Pennsylvania

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Township moves to halt gas production, citing anger over royalties

The township hopes the resolution spur legislative action to address royalty complaints.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY FILE PHOTO

Wilmot Township, Bradford County hopes the resolution will spur legislative action to address royalty complaints.

Residents in one of the most drilled-on parts of Pennsylvania want to block companies from producing natural gas, citing anger over royalty payments.

The supervisors in Wilmot Township, Bradford County plan to pass a resolution Tuesday demanding, “production be discontinued from wells where landowners are having their royalty checks diminished to nothing or nearly nothing.” Wilmot supervisor Mark Dietz is particularly worried about some residents’ threats to engage in violence or possibly tamper with gas infrastructure to disrupt production.

“People are getting really angry,” says Dietz.

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Complaints rise over Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 permits

Sticks mark a section of forest where an independent consultant surveyed land before tree clearing for the Mariner East pipeline. Landowners and environmentalists say Sunoco has submitted incomplete permits for stream crossings and erosion control.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Sticks mark a section of forest where an independent consultant hired by the property owners in Huntingdon County surveyed land before tree clearing for the Mariner East pipeline. Landowners and environmentalists say Sunoco has submitted incomplete permits for stream crossings and erosion control, including permits that leave out known streams and water crossings.

As landowners battle Sunoco Logistics in court over eminent domain takings, critics are pushing back against the pipeline on another front — permits the project needs from the state to move forward with construction. Sunoco has already begun felling trees along the 300-mile long proposed pipeline route through Pennsylvania, but the company can’t lay any pipe without erosion and sedimentation control permits from the Department of Environmental Protection. It also can’t cross any waterways without the water crossing permits.

The deadline for public comment period on the Chapter 105 permits, which regulate stream and wetlands crossings, has already passed. The deadline for public comment on the erosion and sediment control permits, known as Chapter 102, is Tuesday. Residents at recent public hearings on the pipeline project have complained that DEP went ahead with the public comment periods without having received completed permit applications from Sunoco.

“That’s what makes this different,” said Alex Bomstein, an attorney with the Clean Air Council, which along with several environmental and landowner organizations, submitted a 34-page detailed comment letter outlining the deficiencies in Sunoco’s permit applications for stream and wetland crossings. Continue Reading

PJM says compliance with Clean Power Plan won’t disrupt electric supplies

FirstEnergy's Hatfield Ferry coal plant in Greene County closed in 2013 amid poor market conditions, helping Pennsylvania to meet its emissions targets under the federal Clean Power Plan.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

FirstEnergy's Hatfield Ferry coal plant in Greene County closed in 2013 amid poor market conditions, helping Pennsylvania to meet its emissions targets under the federal Clean Power Plan.

America’s biggest power-grid operator said electric supplies to a 13-state region would not be disrupted by state efforts to comply with the federal Clean Power Plan, and that wholesale electricity costs would rise only modestly in the drive to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants, thanks largely to low natural gas prices.

An analysis by Pennsylvania-based PJM of the controversial CPP concluded that states could ensure adequate supplies of power at little extra cost to customers regardless of how they opt to comply with emissions-reduction targets.

Wholesale electricity costs would rise by 1.1 percent to 3.3 percent on average, PJM said, depending on whether states choose to meet the CPP targets individually or in cooperation with other states, such as in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative among nine northeastern states not including Pennsylvania. Continue Reading

Gas drillers lose case over well permit requirements

Natural gas wells in Springville Township, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Natural gas wells in Springville Township, Pa.

A Pennsylvania appeals court has ruled that the Department of Environmental Protection has the authority to consider the impact of gas drilling wells on public and natural resources including, but not limited to, public drinking water supplies, parks, forests, game lands, habitats of rare and endangered species, historic and archeological sites, scenic rivers, and historic landmarks. The Commonwealth Court ruled 5-2 in favor of DEP, and against the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, or PIOGA, which includes about 550 members primarily engaged in conventional drilling operations.

Acting DEP secretary Patrick McDonnell praised the ruling.

“Today’s ruling is important for DEP’s permitting of oil and gas wells across Pennsylvania,” McDonnell said in a statement. “It unconditionally confirms that the Department has legal authority under Act 13 (the 2012 Oil and Gas Act) to consider the impact that a proposed well site will have on public and natural resources. This decision will assist the Department in its work to ensure responsible development of natural resources in Pennsylvania.”

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Coal town wary of Clinton and Trump campaign promises

Every year the King Coal parade winds through the center of Carmichaels. Hundreds of people line up to see the fire engines, classic cars, floats, and marching bands.

It’s fair to say the presidential race has people pretty fired up –and worried– in this small town in Greene County, about an hour’s drive south of Pittsburgh. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has promised to bring back coal, with few details on how he will accomplish it. Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton has said she’d put miners out of work, but is pushing a big plan to reinvest in coal communities.

Despite the black and yellow banners hanging around Carmichaels proclaiming, “King Coal”, times are changing for mining communities.

