Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Two drilling pads in Washington County are storing Marcellus Shale drilling sludge with radioactivity levels that are too high for regular disposal.

According to John Poister, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman, drilling company Range Resources sent the department a request for a Department of Transportation exemption form March 1st.

The form would allow Range Resources to move waste that has a “higher than background radiation level” - meaning that it is a higher level than the radiation that is usually found in the environment.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection held public comment for their proposed new regulations at coal-fired power plants that is supposed to limit smog-causing pollution.

Those present at a rally at DEP’s offices in Pittsburgh before the public comment said the proposed regulations are lax toward coal-fired power plants and will worsen smog problems in a region already known for poor air quality.

Electricity Bills Get a New Look

May 27, 2014

Electricity bills are full of numbers, measurements, abbreviations, and costs, all tallied precisely. But one thing that does not show up is the name of the company that actually produces  the electricity. That is, until now.

The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has approved a requirement that bills contain more information about electricity suppliers.

Put on a long sleeve shirt and load up on some pest repellent, because tick season in Pennsylvania is expected to get progressively worse year after year.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of Lyme disease cases, and Penn State Urban Entomologist Steve Jacobs said that’s because of an increasing tick population.

“The only thing I can say for certain is that, across Pennsylvania for the last 25 years, we’ve been trending having more ticks in more places,” he said. “That will continue.”

A world-renowned cheetah expert and conservationist was in Pittsburgh this weekend, visiting four new cheetahs at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

Laurie Marker, the founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund located in Namibia, said she hopes the two females and two males at the zoo will be “educational ambassadors” for her research and conservation efforts.

Shopping around could save customers from a 20-50 percent increase on energy bills stating June 1st according to the Public Utility Commission (PUC).

Every quarter energy suppliers are allowed to adjust prices according to how much they are spending.

The U.S. House has passed an amendment by Representatives Mike Doyle (D - PA - 14) and Tim Murphy (R - PA - 18) that could mean funding to remedy sewer overflows in Allegheny County.

The amendment - the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) - aims to finance the creation or renovation of water and wastewater infrastructure through low interest rate federal loans, loan guarantees and possibly grants.

Doyle said he has been working for years to secure federal monies to bring outdated local sewer systems into compliance with modern water quality laws.

Following the release of national reports on climate change, Allegheny County Health Department officials are examining how best to prepare for the changes they say are imminent over the coming decades.

“It’s going to change the air pollution levels, it’s going to change the pollen levels, it’s going to change insects, it’s going to change water quality,” said Jayme Graham, Air Quality Program manager at ACHD. “What do we need to know about that, and what do we need to start preparing for that?”

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Media Services / 90.5 WESA

Construction for the first power plant deliberately located on the Marcellus Shale formation began Thursday.

“Panda Power Funds Liberty Energy Center is the first power plant in Pennsylvania specifically developed to harness potential Marcellus Shale gas formation,” Gov. Tom Corbett said at the groundbreaking.

The 829-megawatt natural gas-fueled power plant will be located in Asylum Township in Bradford County.

Corbett said the facility is creating approximately 560 jobs: 500 to construct it, about 27 to operate it and 45 indirect jobs to support it.

The two workers killed in an underground coal mine in West Virginia were performing a risky method known as retreat mining, where the roof is intentionally collapsed to retrieve more coal.

Retreat mining has been going on for generations and is considered standard practice in mines where coal reserves are running out. It involves yanking supporting pillars of coal from inside the mine and letting the roof collapse as miners and equipment work their way out.

The son of one of the workers who died Monday night at Brody Mine No. 1 said his father understood the risks.

At The Water Bank, A Sense Of Ministry

May 13, 2014
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Pastor Lee Dreyer helps organize the Water for Woodlands water bank at White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church in Renfrew, Pa.

The church distributes water to 34 families whose wells went bad around the time fracking started in the region. The coincidence can't be proven but residents said they can tell by taste, smell, color and skin reaction that their water hasn't been right.

Read more of this story at the website of our partner PublicSource.

A Day In The Life Of A Water Bank

May 13, 2014
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

For two years, a Presbyterian Church near hard-to-pronounce Connoquenessing Township, Pa., has been a bank — a water bank to be precise.

The church distributes water to 34 families whose wells went bad around the time hydraulic fracturing started in the region. The coincidence can’t be proven, but residents of the Woodlands, a poor rural community in the township, said they can tell by taste, smell, color and skin reaction that their water hasn’t been right.

Courtesy of Range Resources

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has signed an ordinance allowing hydraulic fracturing to occur underneath Deer Lakes Park.

Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for Range Resources, the company tasked with the drilling, said lawyers from the county and Range are still working out some technical details of the lease, but that it will be finalized soon.

Hundreds of thousands of trees have been killed due to the invasive Emerald Ash Borer, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is holding workshops to teach landowners how to save their trees.

The insect was first found in Pennsylvania in Cranberry Township, Butler County in 2007. Since then the DCNR has been working to stop the spread in every way it can, but the species has already spread to 47 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

Another Marcellus Shale drilling policy, which includes a 5 percent severance tax, is being proposed by a Philadelphia lawmaker.

State Sen. Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia) announced last week that his legislation would impose an extraction tax which would overlap the existing impact fee, a policy that mirrors West Virginia law. The Corbett administration and Republican-controlled Legislature have resisted a severance tax.

Citing a report by Reuters, Stack said Pennsylvania stands to lose more than $20 billion over the next 20 years if a severance tax is not adopted.

