Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Court tells EPA to review its rules on oil and gas waste

A truck delivers drilling waste water to a frack water recycling plant in Susquehanna County

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A truck delivers drilling waste water to a frack water recycling plant in Susquehanna County

A federal court directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review and possibly update its regulations on oil and gas waste, in a decision that was welcomed by environmental groups who had sued the agency, claiming its rules have failed to keep pace with the fracking boom.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a consent decree late Wednesday saying the EPA must review the regulations, and if necessary issue a new rulemaking if it deems an update to be appropriate. The actions must take place by March 2019, the court said.

The consent decree, which is designed to settle a dispute between two parties without either admitting guilt or liability, is the outcome of a lawsuit against EPA by seven environmental groups who claimed that the agency has failed to review oil and gas waste regulations, as required every three years under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. Continue Reading

Judge blocks mining near stream in Greene County state park

Ryerson Station State Park

Chris Collins / Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources

Ryerson Station State Park

Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board has temporarily blocked coal mining near a trout stream in Greene County’s Ryerson Station State Park after two environmental groups challenged the permit.

The order, issued Friday by Judge Steven Beckman, prohibits Consol Energy from longwall mining within 500 feet of the park’s Kent Run stream, until the board can rule on the request by the Sierra Club and the Center for Coalfield Justice. The groups also claim Consol’s mining operations have already damaged another nearby creek, Polen Run.

Consol spokesman Brian Aiello didn’t address the allegations the company has damaged Polen Run but sent a statement on behalf of Jimmy Brock, the CEO of Consol affiliate, CNX Coal Resources.

“There are numerous environmental laws and regulations that we must live up to on a daily basis, and the permit at issue here is no exception. This has little to do with the environment and everything to do with an extreme philosophy that the people of Pennsylvania rejected at the ballot box in November,” says Brock. “We will continue to vigorously defend the livelihoods of the 2000 employees at the Bailey Complex.”

Ryerson is Greene County’s only state park. It’s located in an environmental justice zone, which is an effort to protect marginalized communities, such as minorities and people in poverty, from getting an unfair share of industrial development.

A decade ago, the state blamed Consol’s mining operations for damaging the park’s Duke Lake Dam. The lake had been a popular recreation spot for the community for years, but it was drained and won’t be replaced. The company did not admit fault but later agreed to a $36 million dollar settlement with the state.

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Ten stories from 2016 worth hearing again

President-elect Donald Trump on the campaign trail in September, speaking at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

President-elect Donald Trump on the campaign trail in September, speaking at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

As the year winds down, we’re looking back at some of StateImpact Pennsylvania’s best radio reporting.

From an unconventional election season, to continued controversies over pipelines, and a global climate conference, we covered a lot of ground on the airwaves in 2016.

Take another listen:

Drilling downturn

In 2016 Pennsylvania’s drilling industry went through a particularly rough patch, laying off thousands of workers and drastically cutting spending, amid low natural gas prices.

 

Philly’s Energy Hub: manufacturing renaissance, or pipe dream?

The idea behind the “Philadelphia energy hub” is to revive the region’s once-thriving manufacturing scene using Marcellus Shale natural gas. It’s proven to be easier said than done, and may be a plan that’s unlikely to materialize with the departure of its chief visionary.

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EPA says fracking study’s data gaps are an important contribution to science

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pa. The central missile of the fracking operation connects 16 compression generators, water, sand, and other fluids before entering the well.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pa. The central missile of the fracking operation connects 16 compression generators, water, sand, and other fluids before entering the well.

The EPA says its fracking study, published this month, is the most comprehensive look so far at all the science available on whether or not fracking pollutes drinking water. Critics have pointed to a lack of data in the report, which led to limitations in the agency’s conclusion that fracking “impacts drinking water under some circumstances.” The EPA’s science advisor Tom Burke says the gaps in data represent the “state of the science.”

“The identification of data gaps is actually an important contribution to the science and not a failure,” said Burke.

“We are really just beginning to understand fracking,” he said.  ”And there are not really a lot of reports about what’s going on during the fracking process. For instance, basic information about where are the wells? The location of the wells.”

Burke says that in addition to lack of information about all the shale gas wells, there is a lack of information about locations of groundwater aquifers, and the quality of the water.

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Pa. oil and gas jobs down 32 percent since last year

Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry shed about a third of its workforce between early 2015 and 2016.

Joe Ulrich / WITF

Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry shed about a third of its workforce between early 2015 and 2016.

Jobs in Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry declined 32 percent in the second quarter of 2016, compared to the same time period last year, new state data show.

The Department of Labor and Industry counts 19,623 people employed directly in the oil and gas industry, compared to 28,926 in the second quarter of 2015. It’s consistent with figures the department released earlier this year, showing drillers shed roughly a third of their workforce between the beginning of 2015 and 2016 amid low commodity prices.

