11/08/2018 - Pa. regulators adopt new policy, clearing confusion over electric vehicle charging stations

As electric vehicles become more popular with consumers, there are efforts to ensure the charging infrastructure is in place to support them.

11/08/2018 - Sunoco expects hybrid Mariner East 2 to start operating by year’s end

The company has joined three different lines to create a cross-state route for natural gas liquids. It says it will be able to fulfill customer orders.

11/07/2018 - Pipeline opponent wins Chester County seat in state House

Danielle Friel Otten was elected state representative for the 155th district in November 2018.

A prominent pipeline opponent from Chester County will be heading to the state House of Representatives next year. Democrat Danielle Friel Otten beat incumbent Republican Becky Corbin to represent the 155thdistrict in a race largely defined by community opposition to Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline project.

Friel Otten says she never thought about running for office until Sunoco began building its Mariner East pipelines 50 feet from her back door.

“There was a group of us who sat around our patio last summer and we talked about what can we do, what are our next steps,” said Friel Otten, “and we agreed that we needed to get people to step up and run.”

Mariner East 2 construction has led to drilling mud spills, sink holes, and contaminated water wells in Chester County.

Friel Otten says frustration battling the pipeline project, concerns about safety and the response from local politicians led her and her neighbors to run for office.

“We need people who make better decisions for our communities and who have the courage and fight when something’s not ok,” she said.

She says she rejected any corporate money for her campaign, and raised $250,000. Last year, pipeline opponents in Chester County got elected as township supervisors and local school board members.

Friel Otten will be joined by 14, possibly 15, new suburban Philadelphia Democrats in the state House and Senate. Many of those have taken a strong stance against new pipelines.

Friel Otten says in Harrisburg she will work to make Pennsylvania a leader in renewable energy.

11/02/2018 - Listen: How housing in the Bakken shale play evolved with the oil boom

North Dakota and Pennsylvania share a history of what happened when oil and gas workers rolled in. Here's how it played out in the Bakken oil patch.

11/01/2018 - PJM: There is no grid emergency (at least for the next five years)

The nation's largest electric grid studied whether its reliance on natural gas could threaten the system. The answer: Not now, but a perfect storm of events could cause problems.

11/01/2018 - Philadelphia plans a massive solar plant in Adams County

Emma Lee / WHYY

Dennis Hajnik (center) directs a solar panel installation in Bryn Mawr.

Philadelphia’s plan to cut its carbon emissions now includes a proposal to purchase energy from a massive solar farm in south central Pennsylvania. The proposal is part of the city’s plan to use renewable energy for all city operations by 2030.

If approved, the solar farm in Adams County, near Gettysburg, would be the largest in Pennsylvania. Christine Knapp, director of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability, says the 70-megawatt facility would help the city reach its renewable energy goal.

“We would like to do something like this inside the city as well, we just don’t have as much abundant and cheap land as there is in Adam’s County,” said Knapp.

Knapp says the city will buy all the energy from the facility under a 20-year-deal fixed at current rates. She says hopefully that will mean savings in the future when conventional energy costs are expected to rise.

“The cost is about the same as what we currently buy, so that’s what’s making the economics work for us,” she said.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a bill on Thursday that would allow the city to enter into a power purchase agreement with the Philadelphia Energy Authority, which will work with Adams Solar LLC, an entity of national solar developer Community Energy.

“Moving forward in a tangible matter with this goal symbolizes how we grow towards a greener and more sustainable Philadelphia,” Reynolds Brown said in a statement.

City officials say job fairs for workers on the project would be held in both Philadelphia and Adams counties.

Last month, Philadelphia became one of 20 cities awarded about $2 million as part of the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, which includes the development of renewable energy.

WHYY’s Tom MacDonald contributed to this piece.

11/01/2018 - Investigators suspect methane migration caused Greene County home to explode

Shirl Barnhart

The scene of a gas explosion that destroyed a house in Greene County on Oct. 31.

