While legislation stalls in Pennsylvania, West Virginia acts on natural gas royalties

drill rigPennsylvania landowners for years have tried and failed to get the Legislature to protect royalties they receive from natural gas companies, but mineral owners in West Virginia just scored a victory.

A bill addressing deductions from royalty checks sailed through the West Virginia statehouse and will soon go into effect. Now when drillers seek permits to drill on old leases, they cannot take out deductions to cover the costs of transporting natural gas from a well site or removing impurities.

These steps, taken once the gas has been produced from the well, help get the gas ready to be sold further down the processing chain. Continue Reading

FirstEnergy Solutions files for bankruptcy

FirstEnergy Corporation's Bruce Mansfield electricity generating plant is seen in Shippingport, Pa.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

FirstEnergy Corporation's Bruce Mansfield electricity generating plant is seen in Shippingport, Pa.

The power generation subsidiary of Ohio-based FirstEnergy, which owns two Beaver County power plants and several others in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company said over the weekend.

During the bankruptcy, FirstEnergy Solutions says its plants will run normally. Last week, the company said it was closing three nuclear plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio, including Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport. It is also seeking federal help to keep its fleet of aging coal and nuclear plants operating.

The company owns Bruce Mansfield Plant, in Shippingport, the largest coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania. The plant lost $90 million in 2017 alone, and is projected to lose even more – $104 million — this year, according to the company’s documents, filed in a federal bankruptcy court in Ohio.

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Sunoco to residents near sinkholes: We’ll pay to relocate you during investigation

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline begin an 'additional investigation' of geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines. The company offered to relocate residents of the five homes whose yards are crossed by the pipeline right of way. The work is expected to take 4-6 weeks.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Workers and contractors for Sunoco Pipeline begin an ‘additional investigation’ of geological conditions behind homes at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township, Chester County where the company has been drilling for construction of the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines. The company offered to relocate residents of the five homes whose yards are crossed by the pipeline right of way. The work is expected to take 4-6 weeks.

Sunoco is offering to relocate residents at a Chester County site where drilling for the Mariner East pipelines has caused sinkholes to open up in recent weeks.

The company sent at least one letter to homeowners at Lisa Drive, West Whiteland Township last week, saying that it would pay for their relocation, plus a food allowance for an estimated four to six weeks while it conducted an “additional investigation” of geological conditions behind their houses.

“To alleviate any inconvenience to you, SPLP has offered to relocate you and provide a per diem reimbursement for the food for the duration of the scheduled work,” said a letter dated March 30.

The letter said the company will be looking for “any subsurface anomalies and additional areas that should be investigated further.”

Sunoco spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger confirmed that the company sent the letters to Lisa Drive residents. She did not respond to questions on the reasons for the new investigation.

Environmental regulators seeking public input on new shale permits

Methane leaks throughout the entire process of developping natural gas-- from wells and storage sites, to processing facilities and pipelines.

Methane leaks throughout the entire process of developping natural gas-- from wells and storage sites, to processing facilities and pipelines.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators put a call out Friday for the public to weigh in on their draft final general permits to address methane emissions from new Marcellus Shale well sites and other natural gas facilities.

Methane is the main component of natural gas. Compared to carbon dioxide, it’s much more potent as a climate-warming greenhouse gas, although it stays in the planet’s atmosphere for a shorter time period. It leaks throughout the entire process of developing natural gas — from drilling wells to storing it, and transporting it through pipelines.

The 45-day public comment period closes May 15. The permits will only apply to new emission sources. A separate package of new regulations for existing emission sources was supposed to be proposed in 2016, but the DEP has yet to introduce the rules.

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FirstEnergy says it’s closing three nuclear plants; seeks federal help

Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport, Pa. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport, Pa. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Citing “market challenges,” electric utility FirstEnergy says it will close three nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, while at the same time asking the Department of Energy for immediate help to keep its fleet of coal and nuclear plants open.

The company, which could be near bankruptcy according to a report at cleveland.com, gave regional grid operator PJM interconnection notice that it will deactivate Beaver Valley Power Station and two other plants — Davis-Besse in Oak Harber, Ohio, and Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio — by 2021. The company says 2,300 employees would be impacted by the closures; most would be laid off, a spokesman said.

The plants produce 4,000 megawatts of power, enough electricity to power about 4 million homes.

Natural gas and renewable energy have been making up a larger amount of the country’s electric grid, eating into coal and nuclear power on wholesale markets. With that backdrop, FirstEnergy is also asking the Department of Energy to issue an immediate emergency order to PJM Interconnection, the grid operator for mid-Atlantic states, to provide “just and reasonable” compensation to its fleet of aging coal and nuclear power plants in order to keep them open.

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Poll: Most Pennsylvania voters say climate change causing problems now

The Svínafellsjökull glacier in Iceland. Glacial retreat is among the most highly visible impacts of climate change. Since the early twentieth century, with few exceptions, glaciers around the world have been retreating at unprecedented rates.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The Svínafellsjökull glacier in Iceland has retreated dramatically in recent years, revealing a visible sign of the changing climate. Since the early twentieth century, with few exceptions, glaciers around the world have been retreating at unprecedented rates. The melting ice contributes to global sea level rise.

A majority of Pennsylvania voters agree with the scientific consensus that climate change is causing problems right now, and more than two-thirds say the state should be doing more to address it, according to a Franklin & Marshall College/StateImpact Pennsylvania poll released Thursday.

