Environment & Energy

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

EPA Awards Grant to Local Communities

Aug 22, 2012

The Turtle Creek, Steel Valley, and Twin River Councils of Governments (COG) in southeastern Allegheny County have been awarded a $600,000 federal grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to assess brownfields and their potential for other uses.

The Green Building Alliance is challenging Pittsburgh property owners to reduce the use of water, energy, and transportation emissions by 50% by 2030.  Green Building Alliance C-E-O Mike Schiller, said the property owners who have committed to the initiative are called "2030 Districts," and others have already been established in Seattle and Cleveland.

Drillers Deal With Rattlers

Aug 21, 2012

Jobs on natural gas drilling sites can have funny names.  There are roustabouts, mud men, doodlebuggers and snake wranglers. That last one, snake wrangler, is exactly what it sounds like.

Drillers are finding more and more timber rattlesnakes as gas operations expand in northeast Pennsylvania. The snakes are what’s called a "candidate species." They aren’t protected, but state regulators think the species may be in danger, so Pennsylvania's Fish and Boat Commission is doing a lot of research aimed at tracking and monitoring them.

Gas Fume Vapor Systems Have Net Negative

Aug 16, 2012

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The federal  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires gas stations surrounding areas historically recognized as having air quality issues to equip gasoline pump nozzles with vapor recovery systems intended to siphon off fumes while pumping gasoline. But now Pennsylvania will no longer require new gas stations to have the vapor capture technology.

For the second year running Pennsylvania made the list—the Natural Resources Defense Council’s ranking of the “Toxic 20.” The report lists the states where the most toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants is released. The report analyzed the emissions of common power plant pollutants, such as mercury, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and ammonia, that were released during 2010, the most recent year data is available. The report is based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency and was first produced last year based on 2009 emissions.

By a 4-3 ruling, a Commonwealth Court panel today tossed out a provision of Act 13 that would have allowed statewide zoning policies for drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation.

"We're very pleased that they upheld our suit that would basically eliminate that portion of Act 13," said Peters Township Manager Michael Silvestri.

Shenango, Inc. has to pay up for air and water quality violations since 2005 at the coke plant on Neville Island, particularly involving their combustion stacks and pushing devices.

A consent agreement reached by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) requires Shenango to pay a $1.75 million penalty for failure to abide by those departments' environmental standards.

Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is starting a long-term air quality study to collect accurate data, monitor, and analyze potential health risks associated with "wet" Marcellus Shale gas.

With the goal of decreasing street and basement flooding in an often-affected area, the City of Pittsburgh and Penn State partnered to build a Bioswale on the corner of Saline and Alexis Streets along Four Mile Run in Greenfield. A bioswale is green technology designed to hold and filter stormwater in flood-prone areas.

"We transformed a site that, and don't tell anybody this, wasn't even compliant with city code," said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, "to see what it looks like today is really remarkable."

Ann Payne and Wendy Henry exchange anxious glances as they walk. They are heading down a path to the bank of Dunkard Creek in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania. The two haven't been to this spot since Henry asked her friend Payne, a Morgantown artist, to look at an unfolding disaster on the creek near her home.

"Remember we walked down this way toward the creek and off to the left there was a bunch of birds and I thought good grief- there's a bunch of green herons. We got closer and they were eating bodies of dead fish" says Payne.

Near-drought conditions persist throughout the Susquehanna River Basin, and businesses that usually take large amounts of water out of the system's streams and rivers are being told to stop.

It's mostly natural gas companies that have seen their water withdrawal permits suspended, but others got the kibosh as well: resorts, golf courses, a trout park and hatchery.

Representatives of several Pittsburgh organizations gathered today on the South Side's Riverwalk Trail in advance of a public hearing in Philadelphia Tuesday at which the federal Environmental Protection Agency will be urged to tighten air quality standards.

An alliance of seven Pittsburgh non-profits highlighted "greening" efforts throughout the city, and explained to members of the city council why the "greening" is important. As part of a post-agenda council meeting Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Greenspace Alliance said the nature areas are vital to the area's economy and health.

New Research Poses More Questions on Marcellus Shale Pollution

Jul 10, 2012

New research on Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania may only add fuel to the debate over whether the industry poses long-term threats to drinking water.

A paper published on Monday by Duke University researchers found that gas drilling in northeastern Pennsylvania did not contaminate nearby drinking water wells with salty water, which is a byproduct of the drilling.

The road has been cleared to a Marcellus Shale drilling site in Moshannon State Forest in Clearfield County. A Bureau of Forestry spokesman says a few protesters were still in the area today but debris has been removed from the roadway.

EQT suspended operations at the gas well Sunday morning when an estimated 50 activists from Marcellus Shale Earth First! blocked access to the site.

The high temperatures are not only affecting the people of Pittsburgh, but the agriculture in the area as well. Several crops have been forced into early harvest and keeping them hydrated has been quite a chore for local farmers.

