StateImpact PA

AP Photo/Ralph Wilson

Somehow Pennsylvania lost 160,000 gas industry jobs overnight.

What happened? Did drillers flee at the specter of a new tax on production? Not quite. Although companies have been laying off workers and cutting costs– lackluster market conditions don’t explain this shift.

Courtesy of Michelle Johnsen via StateImpact PA

Local governments all over the country are trying stop the surge in oil and gas development by embracing a novel legal tactic–community-based rights ordinances. It’s a strategy that carries risks.

Pipelines: The New Battleground Over Fracking

Apr 6, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Forget the battles over the Keystone XL. Pipeline wars are now raging in Pennsylvania, where production is high and pipeline capacity is low.

Preparing For The Worst, Delco First Responders Simulate Oil Train Accident

Mar 25, 2015
Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The increasing number of rail cars carrying crude oil through Pennsylvania means a rising risk of accidents. Recent derailments caused trains to explode and incinerate areas along tracks in Illinois and West Virginia, threatening waterways.

So far, Pennsylvania has been lucky. Within the past year and a half, oil trains traveling through the state derailed in Philadelphia, Vandergrift and McKeesport, but none of them exploded.

Back in the sumer of 2013, that wasn’t the case in the Quebec village of Lac Megantic, where an oil train crash killed 47 people. Five bodies were never recovered, having been incinerated.

Oil Trains On PA Tracks Getting More Scrutiny After West Virginia Explosion

Feb 20, 2015
AP Photo/ Office of the Governor of West Virginia, Steven Wayne Rotsch,File

The fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia on President’s Day, which forced the evacuation of nearby residents and sent Bakken crude into the Kanawha River, has environmentalists and local lawmakers taking a more critical look at the oil trains running across Pennsylvania’s tracks.

DEP Gives Gas Industry Group $150,000 Grant To Study Drilling

Dec 5, 2014
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The state Department of Environmental Protection has awarded a $150,000 non-competitive grant to an industry-backed nonprofit organization. The money was allocated in last year’s state budget specifically for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling.”

Studies Show Naturally Occurring Methane In Northeast PA Water

Nov 14, 2014

A pair of studies released today by the U.S Geological Survey found low-to-moderate concentrations of naturally occurring methane in private water wells in Wayne and Pike Counties– a region of the state without Marcellus Shale drilling.

Those two counties fall under the jurisdiction of the Delaware River Basin Commission, which currently has a moratorium on fracking.

Bill Would Eliminate Buffer Requirement For Pennsylvania’s Cleanest Streams

Oct 13, 2014
Scott Lamar / WITF

Yet another battle of the economy versus the environment is taking place in Harrisburg. This time, conservationists say Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams are at stake.

A bill (HB1565) working its way through the state legislature would eliminate a requirement for 150-foot buffer zones between new developments and specially protected watersheds.

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.

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.

Survey: Public Distrusts Gas Industry And Anti-Fracking Film, 'Gasland'

Jun 22, 2014
Linh Do via Flickr

A new study shows the public views both the natural gas industry and the anti-fracking film, "Gasland," as among the least trustworthy sources of information when it comes to hydraulic fracturing.

According to a paper published last month in Energy Research and Social Science, people are more likely to trust information from university professors, environmental groups, newspapers, and landowner groups.

Regulatory agencies ranked fifth in trustworthiness among the eight possible choices. They were followed by cooperative extensions and the natural gas industry.

'Unclear' Circumstances on the Ground During Chevron Blaze

Apr 11, 2014
Katie Colaneri / StateImpact PA

It recently came to light that Department of Environmental Protection investigators were blocked by Chevron employees in the days after a natural gas well explosion in Greene County. The explosion, which killed one Chevron employee, set off a fire which blazed for five days in February.  

StateImpact reporter Katie Colaneri recently broke the story and said Chevron would not allow the DEP to park or drive onto access roads toward the well for nearly two days. Colaneri says the rules are pretty straightforward concerning incidents such as the well explosion.

The DEP has authority over companies like Chevron during environmentally dangerous conditions, but Colaneri says the overall situation is still very unclear. 

Three Mile Island: Measuring The Impact 35 Years Later

Mar 28, 2014
Flickr user Ted Van Pelt

Friday marks the 35th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history. On March 28, 1979, one of the reactors at the The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Dauphin County partially melted down.

Back then, no one knew exactly what was going to happen. The incident was unprecedented.

Former Governor Dick Thornburgh was at the center of the crisis. He marked the anniversary at an event Thursday at Penn State’s Harrisburg campus in Middletown–not far from the plant.

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. 

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.

Residents Demand Transparency Following Train Derailments

Jan 23, 2014
Robert Tucker / flickr

As crews continue clearing derailed train cars, including crude oil tankers, from a bridge over the Schuykill River in Philadelphia, the incident has amplified regional concerns about safety.

With shipments of crude oil continuing to roll through populous areas in Pennsylvania, environmental groups and lawmakers are calling for more information.

