Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Philadelphia’s top emergency planner won’t disclose oil-train plans

Protesters say crude-by-rail tank cars are unsafe and should be banned.

Jon Hurdle

Protesters say crude-by-rail tank cars are unsafe and should be banned.

The City of Philadelphia’s top emergency-management official said on Monday she will not disclose the city’s tactical plans for dealing with any oil-train derailment or explosion despite fresh calls from environmentalists for the city to be more open about how it would handle such an emergency.

Office of Emergency Management director Samantha Phillips said the City does not publicly state plans such as where residents would be evacuated to in the event of an oil-train incident because it’s a public-safety issue that should not be open to comment from activist groups.

She said members of the public need to make their own individual plans for responding to an emergency. She argued that people would not be helped by knowing, for example, what kind of equipment or protective clothing would be used by first responders in such an incident.

“Understanding how the City would respond does not change the actions the public should take,” she said.

Phillips also argued that disclosure of the city’s emergency plans would risk being exploited by terrorists. “We live in a really volatile time when it comes to people wanting to do bad things,” she said. “That information could be used to influence an ill-intentioned actor. We don’t think we should provide that.”

Her comments follow renewed calls by critics of Philadelphia’s many oil trains for the City to disclose its plans for an oil-train disaster. At a rally on Saturday, activists said the tank cars currently in use are unsafe and risk causing a disaster like the one which killed 47 people in Lac Megantic, Quebec in 2013.

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Project would bring 400,000 tons of drilling waste to Pa.’s ‘Grand Canyon’

The Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Plans call for 400,000 tons of natural gas drilling waste to be placed on a steep embankment near a tributary to the Pine Creek Gorge in Tioga County. The gorge is often called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.

As Marcellus Shale gas drilling has proliferated, so has the amount of waste it generates. Last year in Pennsylvania, over two million tons of drill cuttings were sent to landfills.

Cuttings are the waste dirt and rock that comes up from drilling wells. The material contains naturally occurring radiation, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals.

Over the past three years, a Montgomery County waste disposal company has found a novel way to avoid landfills, by processing and recycling drill cuttings. But critics argue it’s simply a way to avoid regulations.

Now plans to put the gas waste next to one of the state’s most pristine waterways have sparked a backlash.

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ACLU calls on Butler County plaintiffs to drop suit over zoning change

Civil-liberties campaigners say a lawsuit against opponents of gas rigs like this one in southwest Pennsylvania is a violation of free-speech rights.

AP Photo/David Smith

Civil-liberties campaigners say a lawsuit against opponents of gas rigs like this one in southwest Pennsylvania is a violation of free-speech rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is urging a group of gas-leaseholders and a real estate developer to drop a lawsuit against opponents of a zoning change that sharply increases the amount of a township’s land that can be used for gas drilling.

The ACLU said on Tuesday it has written to Dewey Homes & Investment Properties and 12 residents of Butler County, western Pennsylvania, saying it will ask a court to impose  sanctions against them if they do not drop the suit — which alleges that leaseholders have been deprived of income because local opposition to the zoning change has delayed construction of a well pad.

The civil-liberties organization argues that the suit, filed in May, is an attempt to stifle public debate and is therefore a violation of free-speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.  Continue Reading

Fracktivist gets uninvited from Wolf’s new pipeline panel

Scott Cannon was pretty surprised last week when he got a letter inviting him to be part of Governor Tom Wolf’s new gas pipeline task force.

He was even more surprised a few days later when his appointment was rescinded.

“I think somebody got a look at the list and said, ‘You can’t have that guy.’” says the self-described anti-fracking activist. “I have no idea who it would be.”

Cannon, a filmmaker who recently produced a documentary called The Ethics of Fracking, applied to be on the task force as a representative of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition–an advocacy group from northeastern Pennsylvania which seeks to expose the negative impacts of the industry. The group recently settled a lawsuit against the state after it was erroneously labeled a terrorist organization.

The Wolf administration is convening the task force to bring planning and best practices to a pipeline building boom that includes an estimated 4,600 new miles of interstate pipes over the next three years. In a letter dated June 30th, DEP Secretary John Quigley welcomed Cannon to be part of the task force’s Environmental Protection work group.

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Wolf Administration announces members of new pipeline task force

Workers build the Laser pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Kim Paynter / Newsworks/WHYY

Workers build the Laser pipeline in Susquehanna County, 2012.

Governor Wolf has announced members of the state’s new Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, which will be led by DEP Secretary John Quigley. The 48-member body was chosen from an applicant pool of about 200 people. An additional 101 people will serve on working groups that will help inform the task force, according to a press release issued today.

Although states have little authority when it comes to major interstate pipeline construction projects, the Wolf administration says it wants to bring all stakeholders together in an attempt to institute planning and best practices to a pipeline building boom that includes an estimated 4,600 new miles of interstate pipes over the next three years, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s in addition to thousands of miles of gathering lines, which carry gas from the well heads to the interstate lines. Much of those smaller lines are unregulated.

Strong opposition to new pipelines have sprung up across the state and have ranged from local attempts to ban pipelines, lawsuits and direct action. DEP Secretary John Quigley told StateImpact in March that the state is not interested in any new regulatory action and says participation in any new proposals would most likely be voluntary.

“We’re not under any illusion to reduce [pipeline construction] impact to zero,” Quigley told StateImpact. “There’s going to be impact but are there opportunities to plan smarter? Share rights of way for example? Can companies work together to optimize development? I don’t know the answers to those questions but I think they’re worth asking.” Continue Reading

PennFuture names new President and CEO

Larry Schweiger spent ten years at the helm of the National Wildlife Federation before being named head of PennFuture.

