Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Allegheny County Council is set to consider a lucrative deal to allow Range Resources to drill for natural gas beneath a Pittsburgh-area park, from well sites on neighboring private properties.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald outlined the deal at a news conference Monday, saying it includes a $4.7 million bonus, a $3 million donation to a park improvement fund, and 18 percent royalties that are estimated to generate $3 million a year.

Officials say air quality in the county around Pittsburgh met federal standards for fine soot pollution for the first time in 2013.

Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Karen Hacker says in a Friday statement that the news marks "a huge leap forward" in efforts to improve air quality. All eight monitoring sites in the county met standards for fine particulate pollution, which can come from coal-fired power plants, autos and trucks, and plants that produce coke for steel mills.

After a sharp cut this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District has received $176.3 million in new federal funding for the 2015 fiscal year.

“It’s more than we received last year, it’s pretty much standard for what we received in the past few years,” spokesman Dan Jones said. “But last year was just an anomaly.” The Corps received approximately $110 million for fiscal year 2013-14.

Policy and research groups from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio have joined forces to urge their states’ governors to adopt a common severance tax rate for companies drilling for gas and oil in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations.

PENNDot Calls for Spring Cleaning

Mar 9, 2014

Spring cleaning isn’t only for homeowners. It’s for the state, too.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has teamed up with the Department of Environmental Protection for its annual Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania  running now through May 31.

The cleanup calls on volunteers and groups to help clear litter from roadways, trails and shorelines across the commonwealth.

The last phase of an effort to treat water discharge from the Indianola mine pool is slated to start March 17.

The project is expected to improve the water quality of Little Deer Creek. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation and the Clean Streams Foundation is designing a settling pond to handle the discharge that currently flows into Little Deer Creek.

Is it “a common sense solution” to problems resulting from an “outdated, burdensome and convoluted federal permitting system” or an attempt to “undercut responsible decision making?”

By a vote of 229-179, the House Thursday approved RAPID, the Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development Act, and sent it to the Senate.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA-10) said the review and permitting process for energy, infrastructure and other construction projects which can now take as long as 10 to 15 years.

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.

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