Environment & Energy

We explore issues of energy and the environment, along with our partners from Allegheny Front and StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The sounds of buzzing chainsaws echoed through the hills around Raystown Lake on Thursday afternoon as contractors for Sunoco Logistics cleared trees to make way for the new Mariner East 2 project.

The 8,300-acre lake in Huntingdon County is a popular spot for swimming, boating, hiking and mountain biking. It draws about 1.5 million visitors annually.

Pennsylvania Confirms First Fracking-Related Earthquakes

Feb 22, 2017
Mark Schmerling / FracTracker Alliance

Pennsylvania officials say they’ve confirmed the state’s first fracking-related earthquakes took place last year in Lawrence County, northwest of Pittsburgh. As a result, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is stepping up its requirements for drilling in that part of the state, which is known for seismic activity.

PA Department of Environmental Protection

Pennsylvania environmental regulators are set to release the findings of their investigation into a series of minor earthquakes that took place near fracking operations by an oil and gas company.

The quakes were recorded last April about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh and three-quarters of a mile from a natural gas well owned by Houston-based Hilcorp Energy Co. They were too weak to be felt by humans and no damage was reported.

Environmentalists Oppose Permits For Pennsylvania Pipeline

Feb 15, 2017
Matt Slocum / AP

Environmental advocacy groups are trying to halt construction of a $2.5 billion natural gas liquids pipeline across southern Pennsylvania while they appeal newly issued permits that they say would unleash massive and irreparable damage to the state's environment and residents.

In filings Monday night, three groups said the state Department of Environmental Protection had approved incomplete and legally flawed permit applications for Sunoco Logistics' Mariner East 2 pipeline hours earlier "in response to heavy and sustained political pressure."

Keri Rouse / Allegheny Land Trust

A 450-acre parcel of land in McKeesport that was once an industrial site has been nursed back to health to the point that it has been recognized as a Pennsylvania wild plant sanctuary.

The land, known as Dead Man’s Hollow was acquired by the Allegheny Land Trust in 1994 and crews began in earnest in 2014 to remove non-native invasive plants and build foot trails.

How Climate Change Skeptic Myron Ebell Is Shaping Trump's EPA

Feb 9, 2017
NASA

President Trump has been making good on a variety of campaign promises, from his executive order on immigration to his pick to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

A coal company has laid off 200 miners in Pennsylvania because of a state environmental ruling that limits mining beneath a park creek in western Pennsylvania.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

A western Pennsylvania school superintendent has resigned after water problems forced an elementary school to close and relocate students to a previously shuttered building.

According to the Butler Area School District’s website, Dr. Dale Lumley’s resignation is effective immediately.

Summit Elementary in Summit Township was closed for two days

About two weeks ago, the district and Department of Environmental protection worked to rectify high lead levels in the well water provided to the property.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Scientists from Carnegie Mellon University have been climbing onto local rooftops and installing air quality monitors. It’s a project of CMU’s Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions, funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency. Similar centers were also set up at Harvard and Yale.

Citizen Complaints Over Drilling Have Soared During The Gas Boom

Feb 3, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

For the first time, the public can view a comprehensive record of citizen complaints about oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania. The investigative website Public Herald has scanned and published more than 9,000 complaints made by residents over 12 years to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection about conventional and unconventional drilling, or fracking.

Appalachian Region Could Support 4 More Cracker Plants, Says Report

Jan 27, 2017
Marie Cusick / State Impact

The Appalachian region could support up to four more petrochemical processing plants, known as crackers, according to a forthcoming report from IHS Markit.

Denise Brinley, a special assistant to the Secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, previewed the report Thursday during a presentation at the Hart Energy Marcellus Utica Midstream conference in Pittsburgh. She says it will be published in the next few weeks.

Trump Gives Pipeline Industry A Boost, But Leaders Warn Against Complacency

Jan 26, 2017
Kyle Pattison / Public Herald

Donald Trump’s public support of big pipeline projects is giving the industry a shot in the arm. But it still faces hurdles from state and local opposition, according to industry leaders.

On Tuesday, Trump signed executive orders to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and expedite environmental reviews on some projects. 

Scientists Rush To Backup Climate Data

Jan 26, 2017
NASA

Since President Trump’s inauguration, the climate change page at whitehouse.gov disappeared. Reuters also reported that climate references were to be removed from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, though it appears that’s been delayed.

Mining Permit In State Park Halted By Judge

Jan 25, 2017
Friends of Ryerson State Park / Facebook

A judge has ordered a halt to mining underneath a state park in Greene County. Environmental Hearing Board Judge Steven C. Beckman issued the order Tuesday, regarding a Consol Energy plan to expand its Bailey mine complex beneath Ryerson Station State Park. Environmental groups had argued the plan would have damaged a high-quality stream in the park.

