Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

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.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection continues its swing through southwestern Pennsylvania Thursday night as it takes testimony on proposed changes to the rules that govern gas and oil drilling in the state.

The DEP took input for several hours Wednesday night in Washington County and will be in Indiana County Thursday night ant the IUP Convention and Athletic Complex. The rules change, known as Chapter 78, represents the first major overhaul in decades.

In the early hours of Monday morning, a train traveling from Chicago derailed over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

Six of the seven derailed cars carried crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota, a substance that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said is more dangerous than other types of crude oil.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is collecting public comments on a set of proposals meant to give further consideration to parks and wildlife, prevent spills and manage waste in oil and gas drilling operations.

These would be implemented under Act 13, the law that governs the oil and gas development in the state. Provisions of the act are being challenged in court, but others are going forward.

As Pittsburgh and other cities continue to look for ways to reduce pollution in streams and rivers, more and more are looking toward green solutions rather than big gray infrastructure projects.

These are things such as rain gardens, green roofs and permeable pavement. A recent report from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) finds these sorts of improvements not only benefit the public sector, but also the private sector.

PA Chemical Tank Laws Tougher Than West Virginia

Jan 17, 2014
Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

The chemical leak at Freedom Industries that left 300,000 people without water in West Virginia brings up questions in other states, like Pennsylvania, about the possibility of other water contamination catastrophes. There have been spills into Pennsylvania waterways before, and regulators say those incidents have led to more strict laws here. Regulators say a spill is less likely here than in West Virginia, but clean water advocates aren't so sure.

The Bicycle Air Monitoring website is a new effort that will show air quality in areas throughout the city. Volunteers on bicycles were equipped with a laser particle counter and GPS system to collect the data.

What was once one of the most polluted cities in the nation now has 49 Energy Star certified commercial facilities. 

It was announced Thursday that the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star rating, meaning the building performs in the top 25 percent of similar facilities in terms of energy efficiency nationwide.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said sustainability is something Allegheny County has been focused on for some time.

Cheetahs are More than Just an Attraction at the Pittsburgh Zoo

Jan 15, 2014
Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The cheetahs at the Pittsburgh Zoo are more than strikingly beautiful and graceful animals. They could play an important role in the breeding of future cheetahs.

When the Hatfield’s Ferry and Mitchell power plants were closed last fall, PJM officials assured customers and legislators that the power grid’s reliability would not be affected.

However, many southwestern Pennsylvania customers were asked to limit power consumption when temperatures reached a record low last week.

Now state Sen. Tim Solobay (D-Washington) and state Rep. Pam Snyder (D - Fayette) have written a letter to PJM officials and the Public Utility Commission expressing concern — and frustration — about the warnings.

An energy supply and consumption watchdog group is taking its fight against a proposed moratorium on shale drilling in Pennsylvania to the lawmakers sponsoring the bill and to their constituents. 

The Consumer Energy Alliance sent a letter to State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) asking him to pull the legislation from consideration.  SB 1100 was introduced in September and was referred to the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee where it has languished ever since.

PA Game Commission Seedling Bundles Up For Sale

Jan 13, 2014

Landowners hoping to support wildlife habitats on their properties can currently purchase trees and shrubs to be planted in the spring from the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The Game Commission’s state land is repopulated each year by seedlings grown at the Howard Nursery, which is located just outside of State College.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has 40 varieties of native plant life including the Black-gum/Black Tupelo, northern red oak, chestnut oak, and pin oak that are available in bundles of 25 seedlings.

About 300,000 residents in West Virginia are still without water for a fourth day, and one local organization is lending a helping hand to make sure residents have water to drink, cook with and bathe in.

Brother’s Brother Foundation is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that provides disaster relief across the globe, and right here at home.

Democratic candidate for governor John Hanger wants to see tougher regulations on the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania.

During a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection hearing, Hanger proposed his 19-point program to increase regulations on gas drilling. Among other changes, Hanger proposed: stronger enforcement of air emissions; extending the minimum distance between a well site and public land; prohibiting the use of outdoor pits for wastewater storage; and adding 105 employees to enforce regulations.

Thousands of dollars are heading out of the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg on pitchforks, wheelbarrows, and tractor trailer loads.

It’s the cost of getting rid of animal manure left in and around the Farm Show complex.

The job of orchestrating the process falls to Jim Sharp, show manager for the past 11 years.

He said as many as 28 tractor trailer loads will carry waste out of the complex, and all that manure is kept in separate piles based on the type of bedding used by the animals.

The Allegheny County Health Department is celebrating a legislative victory that will allow them to more effectively monitor air and water pollution.

In December, County Council passed a law that requires companies performing hydraulic fracturing within the county to notify the Health Department as each phase of the process begins.

artnoose / Flickr

From mild, rainy, and in the 40's Sunday, to an all-time record low of -9 Tuesday to 50 degree temperatures by end of the week. Pittsburgh is experiencing unprecedented temperature fluctuations and weather patterns. The question is what’s going on with this wacky weather. John Radzilowicz, science expert and director of professional development at ASSET-STEM, believes he has the answer.

While he awaits a decision whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will reconsider its decision to strike down part of Act 13, Gov. Tom Corbett is asking oil and gas drillers to continue to follow the environmental requirements established in that statewide drilling law.

“I am calling upon Pennsylvania’s oil and gas operators to honor both the spirit and intent of these setback provisions to continue helping us protect Pennsylvania’s water and natural resources,” Corbett said.

The Pawpaw Book/Andy Moore / Flickr

Andy Moore is a writer who lives on the North Side of Pittsburgh. In 2013, The Allegheny Front interviewed him about his proclivity for the pawpaw, a fruit that's native to Pennsylvania and many other regions of the United States. The Allegheny Front recently listed the story as one of their favorites of 2013, and it's one of mine too.

AF Reporter Hal B. Klein says:

DEP Wants High Court to Reconsider Act 13 Ruling

Jan 3, 2014

The Department of Environmental Protection and the Public Utility Commission have asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reconsider a recent decision striking down key components of  Act 13 which regulates natural gas drilling.

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