Environment & Energy

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

Conservationists hope to keep a well-used section of Stonycreek alive thanks to a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

In all, the DEP is awarding more than $23.2 million for various watershed projects.

The DEP awarded the grants to a total of 109 projects in the commonwealth through the Growing Greener Program, Acid Mine Drainage Set Aside Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program.

Impact fees have been in place for counties with Marcellus Shale drilling sites, but if State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) gets his way, pipelines could be the key to spreading the wealth.

Dinniman plans to introduce legislation Monday that would establish a pipeline impact fee in Pennsylvania.

He said the burden needs to be taken off those who are directly affected by the pipelines carrying shale gas to the ports of Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore.

Flickr user Linday Attaway

A new gas-fired power plant has been proposed for Westmoreland County, and environmental groups have been scrutinizing the permit applications submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Omaha-based energy company Tenaska has been working on the proposal since 2009, and anticipates approval of the DEP permits in the next couple of months, according to project manager Monte Ten Kley.

“They’ve issued the draft permit and we feel we have answered and addressed all of their questions and provided them all the information that was required,” Ten Kley said.

After nearly five years of incorrectly reporting water withdrawal rates, Range Resources will pay a $1.75 million settlement to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

All oil and gas companies are required to report the amount of water they use to the DEP, and it must be within a specified amount. During July 2009 until February 2014 Range was misreporting its numbers saying the company was not using as much as it was, and at times not reporting to the DEP at all.

Range approached the DEP with its mistakes and has since worked to fix them.

Managing Wildlife at the Pittsburgh International Airport

Jan 15, 2015
Pit Airport / Flickr

 

Earlier this week, the WESA newsroom reported on the capture of a short-eared owl near the runway of the Pittsburgh International Airport. The medium sized owl is considered threatened in the state of Pennsylvania.

So special care needed to be taken to retrieve, tag, and relocate the bird. We talked with Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist with the National Aviary and Bobby Hromack, a wildlife specialist for the airport and biologist with the USDA, on the issue.

Mulvihill discusses why the owl is considered threatened by Pennsylvania but not federally:

The Obama administration laid out designs Wednesday to issue the first regulations to cut down on methane emissions from new natural gas wells, aiming to curb the discharge of a potent greenhouse gas by roughly half.

The White House set a new target for the U.S. to cut methane emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2025, compared to 2012 levels. To meet that goal, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue a proposal affecting oil and gas production, while the Interior Department will also update its standards for drilling to reduce leakage from wells on public lands.

Pittsburgh International Airport flickr

Pittsburgh International Airport has booked three short-eared owls a one-way ticket to their natural habitat.

The medium-sized owls, which measure 13 to 17 inches tall, were spotted on the edges of the airport’s property at the beginning of this month, and the airport’s wildlife management team, along with environmental regulatory agencies, have relocated them to a safer habitat — safer for them and potentially safer for the aircrafts.

While the short-eared owl is not considered endangered or threatened at the federal level, it is in Pennsylvania. 

'Cans for Pets' Boosts Recycling, Helps Shelters

Jan 12, 2015
Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

Recycling just one aluminum can save enough energy to run a television for three hours. But some segments of the population—like pet owners—apparently haven’t heard that message. Aluminum pet food cans are one of the least recycled household items.

Margaret Corrado is an exception to that rule. At a pet store south of Pittsburgh, she dumps about 40 little empty cat food cans from a plastic grocery bag into a blue recycling bin.

FracTracker

The FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit oil and gas industry watchdog, has launched a free iPhone app that allows users to track and report on the quality of nearby wells.

“Your geolocation gets shared with the app and so you can actually immediately see unconventional and conventional oil and gas wells near you…” said Samantha Malone, manager of education, communication and partnerships with FracTracker. “You can click on wells to see more information about a particular site, such as the operator or when it was drilled.”

Coal Company Wants PennDOT to Pay

Jan 8, 2015

A road is being built over land that can be mined for coal, and a lawyer is trying to figure out how his client will be compensated.

Robert Lightcap is an attorney for Penn Pocahantas Coal Company which owns approximately 16 blocks of coal covering several thousand acres in Somerset County where Route 219 is being constructed.

The highway will go over the coal reserves owned by his client.

Some of the coal is in release to PBS Coals. They already had a planned, permitted mine in place. Lightcap says acres of coal will be lost because of the road project.

An environmental group plans to appeal a court ruling that upheld the leasing of public lands for gas and oil drilling. Commonwealth Court rejected a 2012 lawsuit by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation seeking to halt drilling in state parks and forests and diverting revenues from a conservation fund to the general operating budget.

Michael Bett is a Ben Avon Borough Councilman, and he wants to see the Shenango coke plant on Neville Island shut down, for good.

Bett, who is a co-founder of Allegheny Clean Air Now, made his case for shuttering the plant to the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting Wednesday, ahead of a presentation from the county’s air program manager about plans to improve air quality in 2015.

Pittsburgh's Improving Water Quality

Jan 7, 2015
Joseph / Flickr

Although not as apparent today, Pittsburgh was once one of the top industrial cities in America- and one of the dirtiest.

Often described as “hell with the lid off,” Pittsburgh of old was a city of dark noons where workers had to change their white shirts during the day. Since the Steel City’s mid-century renaissance, the air quality has improved significantly.

Improving the water quality of the famed three rivers- which were often used as garbage disposal by past residents- has been a longer process.

But encouraging news came out of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently, when they announced that the Monongahela River had been removed from the department’s list of Rivers with Impaired Drinking Water.

The department’s Deputy Secretary of Water Management Kelly Heffner said that though this was a step in the right direction, there is still plenty of work to be done in Western Pennsylvania.

From Pets to Pipes, Cold Weather Takes a Toll

Jan 6, 2015

The National Weather Service is forecasting an overnight low of two degrees Wednesday night, well below the average temperature for this time of year.  The all-time record low for January 6th is one degree, and for January 7th is two. This current icy weather might be problematic for Pittsburgh’s home owners and pets.

John L. Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Super Service, says his company can handle approximately 20 service calls a day. When temperatures fall below 10 degrees, the company can receive as many as 300 calls in just a few hours. The culprit? Frozen pipes.

Ohio Earthquakes Linked to Hydraulic Fracturing

Jan 6, 2015
Nicholas Tonelli / Flickr

Researchers at Miami University in Ohio have concluded fracking was most likely the cause of earthquakes that have taken place in the state.

Last March, 77 earthquakes occurred in Poland, Ohio, a town near the PA-OH state line. Reporter Julie Grant of the Allegheny Front joins us to discuss this recent report.

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.

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