Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Locals Seek Control at Fracking Waste Wells

Sep 26, 2014
Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

As natural gas production continues to spread across the country, some citizens are trying to fend off drilling rigs and waste sites in their backyards. While gas companies say they already face tough state regulations, that oversight doesn’t always ease residents’ fears.

As Ohio quickly becomes a go-to destination for the nation's fracking waste, some people worry about earthquakes and water contamination, and argue the state has taken away their authority to decide whether oil and gas waste should be allowed.

Nikki Abban / 90.5WESA

The borough of Etna recently debuted its green infrastructure plan. Like many other communities along the Allegheny river, Etna has had a history of problems with flooding, and the community of some 3,400 people was hit especially hard as a result of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Etna’s master plan was designed to handle large amounts of storm water without flooding the sewage systems. What can their experience in Etna tell us about how other communities in our region can institute green projects of this kind? 

How Can We Take the Lead on Climate Change?

Sep 24, 2014
John Gillespie / Flickr

The United Nations Climate Summit took place in New York City this week. While more than 100 world leaders took part, and thousands demonstrated in the streets of NYC for the People's Climate March, it's not certain how much, if any, tangible action will be taken on a global scale, especially on the part of the United States. 

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

The Emerald Ash Borer has all but wiped out ash trees in and around the Pittsburgh region, and even though the insect only goes after one tree species, the effects will be felt on a much wider scale.

Pretty soon you won’t be able to tell dead trees from live trees as leaves begin to fall. For now, as you’re driving around Pennsylvania, you can look out over stands of trees and see lush, green landscape – but – that landscape is dotted in many areas with dead trees.

A recent series of stories produced by The Allegheny Front and 90.5 WESA explored the influence of industry money on Pennsylvania’s oversight of the natural gas boom.

In one of the reports, there was an assertion from environmental group PennFuture that the former head of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was available mostly to industry:

Daniel Foster / Flickr

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced it has signed a consent order and agreement with Range Resources for violations at six of its impoundments in Washington County. The $4.15 million fine is the largest ever brought against a company in the Marcellus Shale era. We'll be joined by DEP spokesman John Poister.

A new report finds that Pennsylvania emits the third most carbon dioxide in the country.

PennEnvironment released the report, “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants,” Thursday – which found that Pennsylvania tails only Texas and California.

The report took 2012 data – the most recent available - from the Environmental Protection Agency and ranked power plants in the United States according to their CO2 emissions.  It then compared each state to total carbon emissions of entire countries.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced it has signed a consent order and agreement with Range Resources for violations at six of its impoundments in Washington County.
 
“We have fined Range Resources $4.15 million, the largest fine that has ever been brought against a company in the Marcellus Shale era,” said DEP spokesman John Poister.
 
In addition, Range Resources has agreed to close five impoundments and upgrade two others. The impoundments in question are used to store water.
 

Can Living Near a Fracking Site Cause Health Problems?

Sep 17, 2014
Ari Moore / Flickr

 A new study has found that residents in Western Pennsylvania living close to natural gas drilling sites were twice as likely to report health problems than those living farther away. We talk with the study's lead author Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, who says public health researchers surveyed nearly 500 adults and children in Washington County, southwest of Pittsburgh.

Where does the sewage go when you flush your toilet?

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority will show you that and more Saturday at its annual open house, featuring more than 40 exhibits about how to protect the region’s rivers and streams.

The event includes a Q&A session with a plumber, Environmental Jeopardy, a performance of "Little Mermaid’s Pollution Solution" by Gemini Theatre, a walk-through simulated sewer pipe and a tour of ALCOSAN’s facilities.

Three companies, a nonprofit and a healthcare provider in Allegheny County have been awarded about $844,000 in state grants for alternative-fuel vehicles.

The Alternative Fuel Incentive Grants are meant to help organizations make the switch to compressed natural gas, propane or electric-powered light- to medium-weight fleet vehicles.

Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities was able to snag nearly 500,000 for its Western Pennsylvania Alternative Fuel School Bus Program, which will use $250,000 toward the purchase of 50 propane-powered buses.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will provide additional funds to Pennsylvania for conservation planning for endangered bats on the state’s 3.8 million acres of public lands, bringing the federal total to $1.2 million dollars since 2012. 

A disease that disrupts hibernation has devastated bat populations in the northeast and spread to the Midwest.  

What's on Your Plate? Climate Change and Diet

Sep 2, 2014
Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

Len Frenkel only has a minute to talk because he's rushing between presentations at the University of Pittsburgh’s Johnstown campus. The North American Vegetarian Society has their annual gathering here. Frenkel’s traveled from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

He’s not just a vegetarian, he's vegan. That means he doesn’t eat meat or butter or anything made from animals. He started for animal welfare and health reasons. But now, climate change weighs heavily on Frenkel’s mind.

For many low-income families, summer and fall have become synonymous with one thing—utility shut off season.

In Pennsylvania, utilities can’t terminate services between Dec. 1 and March 31 if a household’s income is 250 percent of the federal poverty level or below, which equates to a family of four earning $4,969 per month or less.

But for the other eight months out of the year, utilities actively pursue late-paying customers. That’s where groups such as the Holy Family Institute come in.

New Study Shows Gas Workers Could Be Exposed to Dangerous Levels of Benzene

Aug 31, 2014

A new study out this month reveals unconventional oil and natural gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene, putting them at a higher risk for blood cancers like leukemia.

Benzene is a known carcinogen that is present in fracking flowback water. It’s also found in gasoline, cigarette smoke and in chemical manufacturing. As a known carcinogen, benzene exposures in the workplace are limited by federal regulations under OSHA. But some oil and gas production activities are exempt from those standards.