Climate reality

Party affiliation and political ideology continue to play a big role in people’s views, according to Berwood Yost, director of F&M’s Center for Opinion Research.

“Democrats and independents are much more likely to believe climate change is happening,” Yost said. “But the truth is, a majority of Republicans do believe climate change is real.”

Almost two-thirds of Republicans in the survey said climate change is causing problems now, or will at some point.

The survey was conducted over the phone and online, depending on the respondent’s preference, from March 19 through 26, and sampled 423 registered voters from across the state. The margin of error is plus or minus 6.8 percent.

The survey included a wide range of questions on issues and political office-holders and candidates. StateImpact partnered with F&M to include 13 questions on the energy-related issues of climate change and natural gas development.

Poll-C2

Only five percent of respondents said they do not believe climate change is occurring. Twelve percent said the sharp rise in global temperatures will never create any serious problems, while 17 percent said problems won’t happen until sometime in the future.

Among those who agree climate change is happening, 39 percent said they have personally experienced problems linked to the warming. More than two-thirds of respondents (69 percent) said Pennsylvania should pursue policies that support renewable energy over fossil fuels.

Poll-C4

Among states, Pennsylvania is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Although Governor Tom Wolf campaigned on a platform to address climate change, he has been criticized by environmental groups for failing to follow through on concrete steps to curb emissions.

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FERC’s critics, and two commissioners, say new comment policy will hurt landowners

Protesters outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, DC. The agency has announced plans to limit public comments on pipeline projects if the comments are submitted outside the deadline.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, DC. The agency has announced plans to limit public comments on pipeline projects if the comments are submitted outside the deadline.

FERC says it will limit public interventions in its pipeline review process if they are submitted outside the prescribed time, in a new policy that’s being attacked by the agency’s critics as an attempt to stifle comment.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said on March 15 that it won’t be so flexible with “untimely” interventions as it has been in the past. It was responding to Delaware Riverkeeper Network which filed its opposition to a pipeline project at Birdsboro, Pa., five weeks after the deadline. Continue Reading

Public hearing set for longwall mining in Washington County

Coal being prepared for use in electric generation. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Coal being prepared for use in electric generation. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

The Department of Environmental Protection will hold a public hearing on a revised permit to conduct longwall mining at a Washington County mine.

The hearing concerns the Tunnel Ridge underground coal mine in Donegal and West Finley townships, and will take place on Tuesday, April 10 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Donegal Township Municipal Building, 34 N. Liberty Street, West Alexander, Pa.

Tunnel Ridge, LLC is applying to revise its permit in a 1,200-acre segment of the mine from development mining to a more intensive process, longwall mining.

DEP staff will be on hand to take written and oral testimony, and to answer questions about the permit.

Those with special needs who wish to participate can contact Bonnie Herbert at 724-769-1100.

The application is on file for public review at the Washington County Recorder of Deeds Office, 100 West Beau Street, Room 2014, Washington, Pa.

 

In Pennsylvania, unions throw political weight behind natural gas

At the Steamfitters Union Local 449 near Pittsburgh, apprentices practice pipe welding in the union's new training facility. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

At the Steamfitters Union Local 449 near Pittsburgh, apprentices practice pipe welding in the union's new training facility. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

On a recent afternoon, Ken Broadbent walked the aisles of his union’s “weld shop.” Behind orange plastic curtains that shield the eye-searing brightness of their torches, a few dozen apprentices practiced welding pipes together. Each will end up with about 700 hours of training.

“Welding is like shooting pool, the more you do it, the better you’re gonna get,” Broadbent said.

Broadbent is the business manager for Steamfitters Union 449. He was showing off his union’s brand new training center in Butler County, about half an hour north of Pittsburgh.

This training center, which opened last year, cost $18.5 million dollars to build.

Broadbent says it’s money well spent. His members will have plenty of work, thanks in large part to the oil and gas business. They’ll be working on natural gas processing plants, power plants, and Shell’s multi-billion dollar ethane cracker in Beaver County, which will employ 1,500 steamfitters at peak construction.

“I’m almost going to double the amount of people when it peaks working out of my union. That is good for our education fund. That’s good for for our health coverage. It helps us stay in business,” Broadbent said.

The relationship between oil and gas and unions wasn’t always this friendly, he said. When the shale gas boom initially hit Pennsylvania 10 years ago, many of the companies who came to the region were from right-to-work states like Texas and Oklahoma.

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Lobbyist, lawmakers entwined in complex relationship: Is it influence peddling, or essential?

State Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, listens to his constituents lobby him about renewable energy proposals.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

State Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, listens as a group of his constituents lobby him about renewable energy proposals.

On the day of the Governor’s budget address last month, Amtrak’s 7:25 Keystone service from Philadelphia’s 30th street station to Harrisburg filled up with lobbyists on their way to the Capitol.

PennEnvironment’s David Masur was one of them.

“There’s non-profit folks on the train. There’s corporate lobbyists on the train. There’s folks who work for legislators,” he said. “When we took the escalator down, one of the attorney general’s staff was coming down the escalator with us, so it’s sort of a mix of folks making their way to Harrisburg this morning.”

Once the train pulled into the station, a line of men and women in suits trudged through the days-old snow to ply their trade — influencing and, some would say, educating lawmakers about the hundreds of issues the Legislature grapples with each session.

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