Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Group Challenging Drilling Law in Pittsburgh Suburb 

A natural gas well behind a house in southwestern Pennsylvania.

courtesy of FracTracker Alliance

A natural gas well behind a house in southwestern Pennsylvania.

A group of residents in Westmoreland County hopes a judge will halt expansion of gas drilling in their township, and will throw out a zoning ordinance that allows drilling in most of the community.

Protect PT’s lawsuit against Penn Township’s Zoning Hearing Board is scheduled for county court in January. For now, a judge has issued a partial injunction against a drilling company. Apex Energy is allowed to build a well pad in the township, but can’t drill or frack for natural gas on it while the case works its way through the courts.

It’s the latest in a series of fracking-related battles in which a 1970s-era environmental rights constitutional amendment is playing a central role.

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Atlantic Sunrise construction picks back up after two-day delay

Protesters confront a construction crew for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in central Pennsylvania. A new PUC ruling may make it easier for communities to control pipeline development.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

FILE PHOTO: Protesters confront a construction crew for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in central Pennsylvania. A new PUC ruling may make it easier for communities to control pipeline development.

(Harrisburg) — Construction on a controversial natural gas pipeline has resumed after a two-day court delay.

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a temporary hold on the Atlantic Sunrise project as it reviewed an emergency motion filed by environmental groups to halt construction.

The court denied the motion on Wednesday.

Opponents wanted federal regulators to conduct a more thorough review of the pipeline’s environmental impacts, but the court said the petition did not satisfy “stringent requirements” for a stay.

John Dernbach, Commonwealth Professor of Environmental Law at Widener University Commonwealth Law School, said courts will often issue a stay against construction while an appeal is in process.

“But the lifting of the stay makes it much less likely that the environmental claims in this case are going to prevent construction of the pipeline,” Dernbach said.

In fact, after the stay was lifted, pipeline company Williams said it would promptly resume construction.

The Atlantic Sunrise will run through 10 counties, including Lebanon, Lancaster, Northumberland, and Schuylkill. The project is expected to be complete by the middle of 2018.

“It is still possible that the environmental groups will prevail on the merits, but at that point much more of the pipeline will have been constructed,” Dernbach said.

In a statement, the Sierra Club vowed to continue the effort to stop the pipeline from being built.

A separate lawsuit filed by a group of nuns is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Adorers of the Blood of Christ argue the construction of the pipeline on their land violates their religious freedom.

DEP accused of neglecting cleanup of contaminated Chesco site

The contaminated Bishop Tube former industrial site in Malvern, Pa. Environmentalists say DEP has neglected the cleanup over many years.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

The contaminated Bishop Tube former industrial site in Malvern, Pa. Environmentalists say DEP has neglected the cleanup over many years.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network stepped up its campaign to clean the highly contaminated Bishop Tube industrial site at Malvern in Chester County when it accused Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection of neglecting the problem over decades.

The environmental group filed a complaint with Commonwealth Court on Wednesday asking the court to require DEP to bring the potentially responsible parties together to remove contaminants including trichloroethylene, or TCE, a carcinogen that was used as a degreaser by the former steel tubing plant, which closed in 1999. Continue Reading

Activists cautiously celebrate delay of Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

FILE PHOTO: Protesters gathered in January to ceremonially burn the environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. (Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania)

(Harrisburg) — Anti-pipeline activists are hesitantly celebrating after a federal court ordered a temporary halt on construction for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

The project is slated to run through 10 Pennsylvania counties, including Lancaster, Lebanon, Northumberland, and Schuylkill.

Dozens of protesters have been arrested since construction started in September.

Several groups filed a motion last month, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to order work halted until federal regulators do a more comprehensive review on the environmental impacts. Continue Reading

Mariner East 2 pipeline completion delayed again

A pipeline construction site in Jackson Township, Butler County, Pa.

A pipeline construction site in Jackson Township, Butler County, Pa. A recent ruling over a disputed valve station in Chester County has created more construction delays for the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.

Sunoco Pipeline’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, said Wednesday that its Mariner East 2 pipeline will be put into service in the second quarter of 2018, some 18 months later than originally planned, because of delays caused by Pennsylvania regulators.

Chief Financial Officer Tom Long said during the company’s third-quarter earnings call that the project has been held up in part by the Public Utility Commission’s recent ban on horizontal directional drilling at a location in Chester County’s West Goshen Township until the PUC hears a dispute between the township and Sunoco over the siting of a valve. The hearing is scheduled for April next year. Continue Reading

‘People are furious’: Wolf aide criticized after downplaying royalty problems

Advocates for Pennsylvania mineral owners are criticizing a comment by one of Gov. Wolf's senior aides, who says complaints over royalty payments have subsided.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Advocates for Pennsylvania mineral owners are criticizing a comment by one of Gov. Wolf's senior aides, who says complaints over royalty payments have subsided.