Six years into a natural gas boom, Pennsylvania has for the first time released details of 243 cases in which companies prospecting for oil or gas were found by state regulators to have contaminated private drinking water wells.

Oakland Joins Energy Reduction Efforts

Aug 28, 2014

Two years after the Green Building Alliance launched its 2030 District initiative in downtown Pittsburgh, the program is expanding its efforts into Oakland.

The 2030 District is a building-by-building effort to improve energy and water consumption and transportation emission in a geographical area. It’s a voluntary initiative focused on the existing building sector. There isn’t a checklist that each building undergoes; it's non-prescriptive. They work with individual building owners to identify what improvements to their buildings will have the maximum benefit.

State Regulators Take a Closer Listen to Gas Compressor Stations

Aug 26, 2014
Joe Ulrich / WITF

Most of the noise created by natural gas development is temporary. After drilling and fracking, the workers and equipment are gone. A gas well in production is pretty quiet; it’s basically just a bunch of pipes in the ground.

But compressor stations can stay noisy for years– even decades. The facilities are necessary to process and transport gas through pipelines. When it comes to noise regulations, they’re governed by a patchwork of local, state, and federal rules.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

“Energy independence.”

“Shale revolution.”

These were the buzzwords used Monday morning as officials gathered for a ceremony marking the start of natural gas drilling activity near Pittsburgh International Airport.

The mood was festive — complete with music, appetizers, goodie bags and air conditioned portable restrooms — as Gov. Tom Corbett and Consol Energy President and CEO Nick DeIuliis prepared to take the podium.

While officials at the Environmental Protection Agency review and digest testimony from hundreds of witnesses in Pittsburgh and three other cities on that agency’s Clean Power Plan, Pennsylvania lawmakers are working on the state’s plan.

President Obama has called for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and the commonwealth must submit its plan to the federal government by 2016.

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee heard Thursday from stakeholders in the environmental and energy sectors.

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

Instead of overflowing sewer systems and creating flooding, a new project will take rain water and use it to maintain a newly planted meadow in Schenley Park.

Officials from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, ALCOSAN and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) announced Thursday the construction of two green rain water management projects in the park in Oakland.

In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a consent decree to the Pittsburgh region to eliminate sewage contamination entering local rivers and streams.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission today approved a $1.3 million settlement with West Penn Power after the distribution company missed energy reduction requirements in 2011.

According to the PUC, West Penn Power, a First Energy company, violated the state’s energy conservation law, Act 129, when it failed to reduce its consumption by 1 percent in May 2011. Under the law, West Penn Power was required to decrease its energy intake by 209,387 megawatt-hours, but reported savings of 90,520 megawatt-hours.

West Penn was the only utility to miss the May 2011 deadline.

A small coal waste fire has been burning underground near the Pittsburgh International Airport for several years, but it’s about to be extinguished for good.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Wednesday announced plans to put out the fire and reclaim the abandoned mine underneath airport property.

“We’re going to dig up all the waste coal and put out the smoldering area, eliminate that, and then regrade the area and plant it,” said DEP spokesman John Poister.

Flickr user roy.luck

Three changes to Allegheny County’s regulations on air pollution will be introduced in County Council Tuesday evening.

According to Jim Thompson, deputy director for environmental health at the Allegheny County Health Department, the most significant proposed change would increase the fees paid by “major sources” of air pollution.

“Prior to this year, large sources were paying $57.50/ton of pollutant emitted,” Thompson said. “Starting this year, it will be $85/ton.”

Crude Oil Train Derailment Concerns in Pittsburgh

Aug 19, 2014
Elias Schewel / Flickr

More than 40 percent of Pittsburgh's residents live in areas that would be at risk if a train carrying crude oil through the city derails and catches fire.

WESA content partner PublicSource created a map tracking the route of the rail lines known to carry crude oil in the city.

Reporter Natasha Khan says trains are more common in the city and its neighborhoods than people may realize. She also says that city officials are not prepared to handle a large scale accident, such as the one in Quebec last year.

A letter from the group Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) outlines concerns over natural gas development near schools.

The letter, sent to the Department of Environmental Protection, states that “there is a growing body of peer-reviewed science that provides significant evidence of public health risks” to fracking.

The Mars Parent Group, a grassroots organization opposed to drilling under school property, is highlighting the letter, which they say backs up their request for a two-mile buffer zone around the schools.

Dozens of oil and gas companies across 12 states, including Pennsylvania, are using prohibited diesel fuels in hydraulic fracking, according to a report released Wednesday by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

Before the implementation of the Clean Water Act, Pittsburgh’s rivers were so polluted, they barely even had fish, according to Brady Porter, Duquesne University associate professor of biology.

“Not any for commercial fishing or recreational fishing,” Porter said. “They were dead, they [the rivers] were basically sewers where our abandoned mine water would flow orange.”

A team of researchers, including some from Carnegie Mellon University, have figured out a hard-to-understand pollutant called brown carbon.

A lot of attention is paid in the media to pollutants that contribute to climate change, especially to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other sources. But, some sources are lesser-understood and don’t come from areas that can be regulated — namely brown carbon, which comes from smoke from wildfires.

Drawing Connections Between WWI and Climate Change

Aug 8, 2014
Imperial War Museum / Wikipedia

While there is little doubt in the scientific community that the globe is getting warmer, many countries balk over climate regulations given the perceived cost of such action.

David Titley, the director of Penn State's Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, believes there is connection between the climate battles of today and World War I, the world’s greatest danger a century ago.

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