a lawsuit from enviros

A worker shields his face against temperatures in the teens as he guides a section of pipe while working on a shale gas pipe line Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Zelienople, Pa. The completed pipeline is to connect area gas wells to a local compressor station

Keith Srakocic / AP

A worker shields his face against temperatures in the teens as he guides a section of pipe while working on a shale gas pipe line Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Zelienople, Pa. The completed pipeline is to connect area gas wells to a local compressor station

The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project won preliminary approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday, paving the way for the $3 billion expansion of the Transco system to move forward as environmentalists simultaneously filed a federal lawsuit objecting to the pipeline. FERC released its draft environmental impact statement in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, concluding the environmental impact would not be significant. From the EIS:

The FERC staff concludes that approval of the project would result in some adverse environmental impacts; however, most of these impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of Transco’s proposed mitigation and the additional measures recommended in the draft EIS.

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Wolf’s energy advisor moves to the Public Utility Commission

David Sweet will serve as the newest member of the state's Public Utility Commission. He resigned his position as energy advisor to Governor Wolf this week.

via Sweet's LinkedIn profile

David Sweet will serve as the newest member of the state's Public Utility Commission. He resigned his position as energy advisor to Governor Wolf this week.

Governor Wolf’s energy advisor has a new job. David Sweet, appointed by Wolf to help foster energy related manufacturing in the state will be the newest member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. It’s unclear whether Wolf plans to replace Sweet with a new energy advisor.

Sweet did not have a high public profile in Wolf’s administration. He served on the governor’s pipeline task force and says he had a variety of assignments based on the priorities of the Governor and his chief of staff John Hanger, who has since resigned.

“I got involved when there were interdepartmental issues,” said Sweet. “Often, in that realm, they’d be transportation issues, land use, and economic incentives.” Sweet says he was heavily involved in projects at the Port of Philadelphia. He wouldn’t give details but says there “will be a number of announcements over the next few months.”

Philadelphia business leaders have been pushing to establish the city as an “energy hub,” a place where Marcellus Shale gas could be used in building a manufacturing base and reviving port traffic.

Sweet says he was also involved in helping Drexel University and Philadelphia University, through a partnership with MIT, win a multi-billion dollar grant from the Department of Defense for advanced research in textiles.

When he was appointed by Wolf last year, Sweet told StateImpact that the governor did not choose him for his energy expertise, but rather, his political savvy. Continue Reading

PA expands particulate monitoring as federal study finds high level in one location

Pennsylvania will step up its monitoring of particulates in air near natural gas compressor stations like this one operated by Seneca Resouces

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Pennsylvania will step up its monitoring of particulates in air near natural gas compressor stations like this one operated by Seneca Resouces

Pennsylvania is stepping up its monitoring of air contamination by fine particulates at sites near natural gas compressor stations. The move comes on the heels of a federal government study of one site in Susquehanna County, which found levels of the particulate matter known as PM2.5 that researchers say could be harmful for people who are exposed in the long-term.

On April 27, the Department of Environmental Protection announced plans to expand air-quality monitoring in 10 northern and western counties, in addition to 27 existing locations around the state. The new locations will be operational by the fall of 2017, the DEP said.

The expansion, estimated to cost $1.56 million over five years, includes continuous monitors in Holbrook Township in Greene County and Towanda Township in Bradford County that became operational in March, the department said. Continue Reading

Alliance of moms, religious groups criticize efforts to block new oil and gas rules

Pennsylvania Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware County, speaks at Our Lady of Angels Convent in Aston, calling for tighter air pollution restrictions on oil and gas operations.

Emma Lee / Newsworks

Pennsylvania Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware County, speaks at Our Lady of Angels Convent in Aston, calling for tighter air pollution restrictions on oil and gas operations.

It might seem like an unusual alliance, but leaders on both sides of the abortion debate are teaming up behind a common cause: more regulations on oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

“Pro-life is not a matter of just worrying about an unborn child, or about ending pregnancy, it’s about caring for life from the moment of conception until natural death,” said the Rev. Mitch Hescox with the Evangelical Environmental Network.