Advocates for Pennsylvania landowners are challenging a statement made recently by one of Governor Tom Wolf’s top aides, after he said complaints over unfair gas royalty payments have subsided.

In some cases, Pennsylvania mineral owners have received royalty checks showing negative balances, saying they owe money to drillers. At an energy conference in Hershey last week, Wolf’s deputy policy director Sam Robinson said the administration hasn’t heard as much about it lately.

“I think there was a crescendo of that kind of claim in 2015 to 2016,” he told the audience. “There’s been real movement in a positive direction on that issue.”

‘People are furious’

But advocates for mineral owners dispute those claims. Over the years, the controversy around the payments has resulted in multiple class action lawsuits from landowners who say they’re being cheated by certain gas companies. Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko is in one of the most heavily-drilled parts of the state and has been hearing from constituents every day for more than four years.

“It is a huge topic in Northeast Pennsylvania,” says McLinko. “It has not quieted down. People are furious.”

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Activists offer pancakes to pipeline workers, are rebuffed

Activists in Lancaster County offered pipeline workers a pancake breakfast Friday morning, but the invitation was declined.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Activists in Lancaster County offered pipeline workers a pancake breakfast Friday morning.

Protesters are continuing to demonstrate against the construction of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in Lancaster County.

The activists latest tactic Friday morning involved setting up a pancake breakfast picnic on an Amish farm in Conestoga adjacent to a construction site and inviting the pipeline workers to share a meal.

About 30 people sang and held signs as they confronted three pipeline workers, who lined up several feet away and watched silently.

“We’d like you all to join us– like human beings,” said Mark Clatterbuck, a leader of the protest group. “Let’s sit down with our shared humanity and talk about what we’re doing and what you’re doing. Do you understand what an incredible desecration this is to us? And what a threat this is to our community?”

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Big power plant ignites political fight in small Pennsylvania town

A wave of new gas-fired power plants is hitting the nation, with uncertain implications for the climate. The local consequences can be just as thorny.

Lackawanna Energy Center

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

At 1,485 megawatts the Lackawanna Energy Center is one of the largest natural gas power plants in the works nationwide.

JESSUP—The biggest new natural-gas power plant in a state awash with them is taking shape on a mountain ridge overlooking the community it cleaved apart.

First came questions about pollution and property values. Lawyers and public-records requests followed. Now this borough of 4,500, where it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that everybody knows everybody, is embroiled in a full-out political revolt.

Pro-plant incumbents up for election this year — two council members and the mayor — were booted in the May primary. A ticket organized by plant opponents boasts five people on the ballot in next week’s general election — candidates for all the open council seats and even school board director, which shows just how far the fault lines over the Lackawanna Energy Center extend. Relationships have been upended. Mistrust in local government has surged.

“It’s like a raw nerve,” said Ellen Nielsen, president of the school board.

Pennsylvania has long been a power-plant colossus, exporting electricity to other states because it makes more than it uses — historically with coal and nuclear. The Jessup plant is at the vanguard of a new boom fueled by the state’s plentiful natural gas.

Only Texas has more planned gas-fired generation in the queue, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Energy firms have proposed over 40 gas-fired projects in Pennsylvania since 2011, including in Jessup’s neighbor Archbald. Fourteen are under construction or operating. At 1,485 megawatts, Jessup’s Lackawanna Energy Center is one of the largest in the works nationwide, according to EIA data — part of a dramatic coast-to-coast expansion of gas-fired plants.

Developers have proposed more than 40 gas-fired power plants in Pennsylvania since 2011, spread around the state. Red icons on the map represent small projects using internal combustion engines. The plant-shaped orange icons represent larger, combined-cycle turbine projects. (Map by WITF’s Tom Downing.)

Map tiles by Stamen Design, under CC BY 3.0.

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Activists: Clean up Coke Plant

US Steel's Clairton Coke Works. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

US Steel's Clairton Coke Works. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

A group of activists demanded Allegheny County health officials rein in air pollution from the largest coke plant in North America. The Clairton Coke Works is one of the biggest pollution sources in Western Pennsylvania. The Allegheny County Health Department determined the plant violated the terms of its air permits 6,700 times over a 3 ½ year period.

The long record of violations drew a crowd of activists to a meeting at the health department Wednesday, where several told the agency to clean the plant up. Continue Reading

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