From Philly, StateImpact Pennsylvania's Katie Colaneri explains that lawmakers and residents want these large corporations to be more transparent, and give detailed accounts of the kinds of chemicals passing by their homes. 

To Clear the Air, Some in Susquehanna County Leave the Fracking Debate Behind

Nov 26, 2013
Katie Colaneri / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Two years ago, Victoria Switzer and her neighbors had stopped speaking.

Switzer was one of the residents of Dimock who claimed natural gas drilling had ruined their water supplies. The small village in Susquehanna County became synonymous with flaming taps and jugs of muddy brown drinking water.

But the media blitz angered her neighbors, the Teels, who said it ignored the economic benefits of drilling.

The reporters, the activists and the industry haven’t gone away, but things have started to change.

Katie Colaneri / StateImpact Pennsylvania

It all started with beans.

Joyce and Steve Libal run a small orchard on their 63-acres in Little Meadows, Susquehanna County where they sell fruit and organic vegetables.

One day in early September, a friend came by to purchase ten pounds of green bush beans.

“In this area, with all the drilling going on, the conversations usually end up talking about the gas industry,” Steve Libal says. “And he just brought up that he had seen, he’s a borough councilman and they received a packet of information about a well pad behind our house.”

Pennsylvania’s Climate Change Future: Read The Missing Report

Sep 10, 2013

A pair of legally-mandated reports outlining how climate change will affect Pennsylvania are currently a year overdue.

The state’s Climate Change Act required the publication of both reports in 2009, followed by an update every three years.

Both documents were due last year, but they’re still under review, and the state Department of Environmental Protection won’t say when they will be released.

Democratic Frontrunner for Governor Proposes Severance Tax On Shale Gas

Sep 5, 2013

Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz announced Wednesday that as governor, she would impose a 5 percent severance tax on Marcellus Shale production.

Schwartz told reporters on a conference call that her plan for what she called a “reasonable, fair, moderate tax” would generate $612 million this year and nearly triple to $2 billion in about 10 years. She said she wants to use the money to invest in education and transportation infrastructure.

Feds Seek Public Input On Plan to Decommission Three Mile Island

Aug 29, 2013

Thirty-five years after the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, plans for the eventual decommissioning of the Three Mile Island plant are still causing a stir.

In a sparsely attended yet contentious public meeting Wednesday night in Hershey, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission discussed plans for the eventual decommissioning of the plant.

About a dozen people turned out to talk about the plans, which call for dismantling the mothballed Unit 2 along with the operational Unit 1 when its license expires in 2034.

How Could OSHA’s New Silica Rules Impact The Natural Gas Industry?

Aug 29, 2013

Federal labor officials are proposing new rules to help prevent an old hazard of the trade: diseases caused by breathing in silica dust. Silicosis has long been a plight of workers in construction and manufacturing, but concerns have shifted in recent years to those who toil in the growing natural gas industry.

Sand is an important ingredient in most fracking fluid recipes. It’s mixed with chemicals and water and blasted deep underground where the tiny grains help keep cracks in the shale rock open for all that natural gas to come through.

Corbett, Krancer Fail To Disclose Vacation Homes

Aug 15, 2013

Governor Corbett has failed to list an out-of-state vacation home he bought last year on his annual financial disclosure form.

The governor and his wife, First Lady Susan Corbett spent $265,000 last year on a condo at a beachfront resort community in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Public records show the deed and mortgage documents were filed December 5, 2012, but the governor did not list it in his annual Code of Conduct statement of financial interest.

Drilling Opponents Pack DCNR Meeting On Loyalsock State Forest

Jun 4, 2013
Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

After facing months of public pressure over the possibility of expanding natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) held a public meeting on the issue.

Nearly 250 people turned out Monday to Lycoming College in Williamsport. The meeting ran an hour over its scheduled time slot, due to the number of people who wanted to comment.

Lovers of PA’s Loyalsock Forest Fight to Limit Drilling There

May 24, 2013
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

Deep in the Loyalsock State Forest, where no cell phone signal reaches, the sounds of rushing waterfalls and forest birds are suddenly interrupted by the sound of a helicopter.

Paul Zeph of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society says the noise could be related to gas drilling. Drillers will often drop seismic testing equipment into remote areas that are difficult to reach by roads. And that leads Zeph to cite one of the many worries that naturalists and outdoors lovers have with plans to expand drilling in the Loyalsock.

Poll Shows Support for a Drilling Moratorium in Pennsylvania

May 15, 2013
StateImpact Pennsylvania

A new poll out Tuesday shows strong support for a moratorium on natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, despite showing general support for gas extraction.

The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan, in conjunction with the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, surveyed both Pennsylvania and Michigan residents on fracking. The survey shows general support for gas extraction in Pennsylvania. Forty-nine percent of respondents approve, and 40 percent oppose.

For years, both anglers and scientists have witnessed death and disease in the Susquehanna River’s smallmouth bass population.

The issue has gained national attention, yet two state agencies have clashed over how to handle the problem.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission disagreed over whether a 100-mile stretch of river’s main stem should be officially labeled as “impaired.”