Hescox, who’s based in York County and is launching a Pro-Life Clean Energy Campaign in the state, joined several Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, members of Moms Clean Air Force and state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky at Our Lady of Angels Convent in Aston to outline their objectives. Read more at Newsworks.org

PA Pipeline explosion: Evidence of corrosion found

A flame flickers near a protrusion of pipes at the area where a natural gas explosion at a pipeline complex burned one person and damaged houses on Friday, April 29, 2016, in Salem Township, Pa. The explosion caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural area, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, and prompted authorities to evacuate businesses nearby.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

A flame flickers near a protrusion of pipes at the area where a natural gas explosion at a pipeline complex burned one person and damaged houses on Friday, April 29, 2016, in Salem Township, Pa. The explosion caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural area, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, and prompted authorities to evacuate businesses nearby.

A 15-mile long section of Spectra Energy’s Texas Eastern Transmission line, which exploded last week in Salem Township, Westmoreland County, will remain shut down until the company takes a number of corrective actions. Federal regulators issued a corrective action order to the company on Wednesday. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, says the cause of the explosion is unknown and an investigation is continuing.

But the order also says the preliminary investigation shows evidence of corrosion on the pipeline, which “indicates a possible flaw in the coating material” used in weld joints at the time of construction in 1981. A statement by Spectra Energy says the pipe will be examined by an independent metallurgist.

“The preliminary investigation has identified evidence of corrosion along two of the circumferential welds: one at the point of failure and another excavated after PHMSA’s response to the Failure Site. The pattern of corrosion indicates a possible flaw in the coating material applied to girth weld joints following construction welding procedures in the field at that time.”

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NJ landowners sue to stop PennEast pipeline surveyors

Vincent DiBianca, a resident of Delaware Township contends that the PennEast pipeline is unnecessary

Emma Lee / WHYY

Vincent DiBianca, a resident of Delaware Township and member of HALT PennEast, says the pipeline is unnecessary.

Seven New Jersey landowners, along with two environmental groups, filed suit against the PennEast pipeline company on Tuesday for trespass. HALT PennEast, which stands for “homeowners against land taking,” along with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the seven residents filed suit in New Jersey Superior Court. The action marks a new tactic in the ongoing battle against new pipelines built to carry Marcellus Shale.

The landowners’ attorney Steven Richardson says state law requires that surveyors have property owner’s permission before accessing their land.
“The evidence provided to the court demonstrates a pattern and practice of a multi-year campaign of trespassing and nuisance that violates New Jersey law,” Richardson said. “We believe the action is governed solely by New Jersey Law and we believe the law is clear that you’re not permitted to enter someone’s land without consent.” Continue Reading

House panel votes to block drilling regulations

drill rig

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

For the second time in less than a month, a House committee has voted to block tougher regulations aimed at Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry. It’s the latest move in the ongoing battle over the rules between the Republican-led legislature and Governor Tom Wolf’s Democratic administration.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has been working to modernize the regulations for five years. Last month, a state commission gave its approval. On Tuesday the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee voted to disapprove of the regulations.

Rep. John Maher (R- Allegheny) chairs the committee, and says he has had trouble getting the Wolf administration to listen to his concerns, which include everything from correcting typos in the text of the regulations to questions about the legality of DEP’s procedure.

“Secretary Quigley seems as unprepared to entertain any constructive conversations as he has been since the day he was appointed,” says Maher.

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Pipeline blast victim upgraded from ‘critical’ to ‘fair’ condition

First responders work the scene during a natural gas explosion in Westmoreland County. The explosion, which burned 26-year-old James Baker, caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Kerry Jobe via AP

First responders work the scene during a natural gas explosion in Westmoreland County Friday morning. The explosion, which burned 26-year-old James Baker, caused flames to shoot above nearby treetops in the largely rural Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh.

A 26-year-old man who was badly burned in a natural gas pipeline explosion last week has been upgraded from critical to fair condition at UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

James Baker was in his Westmoreland County home when a 30-inch interstate natural gas pipeline exploded around 8:30am Friday. His house was destroyed by the blast and about a dozen other homes in the area were evacuated. A GoFundMe page set up for Baker and his wife had already received close to $4,000 by Monday morning.

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