Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Adam Welz for CREDO Action / Flickr

Last month the state of New York voted to ban fracking. While many celebrated this news some saw their visions of an economic boom go bust.

Journalist Tom Wilber has been covering shale gas developments and gives a first-hand account of this latest news and emphasizes the importance of timing for this decision,  fracking's impact public health and social consequences and its relation to Pennsylvania.

"New York and Pennsylvania are different states in terms of their history with mineral extraction. I think that Pennsylvania has a different comfort level with mineral extraction, going back to the days of the anthracite coal mining. I think there is more of an acceptance of the downside of mineral extraction in Pennsylvania. [ In New York] It's foreign to people [mineral extraction]."

Allegheny Front reporter, Reid Frazier responds to Wilber’s point by reminding us that along with the attention of environmental groups, PA Governor-elect Tom Wolf has said he will be focusing on the public health implications of fracking in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is becoming a nationwide leader in the clean energy industry.

That’s according to a new report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which highlights eight states that have demonstrated leadership in clean energy policies, installation and economies. The goal was to analyze states outside of those usually credited with clean energy advances such as California.

Jessica Lubetsky, Clean Energy Initiative officer, said the commonwealth has positioned itself to take advantage of what it already has – especially its manufacturing industry.

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has approved Pennsylvania’s 2014 Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment report for streams, rivers and lakes across the state.

According to Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Amanda Whitman, the report is required every two years by the federal Clean water Act.

“Pennsylvania has roughly 86,000 stream miles and compiling this report, collecting  the data, analyzing that data and producing the report is a significant accomplishment,” Whitman said.

Air Monitoring Ongoing At Airport Fracking Site

Dec 29, 2014

This past year, the Allegheny County Health Department began monitoring air quality at Pittsburgh International Airport to gauge the potential health risks of fracking.

Jim Thompson, the deputy director of environmental health for the department said they’re monitoring at the Imperial Point Development, which is approximately 2,500 feet from well pad #2 at the airport.

What To Do With All That Christmas Packing Material?

Dec 25, 2014

Chances are, if you got that gigantic flat screen television this holiday season, there was polystyrene in the packaging. But now that the TV is on the wall, what are you going to do with all that stuff?

Instead of throwing away the white molded packaging material, the Pennsylvania Resources Council is encouraging you to recycle it at a designated drop-off spot.

Top Views of 2014: Seagulls Flock to Pittsburgh

Dec 22, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on 2014 and airing some of the Essential Pittsburgh stories that were most popular on our website, wesa.fm.

To hear the full-length audio for this story, please refer to the original post.

Back in February 2014, Pittsburghers were surprised to find thousands of seagulls making the North Shore their temporary home. We spoke with Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist at the National Aviary, who explained that the gulls migrated to Pittsburgh because of the extreme weather conditions created by the Polar Vortex.

Vantage Energy Appalachia has been fined $999,900 by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for more than a dozen violations of regulations in connection with a Jan. 15 landslide as well as illegal waste disposal at a well pad in Franklin Township, Greene County.

Commissioners of Somerset County have agreed to use drilling revenue to match any public donations to save Lake Somerset.

The lake has one of 12 “high hazard dams” in the state. The county is trying to save the dam to save the lake. The 253 acre lake’s water level has already been lowered by 6 feet to take pressure off the dam.

The county is also trying to make the land around the lake into a community park. It just has to wait for the Fish and Boat Commission to approve the plans, which Commissioner John Vatavuk thinks is very likely.

Cuomo Gets Kudos, Scorn for New York Fracking Ban

Dec 18, 2014
AP Photo/Mike Groll

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is getting heaped with praise by environmentalists and scorn by business interests for a planned state ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, even as he insists the decision wasn't his.

Residents statewide remain almost evenly split on the issue, and the divisions are clear, pollsters said Thursday. The decision announced Wednesday followed Cuomo's re-election last month, which the Democrat won easily as expected.

Quinnipiac University Poll's Mickey Carroll said the political impact is likely to be limited and the decision was predictable.

While the population in Marcellus Shale drilling towns has not increased, crime, housing costs and other negative impacts have.

That’s according to the left-leaning Keystone Research Center and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center’s report "The Shale Tipping Point: The Relationship of Drilling to Crime, Truck Fatalities, STDs and Rents in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio."

More than 300 people filled a ballroom at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh Thursday to devise the framework for a regional energy development plan.

Representatives from more than 20 energy-related organizations led the event, trying to pinpoint key issues to address in the energy development plan.

Pittsburgh and the surrounding 32 county region have a long history of being energy innovators, according to Power of 32 Implementation Committee Chairman Greg Babe, but the area lacks vision and strategy.

Joseph / Flickr

Riverlife recently announced the departure of President and CEO Lisa Schroeder. Before she leaves the Steel City we’ve invited her to Studio A for an exit interview about the recreation, economic and ecological aspects of Pittsburgh’s river fronts.

Natasha Khan / PublicSource

About a dozen St. Marys officials, outfitted with baggy blue jumpsuits, earplugs and white plastic hard hats, recently visited a Seneca Resources well pad on a wooded hilltop to see what fracking is all about.

This part of Pennsylvania, about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Elk County, has been relatively untouched by shale drilling. But people see it coming in two test wells Seneca has there now, with more wells in the future.

DEP Gives Gas Industry Group $150,000 Grant To Study Drilling

Dec 5, 2014
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The state Department of Environmental Protection has awarded a $150,000 non-competitive grant to an industry-backed nonprofit organization. The money was allocated in last year’s state budget specifically for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling.”

Every minute of the last six months has been captured by a series of four high-end panoramic cameras trained on some of the most scenic views to be found in southwestern Pennsylvania.

