Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Snowy Owl Boom: Population of Arctic Birds Soars

Mar 7, 2014
Audubon Society of Massachusetts

It’s been a big year for snowy owls. People have reported seeing thousands of the magnificent Arctic birds, from Erie, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C., all the way to the island of Bermuda.

Researchers say there are more owls this season than anyone has seen in 50 years. They call a population boom like this an irruption. The question for many people has been, why is it happening?

Credit Mary Birdsong / Presque Isle Audubon

Next week, the Allegheny Front radio program on 90.5 WESA begins Climate Chronicles, a year-long series about the impacts of climate change on our region.

Senior Reporter Julie Grant starts the series with a look at the biggest movement of snowy owls in 50 years, and what it might say about climate change.

She said she started looking at the big white birds, popularized by a character in Harry Potter called Hedwig, because of some unusual sightings.

Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

Thousands of birds, commonly called seagulls, have made a rare migration south to roost at Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist at the National Aviary said the gulls ("seagull" is actually a colloquial term, he explained), normally roost at the Great Lakes this time of year, but the extreme cold from the polar vortex has frozen the surfaces.

The National Aviary / www.aviary.org

A female bald eagle nesting in Pittsburgh's Hays neighborhood has laid a third egg, likely the last of the season.

Bill Powers of PixController, which is providing a live-stream camera of the nest along the Monongahela river, says the new egg was spotted Tuesday night.

The 5½-year-old female nesting in Hays laid the first egg a week ago and a second on Friday.

Chevron says crews have capped the second southwestern Pennsylvania gas well that caught fire earlier this month.

Officials say the well that exploded and caught fire Feb. 11 in Greene County's Dunkard Township was capped Sunday. The blast killed Ian McKee, a technician who was working at the well pad when the fire broke out.

Chevron said the adjacent well that caught fire three days later was capped Tuesday afternoon.

The firm hired to cap the wells will assess the integrity of a third well and do any necessary repairs, part of which might involve flaring of gas.

Is There a Rational Middle When it Comes to Energy Policy?

Feb 25, 2014
Rebecca Harris

How do you create compromise when it comes to the divisive issue of energy and sustainability? We discussed that question with Gregory Kallenberg, creator of the Rational Middle Energy Series, which is making a stop in Pittsburgh this week.

The series is made up of 22 films, so viewers can start at whatever level they want, learning about the basics of energy or something deeper like transportation or conservation.

One gas well is still leaking after a fatal blast at an adjacent gas well in Greene County. One of the Chevron Lanco wells in Dunkard Township caught fire on Feb. 11, and three days later a second caught fire.

Both fires are now out and the first well is capped, but the second well that caught fire is now releasing gas. The Department of Environmental Protection and Chevron plan to have the well capped sometime Tuesday, “if all goes well.”

Chevron says crews have capped a southwestern Pennsylvania gas well that exploded and caught fire earlier this month, killing a worker.

Officials say the well that caught fire Feb. 11 in Greene County's Dunkard Township was capped Sunday. Crews are now working to cap an adjacent well that caught fire three days later.

Kelly Burch of the state Department of Environmental Protection told The (Washington) Observer-Reporter that the second well should be sealed by Wednesday.

PA Coal Alliance Says EPA Requirements Hurt the Poor

Feb 24, 2014

A Pennsylvania coal advocacy group is claiming that coal-fired power plants can’t meet federal emission requirements, and residents are paying the price.

According to Pennsylvania Coal Alliance CEO John Pippy, restrictions from the Environmental Protection Agency are causing the shut down of coal-fired power plants that he thinks are still needed as a short-term solution for electricity demands.

Bald Eagle Lays Egg in Pittsburgh

Feb 20, 2014
The National Aviary / www.aviary.org

One of the first pairs of bald eagles to nest in the Pittsburgh area in more than 200 years is expecting a baby soon.

The female bald eagle laid her first egg of the year Wednesday at 4:45 p.m. at the nest in Hays and will most likely lay another in the next 24 hours, according to National Aviary ornithologist Bob Mulvihill.

He said the female began her 35-day incubation period as soon as the egg was laid, setting the expected date of hatching toward the end of March.

A former president of Carnegie Mellon University is bringing his clout and his ability to raise money to a relatively new institute on campus designed to explore the intersection of energy use, production and policy.

Starting July 1, CMU President Emeritus and University Professor Jared Cohon will add to his business card the title of Scott Energy Institute Director.

Is Oil & Gas Shipment Hurting Pennsylvania?

Feb 19, 2014
Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

In light of a recent train derailment and fire in Greene County; is gas drilling endangering the people, property and public lands of Western PA?

Cindy Dunn, president and CEO of the Statewide Environmental Advocacy organization PennFuture believes that gas drilling may have come on a little too quickly, contributing to the rate of accidents.

Update on Crude Oil Derailment in Vandergrift

Feb 14, 2014
Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Authorities say about 4,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into a parking lot Thursday, when more than 21 cars on a Norfolk Southern rail line between Vandergrift and East Vandergrift derailed around 8:30 a.m.

No injuries were reported. Allegheny Front reporter Reid Frazier, covered the story for WESA, and NPR news.

Frazier says the area is reported to be safe, because the parking lot managed to contain the spill. But how can area residents be sure it's safe?

Specialists Called in to Subdue Chevron Blaze

Feb 13, 2014
Katie Colaneri / StateImpact PA

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, Greene County residents can expect the Chevron shale gas well fire to burn into the weekend, but face no immediate danger.

