Marcellus Shale

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.

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.

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).

The Marcellus Shale Industry continues to grow, though at a slower pace than years past. That’s according to the recently-released Annual Workforce Survey from the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Industry companies expect to hire 2,000 workers in 2014, a 50 percent drop from 2013 numbers.

“We’ve seen a reduction in rig count, primarily due to the drop in natural gas prices not only Pennsylvania, but across the country,” said Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, “kind of victims of our own success.”

After an 18-month audit, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been called “outdated, understaffed and underfunded” when it comes to monitoring the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling on water quality. 

“For an analogy internally we believe it’s like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

The audit resulted in eight findings with 29 recommendations. DePasquale said 18 of the recommendations would not cost tax payers any more money.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Energy is holding meetings across the country on infrastructure needs for the natural gas industry.

On Monday the, the seventh such meeting, the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) Public Meeting, was held in Pittsburgh. The day-long meeting focused on key infrastructure needed for transmission, storage and distribution of energy – especially natural gas, which continues boom, especially in this region.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators are wading through more than 25,000 public comments on a proposed overhaul of the state’s oil and gas regulations.

Silence On Shale Drilling

Jun 20, 2014

Over the past six years, more than 6,000 Marcellus Shale wells have been constructed in Pennsylvania, making the Keystone State the fastest growing natural gas producer in America.

But the economic advantages of drilling are counterbalanced by health concerns.

Two retirees from the Pennsylvania Department of Health recently said its employees were silenced on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling. The two retirees, a community health nurse and a staffer in the Bureau of Epidemiology, say that staff at state health centers and district offices were instructed not to return calls from residents who expressed concerns about natural gas development.

Katie Colaneri of StateImpact Pennsylvania has been covering the story. She believes that the Department of Health’s policy came from higher up.

The Allegheny Front Explores Water Contamination in a New Series

Jun 20, 2014
Matt Richmond / The Allegheny Front

This weekend the environmental radio program The Allegheny Front begins a series on water contamination caused by fracking in the Marcellus Shale region. Reporter Reid Frazier said the series will address a suite of issues that have come up with fracking and water. The first topic, airing Saturday morning focuses on the issue of radiation. 

“When the waste comes into the landfill, the waste does go through a radiation detector, a scintillating detector. These levels are certainly higher than you want at your local landfill." 

As Pennsylvania lawmakers grapple with finalizing the state budget, and face a financial shortfall, lawmakers and outside groups are calling for a severance tax on the natural gas industry to increase revenues.

Thousands of people with ties to the natural gas industry are gathered in Pittsburgh this week for the Developing Unconventional Gas, or DUG East Conference.

With ongoing debate around natural gas development, one of the key areas of focus is changing public perception. Environmental groups and anti-fracking groups are concerned about how fracking affects water supplies and the environment and also about long-term effects of the technology. Some allege that industry officials put profits before people.

The Consumer Energy Alliance said that’s not the case.

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.

The Ohio House of Representatives has voted to increase the state severance tax on oil and gas from less than 1 percent to 2.5 percent. As Pennsylvania continues to debate whether it, too, should impose a severance tax on the booming Marcellus Shale play, some Ohio democrats say the proposed hike is not good enough.

Republican Gov. John Kasich wanted a bigger tax hike, as well. But Ohio Rep. Matt Huffman, who sponsored the bill, said he ended up with 2.5 percent because “that was what I thought we could get done. That was what all parties could agree to.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Report Details Effects of Gas Drilling

Apr 17, 2014

The effects of natural gas drilling under state forests aren’t being ignored, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

The department’s first Shale Gas Monitoring Report, released Wednesday, outlines its efforts through 2012 to monitor the impacts of gas development on water, air, energy, forest health, soils and wildlife.

The fight over placing a nonconventional gas well about a half-mile from five Mars Area School District schools has moved out of the district’s boardroom and into the boardrooms of a pair of local townships.

Sen. John Blake has purposed a new way of paying for the housing trust fund which is intended to pay to repair and build affordable houses across Pennsylvania, except it has no money.

Act 105 was passed in 2010, but the counties have had a hard time using its provisions due to the lack of funds. Currently payments are to come from Marcellus Shale impact fee, but Blake says it is never getting there. Instead, he wants to add fees to real estate related legal filings.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has released annual emissions data for Marcellus Shale natural gas production for 2012. Emissions are tracked each year in an effort to assess air quality in the state.  

“The data shows two decreases and four increases in pollutant categories from natural gas emissions,” said DEP spokeswoman Morgan Wagner. “However, overall, total air contaminate emissions across the state have continued to decline.”

A new report from a nonpartisan office of the state legislature says that Pennsylvania's taxes on the natural gas drilling boom are among the lowest in the nation.

The figures released Thursday by the Independent Fiscal Office found that Pennsylvania is the only state with significant production that doesn't impose a severance tax based on the volume of gas produced.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald delivered his quarterly state of the county address Tuesday night and had plenty of praise for county departments.

Fitzgerald acknowledged public works for its handling of the roughest winter weather in recent memory, the health department for its successful efforts to improve air quality in the county and the medical examiner’s Office for a recent national award it received for ballistics work.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.