A home explosion Wednesday in Greene County leveled the house and burned three people who were inside. Investigators are trying to determine whether methane migration from nearby gas or coal operations played a role.

The explosion happened after a man tried to light a stove in the home, at 153 Bowser Road, said Shirl Barnhart, a Morgan Township supervisor.

That young fellow was lighting a stove in his house and it was a gas buildup that he wasn’t aware of and it just kind of blew his house up,” Barnhart said.

The house belonged to the man’s parents, Mike and Laura White, Barnhart said. The man, his girlfriend, and a child were all life-flighted to a burn center in Pittsburgh.

“We’re suspecting it was probably a methane buildup ’cause methane doesn’t have that mercaptan in it to make it smell. So you had no idea there was any gas in there,” Barnhart said. It could be some gas well. There’s gas storage fields in that area. There’s pipelines that could be leaking. It could be anything.”

The house was leveled, he said. It’s totally gone. It just blew completely apart and everything burned up…blew the walls completely out.” 

Peoples Gas, which provided gas to the house, is helping investigators with the Public Utilities Commission on finding a source for the gas that caused the explosion. PUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said the agency was working with federal investigators from the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

“Our safety team is working with Peoples Gas to isolate possible gas sources in the area and they are gathering gas samples for lab analysis to help determine where the gas is originating,” Hagen-Frederiksen said.

A nearby home was evacuated, after tests detected high gas levels there, said Barry Kukovich, spokesperson for Peoples.

“We have to determine if it came from inside the house, outside the house, from our lines, or whether it came from other companies’ lines,” Kukovich said. “Or there’s a storage well nearby and a number of wells nearby — a lot of those are shallow wells — there’s also a possibility it could be coal bed methane.”

Kukovich said the company won’t have analysis on gas samples it took at the site until next week.

EQT has the closest operating gas well in the area, Barnhart said. 

Company spokeswoman Linda Robertson said in an email that the company was working with local authorities to test for pipeline and storage well leaks nearby. “Results of all testing to date were negative,” Robertson said. “We will continue to assist PHMSA and the DEP as they work to complete their investigation.”

10/30/2018 - DEP orders ETP to fix Revolution Pipeline erosion problems

State regulators have ordered the owner of a pipeline that experienced a catastrophic explosion last month to fix inadequate erosion control measures in several locations along its route.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection gave Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the Revolution Pipeline, four days to make the fixes along the pipeline’s route, which goes through four counties in western Pennsylvania.

Officials say heavy rains led to a landslide that caused a section of the Revolution Pipeline to blow up in September in Center Township, Beaver County, burning one house to the ground.

After the explosion, inspectors with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection inspected the line, interviewed workers, and subpoenaed documents to judge whether Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s owner, was meeting all its permit obligations. It was not, the agency says.

DEP spokesman Neil Shader said inspectors found unreported landslides and erosion off the pipeline’s construction sites into nearby streams.

“Currently there’s potential for additional pollution…there’s runoff impacting these streams already — and that’s why we’ve issued the order,” said Shader.

The inspections along the route took place Oct. 22 through Oct. 25, and the order was issued Monday.

In total, the DEP found six streams in Beaver County where construction conditions had resulted in sediment pollution into the streams. The department also found that the company had failed to submit reports detailing areas where its anti-erosion measures failed.

Shader said future enforcement actions are possible, but declined to comment on whether the company would be subject to fines.

An ETP representative said the company is complying with the order.

“We remain in contact with the PA DEP and have and will continue to comply with their orders,” Alexis Daniel said.

The order gives ETP until Nov. 9 to provide a detailed plan for controlling erosion along its route.

The Public Utility Commission continues to investigate the cause of the Sept. 10 explosion. The pipeline had been in operation for only a week when the blast occurred.

The Revolution pipeline is a 24-inch natural gas gathering line, a type of line that typically transfers gas from wellheads to a larger transmission line. It was built to feed two major ETP pipelines, the Rover pipeline and the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids line.