Courtesy: PennFuture

Larry Schweiger spent ten years at the helm of the National Wildlife Federation before being named head of PennFuture.

One of Pennsylvania’s largest and most active environmental advocacy organizations has named a new president and CEO.

PennFuture has announced the hiring of Larry Schweiger. He previously spent 10 years as head of the National Wildlife Federation. He replaces Cindy Dunn, who left earlier this year to join the Wolf administration as secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“We’re thrilled that Larry is willing and eager to lead PennFuture at this critical juncture for energy and the environment in Pennsylvania,” said David Lane, chair of PennFuture’s board of directors in a statement. “His depth and breadth of experience on these issues is unparalleled and he retains a passion and commitment for the work we do that is second to none.”

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Environmental group accuses AG’s office of inaction in Health Department probe

A natural gas rig in the Tioga State Forest. Some residents who live near rigs like this say state authorities are not listening to their health concerns.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

A natural gas rig in the Tioga State Forest. Some residents who live near rigs like this say state authorities are not listening to their health concerns.

An environmental advocacy group is accusing the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office of failing to conduct a promised investigation into allegations that the state’s Department of Health neglected complaints from people who said their health had been damaged by fracking.

Food & Water Watch said the AG’s office agreed about a year ago to look into the complaints against the health department but said that had not happened, beyond what it called “a few cursory interviews.”

The Washington, D.C.-based group responded to its concerns over the agency’s alleged inaction by filing a right-to-know request with the AG’s office on Wednesday, seeking all its documents related to fracking-related public health concerns.

“The people of Pennsylvania and the people who have been impacted deserve to know who they can go to and who can look out for them,” said Sam Bernhardt, senior Pennsylvania organizer for Food & Water Watch.

Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said it did investigate the allegations against the Department of Health during the second half of 2014 following a series of reports from StateImpact Pennsylvania.

However, Ardo said Health Department staff “were not cooperative in providing information” at that time.

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Water quality not impacted by drilling, according to new report

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Scott LaMar/ WITF

With continuous monitoring between 2010 and 2013, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission did not find any changes in water quality.

A new report shows no correlation between shale gas development and watershed impairment in the Marcellus region between 2010 and 2013.

This is the third such analysis from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. The multi-state compact is made up of representatives from Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and the U.S. governments. It oversees the water withdrawals gas companies need in order to do hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The commission also coordinates state and federal-level environmental efforts within the river’s 27,500-mile watershed. Nearly 85 percent of the Susquehanna River Basin sits atop shale gas wells.

“We see this as the beginning of keeping an eye on things,” says Tyler Shenk, a supervisor for restoration and protection with the SRBC. “As we gather more data, we’ll know more. But there are no giant red flags at this point.”

Shenk says this analysis will serve as the commission’s baseline reference, despite the fact the monitoring began about two years after the Marcellus Shale boom took off in 2008.

Pre-drilling data would be an ideal baseline, but we didn’t have the network set up yet,” he says.

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Sunoco seeks to calm fears of Mariner East pipeline project in Chester County

A pipeline construction site in Northeast Pa.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A pipeline construction site in northeast Pennsylvania.

Sunoco Logistics took its pipeline-promotion show on the road to Chester County on Monday, seeking to calm residents’ concerns surrounding the construction of a of a major new natural gas liquids pipeline from the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania to a processing plant at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia.

Company officials sought to offset fears over flaring, pumping stations and land contracts in two presentations and an accompanying “open house” at West Chester University where residents were invited to hear about the company’s plans and ask questions, during an evening-long program.

Plans to develop the existing Mariner East 1 pipeline, and to build the planned Mariner East 2 line along the same route were presented to about 50 people by two company officials. Continue Reading

Budget bill would block new rules for conventional drillers

Dead vegetation around a conventional well indicating a possible brine spill.

Courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Dead vegetation around a conventional well site in Warren County indicates a possible brine spill. Conventional drillers say they should not be lumped in with regulations directed at the newer, bigger Marcellus Shale wells.

Environmentalists are raising alarms over language slipped into a budget bill that would prevent the state Department of Environmental Protection from establishing its new draft rules on conventional oil and gas drillers.

“It’s very sneaky. It’s a dangerous pathway to go down,” says Matt Stepp, policy director for the environmental group PennFuture. “This would actually stop the regulatory process from occurring.”

The language was added over the weekend to the fiscal code– a companion piece of legislation necessary to implement the state budget. Lawmakers made a similar move last year, when they inserted language into the fiscal code requiring separate regulations for conventional and unconventional drillers.

Ever since Pennsylvania’s fracking boom began, smaller conventional drillers have complained they get unfairly lumped in with the deeper, unconventional Marcellus Shale wells. Arthur Stewart is secretary for the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Coalition, which has lobbied for separate regulations.

“Our footprint is 35 to 45 times smaller than an unconventional well,” he says. “Would there have been any changes to conventional regulations had it not been for the advent of this enormous Marcellus development? That’s why we’re so frustrated.”

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin says DEP regulators have failed to account for the differences between the two industries, which he compared to cars and trucks.

“You have your tractor trailers and your family sedan. They’re both vehicles, but they’re clearly different,” says Miskin. ”[DEP] basically cut and paste the unconventional rules and put them into the conventional rules.”

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