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New federal law adds protection for Delaware River Basin

The Delaware River, seen here being dredged near Philadelphia, will get extra environmental protection after the passage of a federal law.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

The Delaware River, seen here being dredged near Philadelphia, will get extra environmental protection after the passage of a federal law.

Protection of the Delaware River watershed got a boost this month when President Obama signed the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act. The act will coordinate existing public and private efforts to protect water quality, improve flood control, manage fish stocks, and enhance public access in the region between upstate New York and the Delaware Bay.

Advocates hailed the conclusion of a long legislative battle, and said the new federal protection for the basin will establish a basin-wide strategy for conserving the resources of an area that supplies drinking water to 15 million people and contains national parks, historic sites, and a globally important refuge for migrating shorebirds.

The bill’s passage into law, as part of the larger Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, comes six years after an earlier version was first introduced by Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware and former Delaware Congressman Mike Castle, and after several failed attempts to get the bill through Congress.

The new law, signed by the President on Dec. 19, directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to coordinate existing conservation work by state and federal agencies, universities, and nongovernmental organizations, to create efficiencies and eliminate any duplication of effort. Continue Reading

Sunbury pipeline nears completion

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.

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.

A new 20-inch pipeline designed to deliver Marcellus Shale gas to a power plant in central Pennsylvania is nearing completion.

UGI Energy Services’s $150 million Sunbury pipeline is expected to be in service early next month. The line begins in Lycoming County and runs 35 miles southward. It’s designed to feed the new Hummel Station power plant, which is under construction at the site of the former Sunbury coal plant in Shamokin Dam, Synder County. The power plant is expected to come online in early 2018.

“The pipeline is in place along its entire route,” says UGI spokesman Ken Robinson. “Thursday of last week, the pipeline underwent a standard procedure known as ‘purge and pack.’ During this process, the pipeline was purged of air, mostly oxygen, and packed with natural gas.”

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Pa. investing $300 million into Philadelphia ports

Longshoreman unload fruit from a container ship, Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, at the Tioga Marine Terminal in Philadelphia.

Joseph Kaczmarek / AP Photo

Longshoreman unload fruit from a container ship, Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, at the Tioga Marine Terminal in Philadelphia.

Boosters of the Port of Philadelphia gathered Wednesday to celebrate a big Christmas present from Governor Tom Wolf: $300 million.

Jerry Sweeney, chair of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, called the room full of politicians, business leaders and union workers to order. Behind him was a large Christmas tree, decorated with twinkling white lights, red ornaments and bows and of course, beautifully wrapped presents underneath.

Sitting at his left was Wolf.

Last month, two days before Thanksgiving turkeys hit the tables, Wolf announced the multi-million dollar capital investment plan for the port.

And now, Sweeney and other officials were giving him his due.

“This investment will create the infrastructure that will result in 2,000 direct jobs, 7,000 more indirect jobs, more construction jobs, will more than double our container capacity and establish our position as one of the leading international seaports on the East Coast,” Sweeney said. “And how great is that?”

This big investment of taxpayer money – which will come from a bond – is actually plan B.

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DEP to launch statewide listening tour in early 2017

Acting state environmental secretary Patrick McDonnell speaking to DEP employees in August.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Acting state environmental secretary Patrick McDonnell speaking to DEP employees in August.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection intends to launch a statewide listening tour early next year, focusing on environmental justice issues related to oil and gas development.

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell says department staff plan to visit every corner of the state.

“We’re going into communities where we need to up our game on the public participation side of things,” he says. “To make sure they have information so they can meaningfully engage with us.”

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Commonwealth court grants a new argument to landowners battling eminent domain in pipeline case

Ellen Gerhart (L) with her daughter Elise Gerhart (R) in front of the family home in Huntingdon County. They are fighting eminent domain taking by Sunoco for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Ellen Gerhart (L) with her daughter Elise Gerhart (R) in front of the family home in Huntingdon County. They are fighting eminent domain taking by Sunoco for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Landowners battling pipeline companies over eminent domain takings got an early Christmas gift from the Commonwealth Court in the form of a new legal maneuver this week. An attorney representing a family fighting Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County will be able to use a recent Supreme Court ruling to try to strengthen their case.

In September, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Robinson Township case, which overturned aspects of the state’s new oil and gas law Act 13, that the legislature could not grant eminent domain authority to companies building gas storage facilities. The court’s decision hinged on the fact that the public was not the “primary and paramount” beneficiary, as the state had claimed.

“Instead, it advances the proposition that allowing such takings would somehow advance the development of infrastructure of the Commonwealth. Such a projected benefit is speculative, and, in any event, would be merely an incidental one and not the primary purpose for allowing these takings,” wrote Justice Debra McCloskey Todd for the majority.

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