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Mariner East 2 update: Chainsaws return, along with a tree-sitter

A tree clearing crew member from Sunoco on the Gerhart's property last week. Most of the trees were cleared last week but crews returned on Thursday to cut the remaining trees that were left untouched due to protesters occupying them.

Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

A tree clearing crew member from Sunoco on the Gerhart's property last week. Most of the trees were cleared before a March 31 deadline. Crews returned on Thursday to cut the remaining trees that were left untouched due to protesters occupying them.

A pipeline opponent in Huntingdon County has taken to the trees for the second time in a week. Elise Gerhart says she heard the sound of chainsaws buzzing on her family’s land this morning and was surprised to find Sunoco work crews cutting down trees after a March 31 deadline aimed at protecting the endangered Indiana bat. Gerhart had sat in a tree for three days last week to protect it from removal.

The trees were cleared in preparation for construction of Sunoco Logistics Mariner East 2 pipeline. Sunoco had said in a court filing to a Huntingdon County judge that they had to clear trees by March 31 in order to comply with federal regulations regarding the Indiana bat. The company stopped all activity on the land at the end of last week, and Gerhart came down from the tree.

“[Sunoco] said they had to cut by March 31,” Gerhart said over the phone from her treetop perch, “And here I am, April 7, up in a tree.”

Gerhart says she and her family never heard from Sunoco that the crews would be back to cut the remaining trees this week.

“Sunoco doesn’t do anything responsibly,” said Gerhart through a text message. “They are reckless through and through and they don’t answer to anybody.” Continue Reading

Public health campaigners renew call for fracking health registry

Skylar McEvoy holds up a sign at a rally in Butler, Pa. She and her family moved after they say fracking polluted their water. Her mother Kim says the DOH was no help.

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

Skylar Sowatsky holds up a sign at a rally in Butler, Pa. She and her family moved after they say fracking polluted their well water.

Updating with comment from Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project

Pennsylvania public health campaigners have issued a new call for the establishment of a statewide registry of health complaints that could be related to oil and gas development.

Such a registry would help doctors and nurses identify patterns of health complaints by people living near sites such as well pads or compressor stations, and determine any link between those complaints and local air and water conditions.

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed $100,000 in his fiscal 2016 budget to set up a registry but the plan failed to get through the legislature during the long-delayed budget negotiations, prompting advocates to urge officials to take another look at the plan.

“If we had a health registry, we would be better able to document those cases of individuals who had exposures,” said Dr. Lenore Resick of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which provides advice and referrals for people who think their health has been hurt by living near gas wells in Washington County. “Oftentimes, people are exposed and it isn’t often recognized as an exposure.” Continue Reading

Despite legal limbo, Pennsylvania continues work on Clean Power Plan

Pennsylvania has decided to continue working on the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, even though it's in legal limbo.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

Pennsylvania has decided to continue working on the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, even though it's in legal limbo.

President Obama’s major climate change initiative, the Clean Power Plan, is currently in legal limbo as federal courts decide its fate.  But Governor Tom Wolf’s administration has decided to keep working on it anyway.

The goal of the Clean Power Plan is to cut emissions from existing power plants by about a third over the next 15 years. It would mean closing hundreds of coal-fired plants and shifting the grid to more renewable forms of energy. Each state is supposed to come up with its own path to accomplish this.

At a recent legislative hearing Rep. Jeff Pyle (R- Armstrong) lamented the decline of the state’s coal industry and the layoffs workers have faced.

“I come from western Pennsylvania and it’s just breaking our hearts to watch 300 men at a time get shut down, because our coal plants can’t meet the Clean Power Plan,” said Pyle. “I also noted smoke signals coming out of the [Wolf] administration said, ‘We’re gonna go ahead and comply with this, even though the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.’”

Actually, that didn’t happen. The plan has not been declared unconstitutional.

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Property owner faces charges for protesting Mariner East pipeline

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 by an area of tree-clearing on her parents land. The Gerharts are fighting Sunoco's right to eminent domain in court. Her mother Ellen will appear in court on criminal charges Wednesday.

Three people, including the property owner, face charges related to protesting Sunoco’s tree-clearing activities in Huntingdon County last week. The three will appear in Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas next month.* Ellen Gerhart was arrested while workers were cutting trees on her property to prepare for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Gerhart, along with her husband Stephen, have resisted leasing any land for the pipeline and are challenging Sunoco’s right to eminent domain in court.

Ellen Gerhart, along with supporters Alex Lotorto and Elizabeth Glunt, face charges of disorderly conduct. Gerhart also faces the charge of “indirect criminal contempt,” which carries a potential fine of $300 and up to six months of jail time.

“It’s a shame that it had to get to this point,” said Gerhart in a release. “There’s no recourse for property owners but to try to protect themselves and the environment because of the government’s failure to do so. The whole thing is a gross violation of our constitutional rights.” Continue Reading

Philly’s energy hub: A renaissance for the Delaware Valley or a pipe dream?

A view of the Sunoco facility in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. Business leaders want to use Marcellus Shale gas to power an industrial renaissance along the Delaware River.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A view of the Sunoco facility in Marcus Hook, Delaware County where Marcellus Shale ethane travels to via the Mariner East pipeline. Business leaders want to use Marcellus Shale gas to power an industrial renaissance along the Delaware River.

The Delaware River had at one time supported a thriving manufacturing hub. Now a group of Philadelphia area business leaders want to bring that back through the use of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas. But turning Philadelphia into an East Coast “energy hub” may not be so easy.

On the surface it looks simple. Pennsylvania has a lot of shale gas. But the gas is not selling at high prices right now, forcing producers to slow down. Phil Rinaldi is chair of the Philadelphia Energy Action Team and CEO of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest refiner on the East Coast. He’s the visionary behind the city’s energy hub.

