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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PA must tackle well construction, methane emissions

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The final report from a landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, found no evidence that chemicals or brine water from the gas drilling process moved upward to contaminate drinking water at a site in western Pennsylvania.
The Department of Energy report, released Monday, was the first time an energy company allowed independent monitoring of a drilling site during the fracking process and for 18 months afterward. 
After those months of monitoring, researchers found that the chemical-laced fluids used to free gas stayed about 5,000 feet below drinking water supplies. Scientists used tracer fluids, seismic monitoring and other tests to look for problems, and created the most detailed public report to date about how fracking affects adjacent rock structures.
A separate study published this week by different researchers examined drilling sites in Pennsylvania and Texas using other methods. It found that faulty well construction caused pollution, but not fracking itself.
The results of this study are not particularly surprising. Shoddy well construction -- not migrating frac fluid -- is the source of most of the problems with water contamination.

These studies don't tell the full picture of the environmental impacts of natural gas development. Air emissions -- and particularly methane leaks -- are a huge concern and must be addressed. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas and, absent adequate controls, methane leaks across the natural gas supply chain could undo many of the potential environmental benefits natural gas can have over other fossil fuels such as coal.

The bottom line is that we must address the areas of highest risk if we are to prevent damage to our land, air, and water. Tackling both methane emissions and well integrity issues is a must for Pennsylvania.

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets @RexBainbridge.

This Thursday: PennFuture hosts rally and press conference at State Capitol

A broad coalition from the business, health care and faith communities along with moms and others fighting for clean air will speak to the importance of the EPA Clean Power Plan on Thursday at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Speakers will testify later in the day at a DEP listening session on the Plan. 

As Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) admitted its initial strategy for compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan would be rejected by the Agency, Gov. Tom Corbett asked President Obama to rescind the rule and, most recently, questioned the legality of the rule in a letter to the president signed by 14 other governors. 

Rather than researching a wide range of options for how Pennsylvania can comply with this rule, and identifying the most cost-effective plan for the residents and businesses of the state, Gov. Corbett and DEP are choosing to stonewall and laying out plans that deny the merits of the rule. State-level leadership comes with the responsibility to act in the best interests of the people of Pennsylvania.

Carbon pollution fuels climate change, triggers more asthma attacks and respiratory disease, worsens air quality, and contributes to more frequent, destructive, costly and deadly extreme weather events. The Clean Power Plan will prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks and 6,600 premature deaths annually by 2030 as it promotes a clean energy economy.


WHAT: Press conference and rally calling on DEP and Corbett administration to stop stonewalling EPA carbon pollution standards for power plants

WHEN: Thursday, September 25, at 10 a.m.

WHERE: Capitol Rotunda, N. Third and State Streets, Harrisburg, Pa.

WHO: Larry Schweiger, immediate past president, National Wildlife Federation
Gretchen Dahlkemper-Alfonso, Moms Clean Air Force
Jamie Gauthier, Sustainable Business Network
Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark, Sisters of St. Joseph Earth Center
Sharon Pillar, SmartPower
Cherie Eichholz, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Matt Walker, Clean Air Council
Rob Altenburg, PennFuture

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets at @RexBainbridge. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

You're doing it wrong: PennFuture's op-ed on gas drilling in the Philadelphia Daily News

This piece was originally published in the Philadelphia Daily News and was submitted by John Norbeck, PennFuture's Vice President and COO. 


In a frantic race to tap the vast natural resource under our feet - namely, natural gas - Gov. Corbett and state agencies are letting industry dictate the terms of the game. How else to explain the countless lapses in oversight and regulation that are allowing drillers to continually foul our air, land and water? Yes, the rush to drill absent foresight and proper planning could turn Pennsylvania's gas rush into a race to the bottom where environmental protection is concerned.

Signs that oversight as well as adequate resourcing of Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) professionals has not kept up with the pace of drilling have been piling up of late. The recent report by the state Auditor General's Office faults DEP with antiquated record-keeping systems, poor oversight of well inspections and drilling waste, and failing to track and respond to public concerns about drilling activities, including complaints that drilling has fouled water supplies.

"DEP is underfunded, understaffed and inconsistent in how it approaches shale-gas development," Auditor General Eugene DePasquale noted on the release of his office's report. "It's like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose."

We need more cops on the beat at DEP.

Equally concerning is the flip-flop routine at the state Department of Health, where two retired employees said that they were forbidden from talking to the public about health issues related to the Marcellus Shale. Instead, department employees were given a list of buzzwords that signaled which calls to avoid, a list that included "gas," "fracking" and "soil contamination." The department originally denied the existence of the list but later backtracked.

More backward logic permeated the decision by the Corbett administration not to fund a statewide health registry that would track the health of those in drilling areas, a registry recommended by the governor's own Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission and his first secretary of health.