Feds Consider Rules For Fracking Chemical Disclosure

May 11, 2014
Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The federal government is considering whether it should require companies to disclose the chemicals involved in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that it is seeking public comments, a pre-curser to the more formal rule-making process. However, there is no guarantee that the EPA will draft regulations.

In the meantime, here’s what the agency says it wants to hear from the public:

Tim McCabe/USDA

A national climate change study released earlier this week warns of drastically different climates in the future for the state of Pennsylvania.

The commonwealth is among a number of Northeast states expected to experience heat waves and extreme precipitation.

Cities such as New York have already begun to prepare for climate change effects by installing flood pumps in their subway systems.

John Radzilowicz, Director of Professional Development ASSET STEM education at CMU said, if we don’t start making big changes in industrial pollution policies and even simple conservation changes on a personal level, the Pennsylvania landscape will be completely different by 2050. 

The rats have to go – but leave the eagles alone.

That’s the problem the Allegheny County Health Department is facing while taking measures to terminate the rat infestation at the abandoned Pittsburgh Recycling Plant in Hazelwood.

GGMJS Property LLC, a holding company, bought the site and now has the responsibility to get rid of the rats.

However, Pittsburgh’s newest eagle family in more than 150 years is located less than a mile away, and they could die if they consume one of the poisoned rodents.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

In a heated meeting that lasted more than seven hours and included more than four hours of public comment, members of Allegheny County Council early Wednesday morning approved a lease agreement to drill for natural gas underneath Deer Lakes Park.

A weak weld discovered last week in a Beaver County nuclear reactor must be repaired before operations can resume.

The “microscopic” weakness in the reactor vessel head of FirstEnergy’s Beaver Valley Unit 2 in Shippingport was found during an ultrasonic exam of 66 welds around the reactor, according to Jennifer Young, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman.

Allegheny County Council is set to vote Tuesday on whether to drill for natural gas underneath Deer Lakes Park.

The controversial resolution would allow Range Resources, in cooperation with Huntley & Huntley, to perform hydraulic fracturing under the park, provided that no drilling activities actually occur within the park.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said if the resolution passes, the county will receive around $7.7 million up front and an ongoing 18 percent royalty on the value of gas extracted.

Allegheny County Council's Parks Committee has voted 4-1 to have the full council vote next week on a proposal to drill for natural gas under a Pittsburgh-area park.

Wednesday's vote means the 15-member body will vote next Tuesday on a proposal to Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to drill beneath 1,180-acre Deer Lakes Park from well sites on neighboring private properties.

The proposal includes a $4.7 million bonus for the county, a $3 million donation to a park improvement fund and 18 percent royalties that county officials estimate would generate $3 million.

With No Health Registry, PA Doesn’t Know The Impact Of Fracking On Health

Apr 30, 2014

After more than five years and about 6,000 wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale boom, public-health experts say the need to collect information near fracking operations in Pennsylvania is urgent.

A health registry could show trends of illnesses, collect data and potentially answer the question of whether fracking is safe — a debate currently characterized by emotional arguments with little reliable information.

How will anyone in the state know the possible health impacts of hydraulic fracturing unless information is collected?

A new report shows that Pittsburgh’s air quality has improved – but it still received failing grades.

That’s according to the American Lung Association’s 15th annual “State of the Air” report measuring the amount of pollution throughout the nation.  The study found that 147.6 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.

Bluegrass Pipeline Project Comes To A Halt

Apr 29, 2014
Natasha Khan / PublicSource

Developers of a multi-state pipeline project, which has stirred controversy over the past year in Kentucky, announced Monday they have suspended all investment in the project indefinitely.

Williams Co., a Tulsa, Okla.-based company, said it has stopped investing in the Bluegrass Pipeline “primarily in response to an insufficient level of firm customer commitments.”

One Etna resident thinks Allegheny County Councilman Nicholas Futules (D-Oakmont) should not be a part of the discussion about fracking under Deer Lakes Park.

Tim Ludwig, a Protect Our Parks member, has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission.

He wants the Commission to force Futules to recuse himself from discussing or voting on the proposed extraction of natural gas underneath the 1,180-acre park.

Update on the Green Building Alliance 2030 Challenge

Apr 23, 2014
Andy / Wikipedia Commons

In 2012, Pittsburgh was one of four cities nationwide to launch the 2030 Challenge. The challenge is a voluntary, private-public initiative with the goal of reducing the environmental impact of buildings, by reducing energy and water use as well as transmission emissions.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says it found “no pollutants that would indicate a potential health concern for local residents or emergency responders” as a result of the Greene County Chevron well fire incident.

It took crews brought in by the company two weeks to cap the fire that broke out Feb. 11 in Dunkard Township. The fire claimed the life of one employee.

DEP spokesman John Poister said the department used temporary air monitoring devices to look at the levels of 57 different toxic air pollutants.

Members of the Allegheny County Council heard testimony for and against a proposal to drill for natural gas under a Pittsburgh-area park.

The council is considering a proposal to allow Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to drill beneath 1,180-acre Deer Lakes Park from well sites on neighboring properties.

Officials say the plan would mean millions of dollars for the county and a park improvement fund.

Celebrating Earth Day In Pittsburgh

Apr 22, 2014


Virtual Earth Day

A virtual Earth Day party takes place this week. One of the highlights will be a new environmental music video on how consumers can save money and energy. The video even features a cameo from Mayor Peduto. We got details on the video and event from Joylette Portlock, President of Communitopia and creator of the Don't Just Sit There, Do Something About Climate Change web series.