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Wolf still searching for new environmental chief

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell says he wants the state's top environmental post, but Gov. Tom Wolf has not officially nominated him, despite a recent deadline to submit a name for the job.

More than three months have passed since the controversial resignation of Pennsylvania’s environmental secretary, John Quigley, and Governor Tom Wolf is still looking for a permanent replacement.

The law requires the governor to nominate someone to fill the vacancy within 90 days. In order to comply, the administration submitted a placeholder name, Thomas Yablonski Jr., to the state Senate last week. Yablonski is a staffer in the governor’s office, and his name was used for 24 different appointments. Although placeholder names are submitted sometimes, it’s unclear why there is a delay in this case.

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Nearly 4,000 tons of gas drilling waste to be used for road project

Waste

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Drill cuttings are the waste dirt and rock associated with gas development. The state Department of Environmental Protection has allowed the waste to be reused as construction material under a special research and development permit.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators have green-lighted a proposal to use 3,950 tons of natural gas drilling waste for an experimental road construction project at a Lycoming County hunting club.

This approval marks the first time the waste– known as drill cuttings– can be re-purposed as construction material at an area that’s not an industrial site. The work is being done by Clean Earth, the same firm that backed out of controversial plans to put 400,000 tons of drilling waste near Pennsylvania’s “Grand Canyon” last year amid a public backlash.

Drill cuttings are the waste dirt and rock that come up from deep underground in gas development and may contain naturally-occurring radiation and chemicals. Usually, cuttings are disposed of in landfills.

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Why pipeline safety is one of Pennsylvania’s next big energy challenges

First responders block the access to the area where a natural gas explosion at a pipeline 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

First responders block the access to the area where a natural gas explosion at a pipeline 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.

On the morning of April 29, a natural gas transmission line exploded in a field in Salem Township in western Pennsylvania. The blast was so powerful it ripped a 12-foot crater into the landscape, burned a section of the field with a quarter-mile radius and threw a 25-foot section of the 30-inch steel pipeline 100 feet away. At the time of the explosion, a 26-year-old man was in his house, a few hundred feet away. He was badly burned, and his home destroyed.

When local fire chief Bob Rosatti arrived at the scene, the flames were so hot, he had to stay in his truck.

“They were massive—I would say 300 feet at the least,” Rosatti says. “That was the biggest fireball I’d ever seen in my life. Thank god it was in a rural area. It could have been a lot worse if it had been in a more populous area.”

Investigators think external corrosion on the pipe is to blame for the blast. But they are still poring over a decade’s worth of pipe inspection reports to determine exactly what caused it.

The explosion comes as the federal government is undertaking a new effort to make gas transmission pipelines safer. It has become an even more urgent issue now that the country is building more pipelines, especially in the Northeast. The fracking boom in the Marcellus and Utica shales is a big reason for that. The Department of Energy predicts Pennsylvania and Ohio will nearly double their natural gas production by 2030. Read more at The Allegheny Front.

New study links gas drilling to migraines, fatigue and chronic sinus symptoms

The DEP recently made changes to proposed regulations governing the  state's oil and gas industry.

AP Photo David Smith

A new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows an association between heavy gas drilling and migraines, fatigue and nasal symptoms.

A new study published today in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives shows an association between living near heavy gas drilling activity and common ailments like chronic nasal and sinus symptoms, severe fatigue, and migraines. The report is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Geisinger Health System and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“These three health conditions can have debilitating impacts on people’s lives,” says Aaron W. Tustin, MD, MPH, a resident physician in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “In addition, they cost the health care system a lot of money. Our data suggest these symptoms are associated with proximity to the fracking industry.”

The researchers used health surveys gathered from almost 8,000 patients of Geisinger Health System from 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania and divided the results into two groups. One group reported no symptoms, while the other reported two or more. This data was then matched with the proximity of respondents to heavy gas drilling activity. The researchers used gas drilling locations and intensity of shale gas production provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and satellite imagery from the group SkyTruth. Continue Reading

Construction begins on Sunbury pipeline

The coal plant in Shamokin Dam, Pa., is a local landmark that delivered electricity to this region for more than six decades. It closed in 2014. Next to it, a brand new natural gas power plant is under construction. The Sunbury Pipeline will feed Marcellus Shale gas into that plant.

Jeff Brady/NPR

The coal plant in Shamokin Dam delivered electricity to the region for more than six decades. It closed in 2014. Next to it, a new natural gas power plant is under construction. The Sunbury Pipeline will feed Marcellus Shale gas into that plant.

State and local officials attended a ceremony Wednesday morning to celebrate the groundbreaking for a 20-inch pipeline that will deliver Marcellus Shale gas to a new power plant in central Pennsylvania.

The Sunbury Pipeline is being built by UGI Energy Services. It will begin in Lycoming County and travel 35 miles to feed into the Hummel Station power plant, which is under construction at the site of the former Sunbury coal plant in Shamokin Dam, Synder County.

Construction on the pipeline is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The plant is projected to come online in early 2018 and power approximately 1 million homes. The project is part of a broader, ongoing national trend away from coal, as natural gas takes up an increasing share of electric power generation.

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