Again, where are cops on the beat at the Department of Health?

In addition to the plentiful errors of commission regarding drilling activities in the state, there is also an error of omission that could be far more significant than the rest. The specter of fugitive methane emissions looms large and is the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to natural-gas drilling and its impacts on global warming and climate change.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, but it is also an extremely potent, short-lived climate pollutant. Air-quality monitoring studies conducted at sites throughout the Marcellus Shale show that methane leaks from drilling, processing and distribution equipment. These leaks are not only a waste of a valuable resource, but they also contribute to current warming trends. What's more, when methane leaks, so do other air toxins, such as the compounds that create smog and related unhealthy air conditions. If you feel like you've been choking on hot, smoggy air during the last few Philly summers, well, you have.

The city recently received a failing grade in the American Lung Association's annual State of the Air report.

So, where are the cops on the beat in the Corbett administration who should be demanding that methane emissions be addressed, controlled and regulated? These are the same folks who are obliged to protect our health, welfare and the environment as noted in Article 1, Sec. 27 of the Pennsylvania constitution: "The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment."

Natural-gas drilling is not likely to go away any time soon in Pennsylvania. But that doesn't mean that we should tap our shale-gas reserves blindly and without regard for the negative consequences with which we are already dealing. Improved accountability gives the industry clear rules to follow, ensures that citizens can express their concerns and puts the government in charge of guarding this finite natural resource.

Let's dispense with the pandering to industry and replace it with a solid blue line of cops on the beat who will look out for Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians where our air, water and land are concerned.

Energy savings in Allegheny County – good for you AND the environment

Success! Black and Gold City Goes Green Neighborhood Blitz in Elliott

Last Saturday, ten courageous volunteers braved a rainy early- autumn morning to hand out energy-saving toolkits to residents in Elliott, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s West End. Luckily for us, the weather cleared up, the community was very receptive, and we handed out a total of 187 bags, making this one of the most successful blitzes PennFuture has organized over the past five years.

The collective energy savings from utilizing the contents of the bag (which includes CFL and LED light bulbs, LED night lights, smart power strips, window caulk, and more) is more than 730,000 pounds of CO2. That’s like taking 70 cars off the road or planting 8,546 trees. We are very grateful to the volunteers who helped accomplish this feat, to Chipotle Mexican Grill for nourishing our hard workers, and to Elliott Community Group for their support in organizing the event.

Sad you missed the Elliot Blitz? The following program summaries outline additional ways you can reduce your carbon footprint while helping to clean up Allegheny County's air.

Duquesne Light Home Energy Audit Program

Duquesne Light recently launched its Whole House Energy Audit Program (WHEAP), which provides a rebate for residential customers in single-family homes who get a professional audit of their home’s energy use. A typical home energy audit costs around $400 but this program allows you to get the same detailed analysis for only $149 after taking advantage of Duquesne Light’s Watt Choices $250 rebate. Further, if you meet the income-eligibility guidelines, you will receive the audit at no cost. Ensuring your house is properly insulated, installing efficient lighting, and that heating/cooling systems are functioning correctly will help you save money and reduce your energy use.

GTECH Healthy Homes

Looking to retrofit your home in order to make it more energy efficient? As part of its Healthy Homes Incentive Program (HHIP), GTECH Strategies is providing an additional $2,500 for home energy efficiency investments once you spend $5,000 or more. By being able to delve even deeper into energy improvements, you can ensure that your home is performing with the utmost quality and efficiency. GTECH’s terrific team will be there to help identify your needs, guide you through the energy efficiency marketplace, and help you choose a financing option that works for you.

Allegheny County Health Department – Wood Stove Bounty Collection event

Calling all Allegheny County residents who are owners of uncertified wood stoves or wood-fired boilers! You can get some ca$h by recycling your old appliances next Saturday, September 27 from 1-4pm at the Wave Pool Parking Lot, Boyce Park. The Allegheny County Health Department is organizing the collection event and they're offering $200 gift cards in exchange for uncertified wood stoves and $500 cash incentives for non-Phase-II compliant outdoor wood-fired boilers. In order to participate, you need to register in advance and be able to deliver and unload the stoves or boilers on your own.

Take advantage of these programs if you can and, if you can't, make sure you're using CFL light bulbs or, better yet, LEDs at home. The less energy we use, the less we need to generate.

Nicole Catino is PennFuture's 2014 Student Conservation Association Green Cities Sustainability Fellow and is based in Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

#AskDrMann! Save the date: PennFuture's 9/17 Twitter chat with climate scientist Michael Mann

PennFuture is hosting a Twitter chat with renowned Penn State climate scientist (and our good friend!) Michael Mann aka @MichaelEMann on Wednesday, September 17, from 2pm-3pm EDT. Use the hashtag #AskDrMann to participate. You won't wanna miss it!

