Sunday, April 28, 2013

Weekly Pennsylvania Energy & Marcellus Shale News Update, April 28 edition

Because last Sunday's update was delayed, today's covers a period shorter than a week.

News reports are selected from national sources and local news outlets simply because they cover Pennsylvania-related energy and shale gas news, not to push any agenda of mine. Op-ed and other commentary reflect the opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect my views.

Please click on the headlines to read the full stories.

Shale gas and Fracking
EPA methane report further divides fracking camps
The Environmental Protection Agency has dramatically lowered its estimate of how much of a potent heat-trapping gas leaks during natural gas production, in a shift with major implications for a debate that has divided environmentalists: Does the recent boom in fracking help or hurt the fight against climate change?

Oil and gas drilling companies had pushed for the change, but there have been differing scientific estimates of the amount of methane that leaks from wells, pipelines and other facilities during production and delivery. Methane is the main component of natural gas.

The new EPA data is "kind of an earthquake" in the debate over drilling, said Michael Shellenberger, the president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental group based in Oakland, Calif. "This is great news for anybody concerned about the climate and strong proof that existing technologies can be deployed to reduce methane leaks."

The scope of the EPA's revision was vast. In a mid-April report on greenhouse emissions, the agency now says that tighter pollution controls instituted by the industry resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall. That's about a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates. The agency converts the methane emissions into their equivalent in carbon dioxide, following standard scientific practice.
Governor: Pa. plant decision probably next year
Gov. Tom Corbett told the Pittsburgh Business Times ( on Friday that he "never had June as a date" for Shell Oil Co. to decide on the multibillion-dollar plant proposed for Beaver County.
"I've always thought it would be early next year," Corbett said, adding that his conversations with officials indicate "they're still moving forward."
The June 30 deadline stems from a six-month extension Shell negotiated at the end of last year with Horsehead Corp., which would sell its land 35 miles north of Pittsburgh to the energy firm. The Potter Township site is now home to a zinc shelter, which Horsehead expects to shut down.
The so-called cracker plant would convert natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale into more profitable chemicals such as ethylene, which is used to make plastics, antifreeze and other products. Officials have said the plant would employ 100,000 temporary construction workers and provide 400 permanent jobs after that.
Questions linger in PPL's lost land
The Marcellus Shale region teems with stories of surprise wealth, where oil and gas title searchers find an overlooked heir or holder of mineral rights.
Unlike those cases of found wealth through gas royalties, PPL Electric Utilities' anticipated mini-windfall may not be so cut and dried. The land that Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. found that PPL unknowingly inherited, the Northern Electric Trolley line, is disputed with competing claims. Abandoned since the 1930s, PPL's land now hosts pastures, private roads, even houses and businesses, some obtained through decades-old quiet titles.
Also, there is the question of whether PPL will have to pay property taxes on the land, as many others have for generations. Under the Pennsylvania Utility Code, revenue generated from utility-owned land or assets would defray the cost of electricity by going into the rate base. In a recent example, PPL Electric Utilities leased to businesses bandwidth on the fiber network it created between regional offices. That revenue, in a small way, helped offset electricity prices.
PPL's customers may not benefit from the new natural gas royalty stream, however, said Pennsylvania acting Consumer Advocate Tanya J. McCloskey. Since PPL didn't know it owned the land, it was never included in its rate base.
"Typically, royalties or any revenue derived from utility land or assets should offset electricity rates," she said. "But it's unclear weather ratepayers ever paid for that land and it doesn't appear to ever have been in use to serve ratepayers."
So PPL's natural gas royalties would go directly to corporate coffers.
State College residents opposed to Penn State natural gas pipeline continue dialogue
State College residents and their supporters who continue to oppose a natural gas pipeline project originally routed through their neighborhood have organized a formal group called PRESS — Preserving Rights to Environmental Sustainability and Safety.
The group is blogging and sending press releases related to the project and keeping the dialogue going on its research and activities.
“The focus is really to start a dialogue,” said Javan Briggs, a founding member of the group who lives on Prospect Avenue. “And create the kind of community that we want.”
The 12-inch, high-pressure pipeline is planned by Columbia Gas to serve Penn State’s conversion of the West Campus steam plant from coal to natural gas, to meet new federal air pollution standards. After nearly five hours of discussion during Borough Council meetings on April 1, the council directed staff not to issue the permit that would allow Columbia to install the pipe under borough streets.
Report highlights problems with fracking database
A new report raises serious concerns about the online database used by 11 states to track the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The Harvard Law School report says FracFocus, a reporting site formed by industry groups and intergovernmental agencies in 2011, has loose reporting standards, makes it too difficult for states to track whether companies submit chemical disclosures on time and allows for inconsistency in declaring chemicals trade secrets.

The 11 states that require companies to divulge fracking chemicals through FracFocus: Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling settles hundreds of Marcellus gas leases
Natural gas from shale is independent of the rock that contains it, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a decision released late Wednesday, and gas rights in Pennsylvania do not transfer with mineral rights unless specifically noted.

The state's high court overruled an appeals court decision that called for more scientific testimony about the nature of the Marcellus Shale and upheld 131 years of the common understanding of Pennsylvania property law.

The 6-0 decision in Butler v. Powers held that the so-called Dunham Rule, based on an 1882 case with the same name requiring a specific notion about oil (and by the years of court rulings, natural gas) on deeds transferring mineral rights. Without mention of oil or gas, the states courts have held, those rights stay with the with the party transferring mineral rights.
Fracking Truck Sets Off Radiation Alarm At Landfill
A truck carrying drill cuttings from a hydraulic fracturing pad in the Marcellus Shale was rejected by a Pennsylvania landfill Friday after it set off a radiation alarm, according to published reports. The truck was emitting gamma radiation from radium 226 at almost ten times the level permitted at the landfill.
The MAX Environmental Technologies truck was first quarantined at the landfill, which is operated by MAX, and then sent back to the fracking pad—Rice Energy‘s Thunder II pad in Greene County—to be redirected to a site that can accept higher levels of radiation.
“It’s low-level radiation, but we don’t want any radiation in South Huntingdon,” Tom Cornell, a township supervisor where the landfill is located, told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. ...
The cuttings in the truck were found to emit 96 microrem per hour of radiation, and the landfill is required to reject materials that emit more than 10 microrem. The EPA’s standard for air pollution is 10,000 microrem per year (also known as 10 millirem/year).
Shale deals in Pennsylvania reach $882 million
Mergers, acquisitions and partnerships that happened across Appalachia's gas fields were enough to make the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale the country's second- and third-most popular formations for big-ticket deals in the first quarter of 2013, according to an analysis released Wednesday by PwC.
The report found three transactions totaling $882 million in the first three months of the year related to development in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale gas fields, about the same amount spent during the same quarter one year ago.
DEP Fines Gas Driller for Lycoming County Spills
The Department of Environmental Protection announced Friday that the agency fined Pennsylvania General Energy Company $125,500 for three spills that occurred back in January, 2012. The fine also includes failing to comply with sediment and erosion controls during a four-month construction project near a high-quality, trout stream in 2011.
DEP says that during a fracking operation in January, 2012, PGE spilled an estimated 8,200 gallons of “brine,” and 89 gallons of diesel fuel.
Consol, Pa. reach settlement on dam, gas drilling
Consol Energy has agreed to pay the state $36 million to settle allegations that a dam in a state park was damaged by underground coal mining, state officials announced Wednesday.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said in a release that the settlement with Consol Energy Inc. will lead to the replacement of the dam at Ryerson Station State Park, about 60 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The state drained 62-acre Duke Lake in 2005 to keep the dam from failing.
Department of Conservation Secretary Richard Allan said Consol, which is based in Pittsburgh, also agreed to donate 506 acres of adjacent land to the park.

NRC warns nuclear plants to watch for water damage
Federal authorities are warning nuclear power plants that store spent fuel in dry casks to watch for water damage, citing two incidents at central Pennsylvania plants.

The York Daily Record ( ) says the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued an information notice last week detailing how moisture can degrade structures and components associated with spent fuel storage.

"By obtaining baseline measurements and performing periodic evaluations, accelerated degradation can be detected before the structures and components of a storage system are unable to perform their intended function," the commission said.

The notice cited two separate instances involving water damage to containers holding spent fuel from the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in York County and Three Mile Island in Dauphin County.
Pennsylvania senator wants updated planning to address ‘dangerous incidents’ at nuclear plants
Federal regulators should “do the work” necessary to learn whether people living within 50 miles of nuclear power plants know what to do if a dangerous incident occurs, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said Wednesday.
“More than 10 million Pennsylvanians, which is 80 percent of our population, live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant,” Casey wrote in a letter to Allison M. Macfarlane, chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“We need to ensure that appropriate plans are in place and that residents are fully informed about emergency procedures outside of the 10-mile radius.”
Since 1978, the government has mandated a 10-mile evacuation zone around nuclear plants. But the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused a meltdown and radiation release at Fukushima power plant in Japan raised questions about whether to increase the zone to 50 miles.
Renewable Energy
Pa. universities use renewable energy to save utility costs, ‘set example’ on ‘green’ use
As Pennsylvania colleges venture deeper into alternative-energy sources, they're giving crucial support to fledgling energy companies.
Eight Pennsylvania colleges and universities are cited as top alternative-energy buyers in the Environmental Protection Agency's 2013 Green Power Challenge. Among them, Allegheny College and Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne, Mercyhurst and Chatham are amid Western Pennsylvania's rich coal and gas deposits.
According to the EPA, their purchases offset carbon-dioxide emissions equivalent to those from 70,233 vehicles during a year.

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