“The reserves in the Marcellus are enormous and they’re trapped there because the market doesn’t exist to take those molecules away at a reasonable price,” he said.

Rinaldi wants to connect all those idle shale gas molecules with Philadelphia’s idle industrial waterfront property. Those sites are already linked to rail lines, and in some cases pipelines.

“You really create a series of businesses that cascade into other businesses that cascade into other businesses,” he said. “So it’s a question of getting that momentum started. Take that Marcellus where you have reserves you measure in centuries, and just basically move that reserve here.” Continue Reading

Pipeline protesters arrested, tree-occupation stretches into third day

A stack of protest posters opposing Sunoco's Mariner East 2 lie in a wooded area of the Gerhart property.

Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

A stack of protest posters opposing Sunoco's Mariner East 2 lie in a wooded area of the Gerhart property.

A pair of protesters remained in trees Thursday as a deadline neared for clearing a path for a $2.5-billion natural gas pipeline.

Elise Gerhart, 29, of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, remained in a tree platform 40 feet above the ground on her family’s property. Gerhart and another activist are protesting tree clearing on the property and a judge’s decision to award Sunoco Logistics an eminent domain right-of-way on the Geharts’ land to build the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Three protesters have been arrested for defying a court order to stay clear of cutting crews. Among them was Elise’s mother, Ellen Gerhart, 60, who was released Wednesday.

Ellen Gerhart said she had come onto the right-of-way Wednesday morning to warn the chainsaw crew about cutting too close to the tree her daughter was in.

“If they’d cut those trees down, it could have endangered her life,” she says. Gerhart says all but a dozen trees were cut down along the three-acre right-of-way. “We held them off from whacking everything. This is wrong, and you have to stand up to it.” Read more from The Allegheny Front.

GOP congressional candidates criticize pipeline

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline in Lycoming County. The proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline would go through 10 counties in Pennsylvania and has been particularly controversial in Lancaster County.

The Republican candidates vying for the seat held by the retiring congressman Joe Pitts (R- 16th) are both criticizing a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline. If the Atlantic Sunrise line is approved by federal regulators it would run through 10 Pennsylvania counties, including parts of the 16th congressional district in western Lancaster County, where opposition has been fierce. Pitts has been criticized for failing to take a position on the project.

State senator Lloyd Smucker (R- Lancaster) and Manheim businessman Chet Beiler are competing in the April 26th GOP Primary. Neither candidate opposes the project outright, but both question how it’s been handled so far. The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline would carry Marcellus Shale gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to markets along the East Coast and to an export terminal.

“I think there should be a high bar for any new pipeline,” says Smucker. “Particularly a pipeline that is going through some of the most productive farmland in the state.” Continue Reading

Pipeline protestor takes to the trees to stop construction

Elise Gerhart took to the trees to protect her family land from pipeline construction.

Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

Elise Gerhart took to the trees to protect her family land from pipeline construction.

As the chain saws revved nearby, Elise Gerhart was literally up a tree Tuesday protesting a pipeline slated to course through her family’s wooded property.

Gerhart, 29, of Huntingdon, and about 20 protesters coalesced around the Gerhart property as a work crew—chaperoned by local sheriff’s officers—took down trees along the property. Two protesters were arrested as the work crews cleared land for Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 pipeline, which will carry natural gas liquids from Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania to the Philadelphia area.

The company was granted a right-of-way on the Gerhart’s land by a judge through eminent domain in January. Though they are appealing that decision, the Gerharts were ordered by Huntingdon County Common Pleas Court Judge George Zanik Monday to stay clear of the chain saw crews.

Elise Gerhart said she didn’t know what else to do, so she climbed a tree early Tuesday to keep the crews away from at least one tree. Read more of this story from The Allegheny Front.

Philadelphia’s shale boosters want more pipelines

Workers unload pipes at a staging area in Worthing, S.D., for the proposed 1,130-mile Dakota Access Pipeline that would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a hub in Illinois.

Nati Harnik / AP Photo

Workers unload pipes at a staging area in Worthing, S.D., for the 1,130-mile Dakota Access Pipeline that would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a hub in Illinois.

The Philadelphia Energy Action Team, a group of business interests organized as part of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, says the key to turning the city into an energy hub is getting more pipes in the ground. The group released their report on revitalizing the city’s economy using shale gas Wednesday morning. A goal of the effort is to double the amount of natural gas and natural gas liquids used in the tri-state region each year from the current 3 billion cubic feet a day.

The 60-page report, “A Pipeline for Growth,” is a detailed look at how the Delaware Valley, which includes Southeast Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, and South Jersey, can capitalize on the abundance of Marcellus Shale gas, including methane, ethane, butane, and propane.

“What the Energy Action Team is, is a civic coalition,” Action Team chair Phil Rinaldi told StateImpact. “It is not a commercial entity. It’s not building a pipeline or a factory. It’s trying to build the kind of political impetus for getting that done.” Continue Reading

Drilling slowdown to leave regulators with $2.9 million deficit

A Lycoming County rig

Tim Lambert / WITF-FM

Right now there are only 18 rigs operating in Pennsylvania. Drilling has slowed significantly as the price of natural gas has plummeted.

Pennsylvania is facing a $2.9 million deficit in the fund that supports its oversight of oil and gas wells in the next fiscal year, according to a projection from Governor Tom Wolf’s budget office.

The overall slowdown in drilling means less money is available in fines and fees for the Well Plugging Fund, which supports things like DEP’s well inspections and permit reviews– essentially everything the agency does to ensure oil and gas activity is managed appropriately and safely.

The following fiscal year, the fund faces a $9.8 million deficit. That means the state Department of Environmental Protection can’t fill 24 vacancies it currently has in its oil and gas program.

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