4,700 Gallons Of Acid Spill At Bradford County Drilling Site

Jul 5, 2012

There's been another acci­dent at a north­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia drilling site: 4,700 gal­lons of hydrochlo­ric acid spilled at a Leroy Town­ship, Brad­ford County well pad oper­ated by Chief Oil and Gas on Wednesday.

The spill comes two weeks after a thirty-foot methane geyser erupted near a Shell nat­ural gas well in nearby Union Town­ship, Tioga County.

Leroy is the same town­ship where a Chesa­peake Energy well suf­fered a 10,000-gallon frack­ing fluid blowout in 2011.

Phipps Production Greenhouse Attains LEED Platinum

Jul 5, 2012

Pittsburgh is home to what may be the world's greenest greenhouse. The production greenhouse facility at Phipps Conservatory has received a first-of-its-kind Platinum certification under the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance program.

"We believe they're the first greenhouses ever to be certified under this program, which is pretty exciting," Executive Director Piacentini said, "and not only did we get them certified, but we got the absolute highest category that you can get."

A 5-year law extension, signed during the budget debate last week by Governor Corbett, will enable the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to continue to carry out its job of preventing and cleaning contamination caused by abandoned and/or leaking underground storage tanks. The program, which would have expired Saturday, has been extended through June 30, 2017.

Members of the Student Conservation Association's (SCA) Green Cities Sustainability Corps program have fanned out throughout the region to work to implement climate action plans. It is all part of the service-learning projects taken on by the students and young adults in the program that aims to introduce initiatives to ensure a sustainable future.

Citizen-based group PennEnvironment is applauding state lawmakers for working to restore funding to a couple of programs that had been on the chopping block in Governor Tom Corbett's initial budget proposal. Still, the group isn't over the moon about the recently-passed spending plan.

"The best you can say about the budget when it comes to the environment is it could have been a lot worse. Fortunately there were a number of rollbacks that were passed as part of the budget," said PennEnvironment Director David Masur.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is looking to crack down on all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use on game lands and leased properties. The board of Game Commissioners proposed game commission officials be allowed to cite those who are illegally operating an ATV or snowmobile on game lands.

Jerry Feaser, Press Secretary for the Commission, said without the authority, there is no guarantee justice will be served.

Brilliant Natural Show in National Forest

Jul 2, 2012

There's a different kind of Christmas in July happening in the Allegheny National Forest these evenings: fireflies are lighting up in sync.

"I guess the best way to describe them is a string of Christmas lights, flashing on and off at the same time," said Peggy Butler, who along with her husband owns the Black Caddis Ranch Bed and Breakfast in the forest.

On a hot, sunny day in Pittsburgh, a couple dozen teenagers were tending to tiny seedlings at Tree Pittsburgh's Tree Seedling Nursery in Point Breeze. They were there as part of Operation Better Block's Jr. Green Corps, an initiative that provides Homewood youth with structured activities in an effort to impact their physical environment, equip them for leadership roles in the community, and provide them with an opportunity to explore green collar jobs and careers.

Garden aficionados will get a chance to tour some North Side urban gardens Saturday June 30th while at the same time helping to fund Northside Common Ministries. The annual walk raises money to help provide food and shelter for homeless men.

The tour leaves from the group's Food Pantry and Homeless Men's Shelter and wraps up in West Park with a concert featuring local band the Whiskey Holler.

Rural PA Residents Fight to Keep Marcellus Waste Away From Swamp

Jun 27, 2012

When you drill for nat­ural gas, for every gal­lon of gas pro­duced, some amount of waste­water gets cre­ated as well.

Some­times it can be sim­ple brine that can be dis­posed of in sim­ple ways, such as using it to melt snow on Pennsylvania's roads in win­ter. Or it is used to keep the dust down in summer.

Fracking: A New York Perspective

Jun 22, 2012

Toni Grekin lives on a farm near Deposit, NY, a one-stoplight town just north of the Pennsylvania line. A transplant from Brooklyn, she's been there since the '60s. Behind her farmhouse are acres of tree-covered hills and a little swimming pond. Energy companies first came to Grekin about four years ago, because she lives in a so-called "sweet spot" of the Marcellus Shale.

Methane Hunters

Jun 22, 2012

Eric Lipsky is a scientist at Penn State-Greater Allegheny, near Pittsburgh. For years he's studied air pollution like diesel exhaust with a group from Carnegie Mellon University. Now, Lipsky is looking for methane from the gas industry.

Lipsky's team assembled at a turn off onto a gravel road in western Pennsylvania. The people who own this land allowed Lipksy's team, with their mobile monitoring van, onto the site. Helping him out tonight are a pair of undergraduates and Rawad Saleh, a PhD who is a post-doc at Carnegie Mellon.

Last year, a scientist from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York published a paper in a scientific journal. The journal is called Climatic Change. Robert Howarth is the scientist who published the paper. He teaches environmental science at Cornell. He got the idea for the paper about three years ago. That's when the region around Ithaca was drawing interest from the oil and gas industry because it sits on top of the Marcellus shale, a vast deposit of natural gas.