StateImpact Pennsylvania reporter Katie Colaneri is following developments in this story and says a Texas well control company that specializes in shale gas fires has arrived at the scene, but the size of the flames has halted progress. 

State environmental officials and expert firefighters brought in by Chevron have been continuing to monitor a burning Marcellus Shale natural gas well in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The well about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh in Dunkard Township erupted into flames shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday, injuring one worker and leaving one still unaccounted for early Wednesday.

State Department of Environmental Protection officials say the fire may burn for days, delaying efforts to determine its cause.

Three thousand gallons of the chemical that spilled into the Elk River and contaminated tap water for 300,000 people in nine West Virginia counties has been moved to Armstrong County.

The January West Virginia contamination continues to have lingering effects on the water supply.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) says ensuring a leak like the one that occurred in West Virginia doesn’t happen here is a matter of holding private industry accountable and government regulation, starting from the top with Homeland Security.

Climate Change & Extreme Weather Threaten National Security

Feb 11, 2014
Ingo Meironke / flickr

Extreme weather caused by climate change concerns many for ecological and economic reasons, but policy researchers have found that the severe elements may also have an influence on national security.

The American Security Project (ASP) is a small non-partisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. which investigates threats to national security.

Andrew Holland is a senior fellow for energy and climate policy at the ASP and explains that the effects of climate change are, in a way, threats to infrastructure much like terrorism. 

One worker has been injured and another is missing after a natural gas well explosion and fire in southwestern Pennsylvania, within miles of the West Virginia border.

Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver says the fire was reported at about 6:45 a.m. at the Lanco 7H well in Dunkard Township, near Bobtown. That's about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. Oliver says one person is reported hospitalized and another is currently unaccounted for.

Oliver says Chevron personnel immediately responded to the fire and called in assistance from Wild Well Control.

The brutally cold winter experienced by much of the Midwest and Northeast this year is partly to blame for higher propane prices and for making the fuel harder to come by in parts of the country.

The Pennsylvania Propane Gas Association, or PAPGA, said other factors include a decreased capacity to get the fuel from one place to another.

“There actually is a pretty strong supply of propane in the country," said PAPGA spokesman Michael Meath. "It’s not that there’s a shortage, that’s not the case at all. It’s really been a matter of moving the product.”

There is a direct connection between national security and climate change, according to the American Security Project (ASP), a small non-partisan think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Senior flag officers from ASP are touring the country to talk about the connection between energy, environmental policy and national security. Senior fellow for energy and climate policy Andrew Holland said they will be talking to people outside of the traditional environmental groups, including businesses, veterans groups and lawmakers, about how a changing climate affects homeland security.

A new study by a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that electric car owners can cut costs if they forfeit control over when to charge their vehicles.

The study found that allowing the power grid to control charging is more beneficial than charging the vehicles during peak electricity times.

In response to frigid temperatures and increases in energy costs, the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance is calling for a hearing to examine recent power supply problems.

The alliance points to the closing of three Pennsylvania coal-fired power plants on Oct. 9, including the Mitchell plant in Courtney and the Hatfield Ferry plant in Masontown, as a potential reason for the state’s sudden energy issues.

PA Coal Alliance CEO John Pippy said the lack of coal energy has strained available electricity.

What Happened to DCNR’s $6 Million Marcellus Monitoring Report?

Jan 27, 2014
Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

After spending more than three years and $6 million to monitor how gas drilling is affecting public forests, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has yet to release the information, and environmental groups are beginning to raise questions.

In late 2010, the Rendell administration launched the program– touting it as one of the most aggressive monitoring initiatives by a public agency in the nation.

More than three years later, under the Corbett administration, DCNR has so far refused to share its findings with the public.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection continues its swing through southwestern Pennsylvania Thursday night as it takes testimony on proposed changes to the rules that govern gas and oil drilling in the state.

The DEP took input for several hours Wednesday night in Washington County and will be in Indiana County Thursday night ant the IUP Convention and Athletic Complex. The rules change, known as Chapter 78, represents the first major overhaul in decades.

In the early hours of Monday morning, a train traveling from Chicago derailed over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

Six of the seven derailed cars carried crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota, a substance that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said is more dangerous than other types of crude oil.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is collecting public comments on a set of proposals meant to give further consideration to parks and wildlife, prevent spills and manage waste in oil and gas drilling operations.

These would be implemented under Act 13, the law that governs the oil and gas development in the state. Provisions of the act are being challenged in court, but others are going forward.

As Pittsburgh and other cities continue to look for ways to reduce pollution in streams and rivers, more and more are looking toward green solutions rather than big gray infrastructure projects.

These are things such as rain gardens, green roofs and permeable pavement. A recent report from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) finds these sorts of improvements not only benefit the public sector, but also the private sector.

PA Chemical Tank Laws Tougher Than West Virginia

Jan 17, 2014
Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

The chemical leak at Freedom Industries that left 300,000 people without water in West Virginia brings up questions in other states, like Pennsylvania, about the possibility of other water contamination catastrophes. There have been spills into Pennsylvania waterways before, and regulators say those incidents have led to more strict laws here. Regulators say a spill is less likely here than in West Virginia, but clean water advocates aren't so sure.

The Bicycle Air Monitoring website is a new effort that will show air quality in areas throughout the city. Volunteers on bicycles were equipped with a laser particle counter and GPS system to collect the data.

What was once one of the most polluted cities in the nation now has 49 Energy Star certified commercial facilities. 

It was announced Thursday that the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star rating, meaning the building performs in the top 25 percent of similar facilities in terms of energy efficiency nationwide.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said sustainability is something Allegheny County has been focused on for some time.

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