Brian Peshek

On the Sunday before buck hunting season started in late November, Randy Santucci, chair of a group called the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, got up early to show me some of his favorite hunting sites.

Santucci is a big guy, in his 50s, and owns a machine shop in Robinson Township near the Pittsburgh airport. Today, he’s wearing a camo shirt, a ball cap and what looks like a week’s worth of scruff on his face.

Handling The Rising Tide Of Climate Change In Our Region

Jan 12, 2017
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

In a farewell address this week, President Obama reiterated his administration’s commitment to acting on climate change—and his thoughts on the gravity of issue.

“Without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects,” he said.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

 

Two of Pennsylvania’s leading environmental groups are forming a new strategic alliance in response to what they call an “unprecedented anti-environmental political climate at the federal and state levels.”

PennFuture and the Conservation Voters of PA will combine policy, advocacy, and legal resources to mobilize voters around environmental issues and hold lawmakers accountable.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / NCTC Archives Museum

Rachel Carson would recognize the conflict between environmental regulation and corporate interests as it is manifesting in President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Google Maps

UPDATE: This story was updated at 11:40am to clarify that the fire was due to an equipment failure at the well pad.

Rebecca and Jeffrey Ruffing and their six children live less than 600 feet from the Rice Energy natural gas well pad that caught fire Sunday afternoon.

Coal Country Picked Trump. Now, It Wants Him To Keep His Promises

Jan 1, 2017

From West Virginia to Wyoming, coal country overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump and his message that he will bring coal jobs back. Now, those same voters are eyeing his incoming administration closely, careful to see if he will keep his promises to revive the coal industry and get miners back to work.

Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

Despite numerous layoffs and realignments in the Pennsylvania gas industry in 2016, the year is ending with more drill rigs operating in the state than at the same time last year.

The number of active gas drill rigs in Pennsylvania went up from 26 in December of 2015 to 31 in 2016. The increase comes at a time when the number of active rigs nationwide is down more than 10 percent – down to 637 in 2016, versus 709 in 2015.

Joe Ulrich / WITF

 

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.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

Air quality in western Pennsylvania improved in 2016, according to three regional monitors tracked by the Allegheny County Health Department.

“It was a good year in ozone,” said Jayme Graham, the department's air quality manager.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

It started as a pothole.

A driver blew a tire in the Borough of Ephrata at 6 a.m. on Election Day and alerted the public works department.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

The Confluence Borough Municipal Authority has agreed to update part of its sewer infrastructure to prevent untreated sewage from making its way into the Youghiogheny River near Ohiopyle State Park.

The settlement between the authority, the state Department of Environmental Protection and environmental advocacy group PennFuture is the result of a lawsuit filed by PennFuture in 2014.

Three New Developments To Watch Along The Ohio River

Dec 19, 2016
Allegheny Front

1. Shell's Ethane Cracker

Shell faced questions this week at local and state hearings over the new petrochemical plant it plans to build northwest of Pittsburgh. Local officials asked the company about air and water pollution from the plant—as well as how noise, light and traffic will impact the surrounding communities.

Could The Former Shenango Coke Works Site Become A Solar Farm?

Dec 17, 2016
Google Earth

Last year, when Leah Andrascik heard the Shenango Coke Works was closing, she thought it was a joke. Then, when she realized the news sent in an email by a fellow activist was true, she was relieved.

Andrascik lives just across the Ohio River from Neville Island, just north of Pittsburgh, where the coke plant was a constant source of concern for many residents. “When it was still in operation, there was a lot of dark smoke that would come out of the battery,” Andrascik says.

Are We Heading For A Hydropower Boom On The Three Rivers?

Dec 16, 2016
Nicholas A. Tonelli / Flickr

Behind a chain link fence, Paul Jacob watches water spill over a dam on Neville Island—a 1,200-acre stretch of land in the Ohio River near Pittsburgh that’s a hive of industrial lots and chemical plants. 

Oil And Gas Development Could Pose A Risk To Struggling PA Bats

Dec 15, 2016
US Fish and Wildlife Service

 

A coalition of nine oil and gas companies is asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a 50-year permit that would allow the killing or disturbing of five bat species in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The permit, which is covered under the Endangered Species Act, is called an incidental take permit because the impacts are incidental to carrying out a legal activity, like constructing pipelines.

What To Expect From PennFuture In The Trump Era

Dec 8, 2016
Lou Blouin / Allegheny Front

For the past few weeks, we’ve been tracking how the environmental movement is responding to Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election. This week, we talked with Larry Schweiger, head of PennFuture, one of Pennsylvania’s leading environmental advocacy organizations. And he says he’s approaching the incoming Trump administration with a mix of apprehension and optimism.

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