But the collection of pictures has not been created to help the sell the city to tourists and businesses, instead they have been put up to document the pollution that often gets in the way of seeing the landscape.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Fourteen very sick sea turtles are recovering at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium after being stranded on the beaches of New England in what is being described as a “mass cold stunning event.”

The endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are just a few of the more than 900 that washed up on northeastern shores after becoming hypothermic as ocean waters cooled. They arrived in Pittsburgh last Sunday, from the New England Aquarium in Boston.

Pennsylvania's State Tree is at Risk of Dying

Dec 1, 2014

The eastern hemlock has been dying in silence, being eaten alive by pests — but the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has developed a plan to intervene and save the state tree.  

“The eastern hemlock is perhaps the most valuable tree in our state woodlands,” said DCNR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Brady. “[The Hemlock is] the oldest evergreen when you look at a forest, and perhaps the most valuable in terms of what it provides.”

Five townships and two boroughs in Berks County have been placed under quarantine by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in the fight against the Spotted Lanternfly, which was found for the first time in North America in the county earlier this fall.

The quarantine prohibits residents from moving any material or object that could help the spread of the insect, which attacks grapes, apples, stone fruits as well as pines.

Studies Show Naturally Occurring Methane In Northeast PA Water

Nov 14, 2014

A pair of studies released today by the U.S Geological Survey found low-to-moderate concentrations of naturally occurring methane in private water wells in Wayne and Pike Counties– a region of the state without Marcellus Shale drilling.

Those two counties fall under the jurisdiction of the Delaware River Basin Commission, which currently has a moratorium on fracking.

Blue Mind: How Water Improves Our Quality of Life

Nov 12, 2014
joseph a / Flickr

 Why is the sound and image of water so soothing to us? Why does being near water improve our wellbeing? And how can this understanding help us make better decisions about water conservation and urban design?


and neuroscientist, Wallace J. Nichols explores these questions and many more in his book “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science that Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.”

He’s coming to Pittsburgh to take part in the Inspire Speakers Series, in conjunction with Riverlife, a local organization that works on the development of Pittsburgh's riverfront park systems. Wallace J. Nichols joins us along with Stephan Bontrager, Director of Communications for Riverlife.

Reid R. Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Inside a government lab near Washington D.C., Denise Akob holds up a glass jar filled with water. At the bottom of the jar is what looks like sand.

“It just looks like mud from any old stream—it’s got this brown color, it’s rocky, the water is still really clear,” says Akob, a microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The sediment is from a clean streambed. It’s been inside the bottle for 90 days.

The Polar Vortex Returns Later This Week

Nov 10, 2014
Matt Niemi / Flickr

The Polar Vortex is back and it's ready to blast 200 million people with arctic air, lunging into the North Central U.S. this week and expanding southward and eastward.

The outbreak of unusually cold air is expected to linger well past the middle of the month.

We'll talk with John Radzilowicz, Director of Professional Development at ASSET STEM Education.

You may have noticed the street lights on Bigelow Boulevard have taken on a different hue over the last year.

That’s because they’re now LEDs, or light emitting diodes, which the city is expecting will save thousands of dollars in energy and maintenance costs.

But it’s not quite sure just how much energy and money is being saved by the LEDs installed near roadways and in business districts across the city, which is where a new $25,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments comes in.

The Allegheny Land Trust wants a 30-acre chunk of land in Sewickley, and a new grant might help obtain it.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has provided a $250,000 grant to acquire the green space along Waterworks Road.

“It’s primarily going to be used for wildlife habitat, water interception, absorption and the scenic character of the borough and surrounding boroughs around Sewickley,” said Chris Beichner, Land Trust CEO and president.

Online Tool Pinpoints Wood Burning Areas

Nov 2, 2014

A Pennsylvania-based clean air activist group has launched a new on-line tool it says will encourage discussion about open wood burning and wood smoke pollution.

The online application launched by The Clean Air Council, called I See Smoke, allows users to pinpoint the area where they are noticing wood smoke pollution on a map. This information is given to the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), which can use the data to resolve the issue.

PA Governor Candidates on CO2 Cap and Trade

Oct 30, 2014
AP Photo / Keith Srakocic

The U.S. is ratcheting up efforts to combat climate change, with the final carbon rules for power plants expected from the Environmental Protection Agency next year.

When Pennsylvanians elect a governor in November, they will, in part, be making a choice over how the state should move toward complying with the new rules. One way is by joining with other states in a cap and trade program.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A new demonstration project in Sarver, about 30 miles outside Pittsburgh, is taking a decades-old problem and turning it into a possible solution for the natural gas industry. Winner Water Service has launched treatment facility that aims to clean up polluted water – and sell it to natural gas developers for use in fracking operations.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh think they have found a link between prenatal and early life exposure to air pollution and autism.  The study focused on 217 families with children on the autism spectrum. 

Autism now affects one in 68 children in America.  That is up nearly 800 percent in the last 20 years. Principal investigator Evelyn Talbott said her research found exposure to increased levels of chromium and styrene increased the risk of autism by 1.4 to two times. 

A recent survey of 37 energy companies in southwestern Pennsylvania found some 7,000 jobs will need to be filled between now and 2020, jobs that are critical to ongoing operations.

That’s according to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which conducted the survey. CEO Dennis Yablonsky said with more than 1,000 energy companies in the greater region, the job needs are likely much higher. The problem is finding enough skilled workers to fill those jobs.

Enter the Appalachia Partnership Initiative.

Daniel Foster / Flickr

Are state police in Pennsylvania tracking activists for Marcellus Shale drillers? 

We’ll pose that question to journalist Adam Federman who recently reported on this issue for the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia City Papers.