In June, the company agreed to pay a Department of Environmental Protection fine of $145,250 for discharging “sediment-laden runoff” into Raccoon Creek and an unnamed tributary.

10/30/2018 - Sen. Toomey raises alarms about Trump’s new ethanol policy

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey talks with officials from Monroe Energy and Philadelphia Energy Solutions about reforming or doing away with the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires the use of corn-based ethanol, and uses a complex system of credits that have cost the refiners millions of dollars. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia area refineries are raising alarms about the costs of a recent move by President Donald Trump to boost corn-based ethanol. Following through on a promise made to Iowa voters, Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to allow sales of so-called E-15 fuel throughout the entire year.

E-15 gasoline contains 15 percent ethanol, and is banned from being sold in the summer months. When combined with warmer temperatures, ethanol increases ozone damaging emissions. The blended gasoline sold year-round contains 10 percent ethanol.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey has unsuccessfully tried to change Trump’s mind. He met with several refinery executives and union leaders Tuesday morning at Monroe Energy in Delaware County.

“I have met repeatedly with the President of the United States,” Toomey told the group. “…But frankly we’re disappointed that we have not been able to get the solutions that we had hoped for.”

Toomey says he would support getting rid of the ethanol mandate altogether, but that would not be politically feasible. Instead, he said expanding E-15 during the summer months should be challenged in court, based in part on the fact that it would violate the Clean Air Act.

Critics also say it could damage vehicles.

The Corn Growers Association of America praised the President’s move.

“Corn farmers across the country have been advocating for year-round sales of higher ethanol blends like E15 to help grow demand, provide consumers with more options at the pump and improve economic conditions across rural America,” said the organization’s president Lynn Chrisp in a statement. “We thank President Trump for following through on his commitment to America’s farmers.”

The Renewable Fuel Standard, which relies on corn-based ethanol, was boosted in 2005 as a way to create more domestic energy and reduce air pollution from vehicles. But some question the benefits to air quality.

Toomey says the system designed to ensure ethanol is blended into gasoline has “completely gone off the rails.”

“Nobody ever intended that this mechanism would end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Local refineries like Monroe Energy and Philadelphia Energy Solutions can’t blend ethanol into gasoline. So instead, they have relied on others to do the job, and they pay credits, known as “RINs.” But several years ago, Toomey said, speculators helped create an unregulated black market, driving those prices up and putting the refineries at risk.

In 2017, area refiners spent more than $400 million dollars on RINs. A bankruptcy filing by Philadelphia Energy Solutions earlier this year blames, in part, the RFS mandate.

Jeff Warmann, CEO of Monroe Energy, says neither the refiners nor the ethanol producers benefit from the RIN system.

“The people that are getting wealthy are the middle men, the bankers and the blenders and other people who are trading the RINs,” he said.

Warmann says the corn growing states and refinery states need to work out a compromise when it comes to ethanol. He says recent efforts to do so have failed.

Anthony Gallagher, business manager for the Steamfitters local 420, urged Toomey to push back against Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who supports expanding the ethanol mandate.

“[Grassley] is holding us hostage,” Gallagher told Toomey.

Gallagher says his union members earn about $90 million in wages and benefits from the local refineries each year.

“So that’s a tremendous loss for us if we lose these refineries,” he said. 

Corn growers say ethanol is better for the environment because there are fewer emissions from the tail pipe. But many environmentalists now say the overall impact of growing corn for fuel does more harm than good.

10/26/2018 - Watch now: The story of environmental rights in Pennsylvania

Nearly 50 years ago, a young legislator named Franklin Kury wanted to guarantee Pennsylvanians the right to clean air and water. Working with other environmental advocates, he got Article 1, Section 27 amended to the state constitution in 1971:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.

Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.

As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

For decades, the amendment was largely ignored.

But things are changing. As fracking transformed Pennsylvania’s rural landscapes, it’s unexpectedly led to a shift in the legal landscape, too. Two recent state Supreme Court decisions dealing with natural gas drilling are breathing new life into the amendment.

Watch the documentary: