Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Why Solar Power is Such An Underutilized Resource

Jun 30, 2014
Christine / Flickr

Solar power has been in the news and discussed since the 1970’s. So why isn’t being utilized more in the United States?

Germany, a country half the size of Texas, harnesses the sun’s energy for many of its residential homes as Mayor Peduto found out earlier this year

Joylette Portlock, President of Communitopia and creator of the Don't Just Sit There, Do Something About Climate Change web series, thinks that Pittsburgh can better utilize the sun’s rays for energy.

"The idea of harnessing the sun's energy for power has been around since the industrial revolution started, it's been around for a long time.  Just as a country, we've had the notion that fossil fuels were cheaper or more easily available, easier to exploit, and we've really built up the infrastructure around those.  And it's only when you get to periods of time, like we saw in the 70's with the oil crisis, where people change their focus and say 'hey, maybe we shouldn't be depending on other countries for our energy,' or maybe, 'we should find a fuel that's free.'"

Coudersport Ice Mine Back in Business Naturally

Jun 30, 2014
Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

On Ice Mountain, part of the Appalachians in North Central Pennsylvania, at the top of Ice Mine Road, $4 will get you one admission into something a little different from the campsites and hiking trails around here.

A lot of folklore is attached to the Coudersport Ice Mine, including the rumor it’s man-made. That’s because some people, even people who live here, can’t believe that ice inside the ice mine only forms here during the summertime. 

Pennsylvania environmental regulators are wading through more than 25,000 public comments on a proposed overhaul of the state’s oil and gas regulations.

LEDs and Beyond: Seeking a Perfect but Efficient White Light

Jun 24, 2014
Ashley Murray / The Allegheny Front

Frank Jones, a lighting distributor for Tri-State Supply, has become something of an expert on light emitting diodes, better known as LEDs.  He says that's because each of his customers wants something different.

"I have one individual customer that has an administration building.  The hallway wants one color.  The conference room, they want nice, warm 2700K, and then Gary the accountant wants nice, white bright 5000," Jones says.

Survey: Public Distrusts Gas Industry And Anti-Fracking Film, 'Gasland'

Jun 22, 2014
Linh Do via Flickr

A new study shows the public views both the natural gas industry and the anti-fracking film, "Gasland," as among the least trustworthy sources of information when it comes to hydraulic fracturing.

According to a paper published last month in Energy Research and Social Science, people are more likely to trust information from university professors, environmental groups, newspapers, and landowner groups.

Regulatory agencies ranked fifth in trustworthiness among the eight possible choices. They were followed by cooperative extensions and the natural gas industry.

Silence On Shale Drilling

Jun 20, 2014

Over the past six years, more than 6,000 Marcellus Shale wells have been constructed in Pennsylvania, making the Keystone State the fastest growing natural gas producer in America.

But the economic advantages of drilling are counterbalanced by health concerns.

Two retirees from the Pennsylvania Department of Health recently said its employees were silenced on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling. The two retirees, a community health nurse and a staffer in the Bureau of Epidemiology, say that staff at state health centers and district offices were instructed not to return calls from residents who expressed concerns about natural gas development.

Katie Colaneri of StateImpact Pennsylvania has been covering the story. She believes that the Department of Health’s policy came from higher up.

Tod J Xelowski / Public Herald

Public Herald founders Melissa Troutman and Joshua Pribanic are setting off on a summer tour to call attention to hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

The journalists co-directed the documentary Triple Divide which deals with fracking in Pennsylvania. They’re taking the film to communities throughout the country that are dealing with their own fracking issues. And they're using a vehicle that doesn't need gasoline.

The Allegheny Front Explores Water Contamination in a New Series

Jun 20, 2014
Matt Richmond / The Allegheny Front

This weekend the environmental radio program The Allegheny Front begins a series on water contamination caused by fracking in the Marcellus Shale region. Reporter Reid Frazier said the series will address a suite of issues that have come up with fracking and water. The first topic, airing Saturday morning focuses on the issue of radiation. 

“When the waste comes into the landfill, the waste does go through a radiation detector, a scintillating detector. These levels are certainly higher than you want at your local landfill." 

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Two retirees from the Pennsylvania Department of Health say its employees were silenced on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling.

One veteran employee says she was instructed not to return phone calls from residents who expressed health concerns about natural gas development.

“We were absolutely not allowed to talk to them,” said Tammi Stuck, who worked as a community health nurse in Fayette County for nearly 36 years.

Another retired employee, Marshall P. Deasy III, confirmed that.

About 750 miles of sewer laterals, or the pipes that connect private homes to the publicly-owned main sewer lines, run underneath Pittsburgh – many of which are damaged.

That’s according to Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), who said repairing and replacing these pipes can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000, and that burden falls on the homeowners.

But he said his legislation aims to solve that problem.

Could Drones Make The Energy Business Safer?

Jun 11, 2014
Photo courtesy of Identified Technologies

Small, high-tech drones are being used to make movies, shoot photos for the media and find sick or diseased crops in farm fields across the country — even though the government restricts commercial use.

Now, some are saying that drones could make operations safer in an industry Pennsylvania knows well: Energy.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, could be used in oil and gas operations for anything that is “dangerous or dirty to do by people,” said Michael Blades, who analyzes the drone industry for the global research firm Frost & Sullivan.

As Pennsylvania lawmakers grapple with finalizing the state budget, and face a financial shortfall, lawmakers and outside groups are calling for a severance tax on the natural gas industry to increase revenues.

Thousands of people with ties to the natural gas industry are gathered in Pittsburgh this week for the Developing Unconventional Gas, or DUG East Conference.

With ongoing debate around natural gas development, one of the key areas of focus is changing public perception. Environmental groups and anti-fracking groups are concerned about how fracking affects water supplies and the environment and also about long-term effects of the technology. Some allege that industry officials put profits before people.

The Consumer Energy Alliance said that’s not the case.

Environmental groups are applauding the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce emissions from power plants while many in the energy industry, namely in coal, are panning it.

“This is a ground-breaking moment for Pennsylvania, for the nation, for the globe,” said Christina Simeone, director of the PennFuture Energy Center.

The Pennsylvania Coal Alliance sees it differently.

A new website allows the public to access data on what contaminates are found in water storage areas near coal ash dumps from power plants. The “Ashtracker” website includes information for sites from Pennsylvania to as far west as Montana and as far south as Florida.

Two drilling pads in Washington County are storing Marcellus Shale drilling sludge with radioactivity levels that are too high for regular disposal.

According to John Poister, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman, drilling company Range Resources sent the department a request for a Department of Transportation exemption form March 1st.

The form would allow Range Resources to move waste that has a “higher than background radiation level” - meaning that it is a higher level than the radiation that is usually found in the environment.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection held public comment for their proposed new regulations at coal-fired power plants that is supposed to limit smog-causing pollution.

Those present at a rally at DEP’s offices in Pittsburgh before the public comment said the proposed regulations are lax toward coal-fired power plants and will worsen smog problems in a region already known for poor air quality.

Electricity Bills Get a New Look

May 27, 2014

Electricity bills are full of numbers, measurements, abbreviations, and costs, all tallied precisely. But one thing that does not show up is the name of the company that actually produces  the electricity. That is, until now.

The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has approved a requirement that bills contain more information about electricity suppliers.

Put on a long sleeve shirt and load up on some pest repellent, because tick season in Pennsylvania is expected to get progressively worse year after year.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of Lyme disease cases, and Penn State Urban Entomologist Steve Jacobs said that’s because of an increasing tick population.

“The only thing I can say for certain is that, across Pennsylvania for the last 25 years, we’ve been trending having more ticks in more places,” he said. “That will continue.”

A world-renowned cheetah expert and conservationist was in Pittsburgh this weekend, visiting four new cheetahs at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

Laurie Marker, the founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund located in Namibia, said she hopes the two females and two males at the zoo will be “educational ambassadors” for her research and conservation efforts.

Shopping around could save customers from a 20-50 percent increase on energy bills stating June 1st according to the Public Utility Commission (PUC).

Every quarter energy suppliers are allowed to adjust prices according to how much they are spending.

The U.S. House has passed an amendment by Representatives Mike Doyle (D - PA - 14) and Tim Murphy (R - PA - 18) that could mean funding to remedy sewer overflows in Allegheny County.

The amendment - the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) - aims to finance the creation or renovation of water and wastewater infrastructure through low interest rate federal loans, loan guarantees and possibly grants.

Doyle said he has been working for years to secure federal monies to bring outdated local sewer systems into compliance with modern water quality laws.

Following the release of national reports on climate change, Allegheny County Health Department officials are examining how best to prepare for the changes they say are imminent over the coming decades.

“It’s going to change the air pollution levels, it’s going to change the pollen levels, it’s going to change insects, it’s going to change water quality,” said Jayme Graham, Air Quality Program manager at ACHD. “What do we need to know about that, and what do we need to start preparing for that?”

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Media Services / 90.5 WESA

Construction for the first power plant deliberately located on the Marcellus Shale formation began Thursday.

“Panda Power Funds Liberty Energy Center is the first power plant in Pennsylvania specifically developed to harness potential Marcellus Shale gas formation,” Gov. Tom Corbett said at the groundbreaking.

The 829-megawatt natural gas-fueled power plant will be located in Asylum Township in Bradford County.

Corbett said the facility is creating approximately 560 jobs: 500 to construct it, about 27 to operate it and 45 indirect jobs to support it.

The two workers killed in an underground coal mine in West Virginia were performing a risky method known as retreat mining, where the roof is intentionally collapsed to retrieve more coal.

Retreat mining has been going on for generations and is considered standard practice in mines where coal reserves are running out. It involves yanking supporting pillars of coal from inside the mine and letting the roof collapse as miners and equipment work their way out.

The son of one of the workers who died Monday night at Brody Mine No. 1 said his father understood the risks.

At The Water Bank, A Sense Of Ministry

May 13, 2014
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Pastor Lee Dreyer helps organize the Water for Woodlands water bank at White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church in Renfrew, Pa.

The church distributes water to 34 families whose wells went bad around the time fracking started in the region. The coincidence can't be proven but residents said they can tell by taste, smell, color and skin reaction that their water hasn't been right.

Read more of this story at the website of our partner PublicSource.

A Day In The Life Of A Water Bank

May 13, 2014
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

For two years, a Presbyterian Church near hard-to-pronounce Connoquenessing Township, Pa., has been a bank — a water bank to be precise.

The church distributes water to 34 families whose wells went bad around the time hydraulic fracturing started in the region. The coincidence can’t be proven, but residents of the Woodlands, a poor rural community in the township, said they can tell by taste, smell, color and skin reaction that their water hasn’t been right.

Courtesy of Range Resources

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has signed an ordinance allowing hydraulic fracturing to occur underneath Deer Lakes Park.

Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for Range Resources, the company tasked with the drilling, said lawyers from the county and Range are still working out some technical details of the lease, but that it will be finalized soon.

Hundreds of thousands of trees have been killed due to the invasive Emerald Ash Borer, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is holding workshops to teach landowners how to save their trees.

The insect was first found in Pennsylvania in Cranberry Township, Butler County in 2007. Since then the DCNR has been working to stop the spread in every way it can, but the species has already spread to 47 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

Another Marcellus Shale drilling policy, which includes a 5 percent severance tax, is being proposed by a Philadelphia lawmaker.

State Sen. Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia) announced last week that his legislation would impose an extraction tax which would overlap the existing impact fee, a policy that mirrors West Virginia law. The Corbett administration and Republican-controlled Legislature have resisted a severance tax.

Citing a report by Reuters, Stack said Pennsylvania stands to lose more than $20 billion over the next 20 years if a severance tax is not adopted.

Pages