Mann has been at the forefront of the climate change conversation over the past decade, from his widely-recognized research to his many media appearances explaining the science behind global warming.

He recently penned an op-ed in the Allentown Morning Call, where he urged the public to become more involved in the climate debate, and called on policymakers to regulate both carbon dioxide and methane -- greenhouse gases that are accelerating climate change.

Mark your calendar!

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets @RexBainbridge. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Needed: Both state and federal methane standards

From Bloomberg:
The Environmental Protection Agency is considering rules that would force oil and gas producers to cut methane emissions, its chief said, stepping up efforts to curb the most potent greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, told investors at a New York forum today the agency will decide this year whether to issue regulations mandating emission cuts, or to rely only on voluntary steps.
“We are looking at what are the most cost-effective regulatory and-or voluntary efforts that can take a chunk out of methane in the system,” McCarthy said. “It’s not just for climate, but for air quality” reasons, she said.
Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and climate advocates have said that without curbs on emissions from the oil and gas industry, President Barack Obama will fall short of his goal to cut climate-change emissions. The administration’s plan to cut methane, issued in March, said the EPA would decide whether to regulate the industry. Rules, if issued, would take effect in 2016, the government said.
The threat of methane emissions from natural gas drilling has been coming into clearer focus this year, and there is palpable momentum for action. Some states aren't waiting for the feds.

  • In February, Colorado enacted a comprehensive suite of methane regulations for oil and gas operators – including an LDAR (leak detection and repair) program that requires the bulk of operators to perform quarterly inspections and even requires monthly inspections at the largest well sites.
  • Right next door, Ohio recently revised its general permit that requires drillers of unconventional oil and gas wells to conduct quarterly LDAR inspections – in contrast to the once-a-year requirement for Pennsylvania well operators to qualify under Exemption 38.
  • Last fall, Wyoming also implemented a new presumptive BACT requirement that includes quarterly inspections and repairs.
So, what is Pennsylvania doing? Not nearly enough. Pennsylvania's methane rules fall far short of what other states are doing -- and what is needed. The potential for federal methane rules is a big step in the right direction. This strategy has the potential to deliver the federal regulatory oversight that is needed to complement state efforts and make sure that all of the oil and gas industry meets basic, common-sense standards to deploy readily available technologies. But federal rules don't replace the need for state action. As the fastest growing natural gas producer in the country -- and a state that emits nearly a full percent of the world's greenhouses gases -- Pennsylvania can't afford to wait.

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets @RexBainbridge.

Having a say on pipelines

Submitting written comments on proposals involving regulatory agencies' approval is one of the behind-the-scenes ways PennFuture staff (our legal team as well as other staff) participates in federal and state environmental issues. The proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is an example of a current case in which we submitted concerns that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should consider.

Why submit comments, you might ask -- and who reads them? By law, federal agencies must consult the public in making rules and regulations. It's not just the law -- it's good governance in a democracy. The process for involving the American public in rulemaking has its origins in the New Deal of the 1930s, when a large number of new programs and agencies -- including Social Security, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Labor Relations Board – were launched following the Great Depression. Congress enacted a series of laws giving the public the means to weigh in on the development of rules that affect us, and requiring agencies to consider these submissions in the decisions and maintain them in a public record. For more on how that works (for policy wonks out there), the Congressional Research Service provides this detailed history.

PennFuture's written comments to FERC, submitted by staff attorney Mike Helbing, are now part of the public record on the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, which will cross 192 miles of Pennsylvania's lands and waterways from Lancaster to Susquehanna counties. It is clear that this project will create numerous environmental impacts across its route. We know that our history as a Commonwealth has been marked by ill-conceived use and misuse of our natural resources, leaving environmental devastation. This pipeline project has major direct and indirect impacts that threaten water, air and land resources as well as public safety. To prevent history from being repeated, it is important that each of these impacts be carefully considered before ground is broken for the new pipeline.

mong the issues PennFuture raised are the potential for increased methane emissions, additional forest fragmentation and subsequent decrease in wildlife habitat, and water quality impacts. We emphasized to FERC the importance of performing a thorough cumulative impacts analysis and considering the project’s indirect effects as part of its Environmental Impacts Study (EIS).

So, what happens next? The pipeline company will submit a formal application and FERC will prepare the EIS, taking the public comments into consideration. Once the EIS is complete, the public will again be given an opportunity to review and comment on it before it is finalized. (You can learn more about the process through FERC’s website.) Finally, all written comments and public testimony submitted by the hundreds on this pipeline are available at (Search for Docket Number: PF14-8) -- and are a reminder of the role we as citizens can play in protecting our natural resources and public health.

Kate Gibbons is PennFuture's Northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator.