PA DEP Sec. McDonnell Goes to Williamsport to Chat Up the Locals

PA DEP Secretary Pat McDonnell

Several topics were on the table yesterday as Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Pat McDonnell visited Williamsport to chat up the local hoi polloi. Global warming was a hot topic (pun intended). So too was the obscene 240% hike in shale permit fees from $5,000 to $12,000 per well. Being a good Democrat, the Secretary mischaracterized President Trump’s attempts to correct the Obama EPA’s wild overregulation as a “rollback on air and water quality.” Nice try Pat, but no cigar. Here’s a summary of McDonnell’s gassing around session yesterday in Williamsport.
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6 Charged with Bypassing Emissions Controls on Marcellus Trucks

We may not always agree with certain rules and regulations, but skirting or ignoring them is not an option. Especially not in the Marcellus industry. A small group of men (six so far) in Williamsport (Lycoming County), PA are accused of conspiring to illegally alter emission systems on 30+ trucks with heavy-duty diesel engines. The trucks belong to Rockwater Northeast of Canonsburg, a subsidiary of Rockwater Energy Solutions Inc. of Houston, Texas, used to haul fresh water and wastewater to/from Marcellus Shale wells being drilled. The men “tampered with and removed emission monitoring devices on trucks to reduce repair costs and maintenance down time.” Five of the six have already plead guilty, and a sixth was recently charged in the scheme. They all face jail time and stiff fines. Folks, this is not acceptable behavior for our industry…
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Lycoming County Residents Oppose Loyalsock Creek Gathering Pipe

Pennsylvania General Energy drills in several PA counties, including Lycoming County in the north central of the state. According to the just-published Marcellus & Utica Shale Upstream Almanac 2018, PA General Energy is the fourth-largest producing driller in Lycoming County, with 103 producing wells and 42.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas production in 2017. PA General Energy wants to drill more wells. Those wells will need a gathering pipeline connected to them. Current plans for a pipeline have it running along a portion of the Loyalsock Creek, and that has some folks in the area up in arms. Yesterday at a county commissioners’ meeting, residents voiced their opposition to PA General Energy’s pipeline plans. A company rep at the meeting tried to assuage concerns. The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper has offered to be an “unbiased party” to “facilitate discussions between the company and those who reside along the creek.” You know what we think of so-called Riverkeepers who claim to be THE voice of a river…
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PA Supreme Court Rules on Gorsline Zoning Case – Mixed Decision

Not long after the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Act 13 Marcellus Shale drilling law in 2012, signed into law by then-Gov. Tom Corbett, seven selfish towns sued, claiming they should have the right (via zoning laws) to determine just where an oil and gas well can be located within their borders. The challenge was brought by rabid anti-drillers and appealed all the way to the PA Supreme Court, where unfortunately the antis won (see PA Supreme Court Rules Against State/Drillers in Act 13 Case). What the antis didn’t think about was the fact some towns may decide to exercise their newly-won rights to allow wells, instead of prohibit them. Whoops. Guess they didn’t see that one coming. A town in Lycoming County decided to allow a shale well on property zoned residential/agricultural (i.e. farming country) by using a “conditional use” permit. Anti-drilling Big Green groups, including PennFuture, THE (arrogant) Delaware Riverkeeper, and the Peters Township gang (none of which are from mid-PA where the town is located) sued to deny the town the right to exercise its Act 13 authority to allow a shale well. The case, Brian Gorsline v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfield Township (Gorsline is an avowed anti-driller), was appealed to the PA Supreme Court and in March 2017 (over a year ago!) the Supremes heard oral arguments (see Gorsline Zoning Case Argued Before PA Supreme Court Justices). Last Friday the Supremes came down from Mt. Olympus to issue their ruling–and they ruled (4-3) against the town and for the antis. However, before you jump to any conclusions and before you believe headlines from Big Green supporters trumpeting their “victory,” you need to know this: the decision potentially makes it harder (not easier) for antis to stop drilling in the future. We’ll explain…
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Is Lycoming County, PA in Midst of “Natural Gas Resurgence”?

Lycoming County, PA

In a recent interview, the CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce said that in Lycoming County the “natural gas industry is enjoying a resurgence.” Which struck us as odd, given our own recent research into the number of wells being drilled (or lack thereof), and the decrease in natural gas production in Lycoming County. We suppose it all depends on what you mean by resurgence. A resurgence in drilling and production? We’d have to answer that with a “no.” However, if you’re talking about a resurgence in jobs related to the natgas industry because of new pipeline projects? Apparently that answer would be a big “yes”…
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Marcellus Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Settled Out of Court

Two African-American Marcellus Shale natural gas workers in the Williamsport, PA area claim they were fired, twice, based in part on their race. The two filed a lawsuit against STI Group (a staffing agency) and Chesapeake Energy. The case was thrown out by U.S. Middle District of Pennsylvania Court, but later reinstated on appeal by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Rather than let the case drag out endlessly, STI and Chesapeake have just settled it. The amount of money they had to pay to make it go away was not disclosed. Workers are hired and fired all the time. Ours is a boom/bust industry. Was this really a case of racism? Or just a case of boom and bust? You read the details and decide for yourself…
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Seneca Resources 100% PA Utica Focused by ‘End of Fiscal Year’

While Buffalo “Marcellus” Bills owner Terry Pegula’s JKLM Energy has been “steadily increasing activity” in Potter County, PA (northcentral PA) grabbing headlines, another company, National Fuel Gas (NFG) subsidiary Seneca Resources, is also active in Potter and several neighboring northcentral PA counties (Cameron, McKean, Elk, and Lycoming). We spotted a pair of stories in a local newspaper recounting Seneca’s activity to date, and outlining plans for the future. One statement in particular stood out for us: Seneca will be “shifting to 100-percent Utica development by the end of this fiscal year.” At first blush, you might think “end of fiscal year” means by Dec. 31, 2017. However, NFG and subsidiary Seneca operate on a strange fiscal year. Fourth quarter 2017 (Oct-Dec) is NFG/Seneca’s first quarter 2018 fiscal period. Since the quote about focusing 100% on PA Utica drilling came at the end of November, we interpret the quote to mean “Seneca will be 100% focused on the PA Utica by September 2018.” At any rate, let’s not get caught up in semantics and timing. The takeaways from the pair of articles below, which appeared about a week apart at end of November/beginning of December, are: (1) Seneca is shifting to 100% Utica drilling; (2) Seneca spent 60% more on drilling in 2017 than 2016; (3) Seneca is currently running either 1 or 2 rigs, depending on which quote from which story you read; and (4) between royalty payments, impact tax payments and money spent with local PA businesses, Seneca has now spent nearly $1 billion on shale drilling–all of it in northcentral PA…
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DEP: No Contamination from 63K Gal. Inflection Energy Brine Spill

Around 63,000 gallons of treated brine (naturally occurring, very “salty” water that comes out of a well long after it’s drilled) spilled in an accident at an Inflection Energy well pad in Eldred Township, Lycoming County, PA in mid-November (see 63K Gal. Brine Spill at Inflection Well Pad in Lycoming County). Inflection blamed a contractor and operator error for the spill, which happened after an already-full tank was overfilled. Some of the brine reached a nearby unnamed creek that flows into the Loyalsock Creek. In a followup to that story, tests done since the spill on eight private water wells close to the Inflection well pad show no contamination. Zero. We’re still waiting on test results for four other wells. The tanks holding the brine (that overflowed) have been removed from the well pad. No contamination was found in the Loyalsock or in the Susquehanna River, which the Loyalsock empties into. It’s never a good thing to have a spill like this, but the good news is that there is no lasting environmental impact from it. Here’s an update on the November spill and its cleanup…
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63K Gal. Brine Spill at Inflection Well Pad in Lycoming County

Approximately 63,000 gallons of treated brine (naturally occurring, very “salty” water that comes out of a well long after it’s drilled) spilled in an accident at an Inflection Energy well pad in Eldred Township, Lycoming County, PA, on Monday. Inflection blames a contractor and operator error for the spill, which happened after an already-full tank was overfilled. Some of the brine (no word on how much) reached a nearby unnamed creek that flows into the Loyalsock Creek. However, testing done on the Loyalsock shows no presence of contamination. The Loyalsock flows into the Susquehanna River, and the Susquehanna is used as a public drinking water source–hence the concern. There are no warnings to public drinking water operations along the Susquehanna because there is no problem to report. Now comes an investigation, and no doubt fines, for the accident. Here’s what we’re able to find out about the episode–an occurrence so rare it’s newsworthy when it happens…
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Et tu Brute? PA Rep. Garth Everett Falls for Severance Tax Trap

We have long admired Pennsylvania State Rep. Garth Everett, Republican from Muncy (Lycoming County), PA. Everett has been in the forefront of trying to get “minimum royalty” legislation passed that would guarantee PA landowners would get minimum royalty payments of 12.5%–regardless of any kind of post-production expenses. He’s been introducing a bill to do just that for the past three sessions (six years), the most recent attempt this year in February (see PA Rep. Garth Everett Reintroduces Minimum Royalty Bill, 3rd Time). Although Everett’s stance on the minimum royalty bill has him at odds with the drilling industry, he has always struck us as pro-gas and a friend to the industry. So we were particularly saddened to read Everett is now voicing support for a Marcellus-killing severance tax. Perhaps Everett has been influenced by fellow Lycoming County politico State Sen. Gene Yaw, who sold out the industry by supporting a severance tax during the recent budget votes (see Traitorous PA Senate Republicans Pass Severance Tax Bill). MDN note: Sen. Yaw reached out to MDN several times with caustic comments, taking issue with our view of his betrayal of the industry. Or maybe Everett’s newfound love of taxation has happened in response to the industry vigorously opposing his minimum royalty bill for the past six years, i.e. revenge. Whatever the reason, Everett is now saying he supports a severance tax–as long as the tax can’t be deducted from landowner royalties…
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UGI Buys NatGas Pipeline Gathering System in NE PA

UGI is a major utility company in Pennsylvania, providing natural gas and electric service to 700,000 Pennsylvania residents across the state. UGI, via its Energy Services subsidiary, operates natural gas storage facilities, compressor stations, LNG plants and local pipeline gathering systems. UGI operates several gathering systems in northeastern PA. Yesterday the company announced is has purchased an existing gathering system from Rockdale Marcellus for an undisclosed sum. The Rockdale gathering system consists of 60 miles of gathering lines–along with dehydration and compression facilities–located in Tioga, Lycoming and Bradford counties in northeast PA. The system was purchased, on paper, by UGI subsidiary Texas Creek, so the gathering system has been rebranded UGI Texas Creek. MDN has a map of the new system below…
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PA AG Criminal Lawsuit Against XTO Energy Dismissed After 4 Yrs

Four years after then-Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane decided to turn an accident into a criminal prosecution against XTO Energy, the final chapter has been written. Anti-drilling Kane attempted to criminalize the accidental spill of a small amount of recycled wastewater by XTO that happened years before she took office (see PA AG Abuses Her Authority, Files Criminal Charges Against XTO). There was an accidental spill of ~50,000 gallons of frack wastewater at an XTO drill site in 2010 in Lycoming County, PA. XTO remediated the site, digging up affected soil, and paid out a $100,000 settlement in 2013. By the time Kane took office, the matter had been over and done for over two years. But Kane wanted/needed a quick way to make a splash with her hardcore left fringe supporters (payback time for money and volunteers), so she re-opened the case and fantastically filed criminal charges saying XTO showed a pattern of brazen disregard for safety, blah blah blah. In 2013, XTO filed to dismiss the Kane lawsuit (see XTO Energy Files to Have AG Kane’s Lawsuit Dismissed). The federal EPA also got into the act and last year XTO settled a violation of the Clean Streams Law and Solid Waste Management Act. Pricetag? Another $300,000. Now that the company has paid out the nose ($400,000 total), U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew Brann yesterday approved a motion filed by the U.S. attorney’s office to end the case. Finally. After four years…
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PA Sen. Gene Yaw Defends Vote for Severance Tax

PA Sen. Gene Yaw

As MDN previously reported, in July the Pennsylvania Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, voted to enact a new severance tax on top of the existing impact fee (see Traitorous PA Senate Republicans Pass Severance Tax Bill). We named names in that article of those Republicans we consider to be traitors to the industry by voting for this insanity. One of those Senators is Gene Yaw, from Williamsport. Until now, we had not publicly read of how northeast PA Senators justify their vote for the severance tax. We now have. Sen. Yaw provided a statement to a local newspaper in Sayre with statements to explain his vote. Among his justifications: It was his “constitutional obligation” to vote for it, to “steady a sinking financial ship.” Yaw points out he voted for the original impact fee and that over time, revenue from that fee has trailed off, creating the need for a new revenue source (from the Marcellus industry) to replace it. The severance tax fits the bill for Yaw. Here is how Sen. Yaw justifies his vote…
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Range & PA DEP Settle re Alleged Methane Leak at Lycoming Well

Range Resources and the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) have officially “settled” something we thought was already settled–alleged methane migration from a well Range drilled in 2011. In June 2015, then-Secretary of the DEP, John Quigley, slapped Range with an $8.9 million fine–the largest such fine ever levied by the DEP (see PA DEP Slaps Range with Record $8.9M Fine for Methane Migration). Range’s enviro crime? Methane migration from a well in Lycoming County, PA. The DEP says the Range well, drilled in 2011, leaked methane since at least 2013 via an improperly cemented well casing, and the methane “contaminated the groundwater-fed wells of private water supplies, and a nearby stream.” Range and the landowner where the well is drilled say methane was in groundwater supplies long before Range drilled the well. Range fought the action tooth and nail, appealing the determination and fine to the PA Environmental Hearing Board (see PA DEP’s $8.9M Methane Migration Fine Appealed by Range Resources). In May 2016, the DEP quietly dropped the fine and the case against Range (see PA DEP Drops $8.9M Fine Against Range Res. re Methane Migration). We assumed that was the end of the matter. But alas, no. We now, finally, have an end. Both Range and the DEP filed paperwork with the Environmental Hearing Board (a special court set up to hear appeals of DEP decisions) requesting the matter now officially be closed and “settled.” The paperwork (copy below) does not say what the terms of the settlement are. Both Range and the DEP are being mum about the terms…
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PA Court Rules Compressor, Gas Well Not “Single” Emission Source

A somewhat obscure court case in Pennsylvania has potentially big implications for drillers who also own pipeline subsidiaries. In Lycoming County, PA, Seneca Resources (subsidiary of National Fuel Gas Company) drilled a series of wells on a pad called Well Pad E. Another NFG subsidiary, NFG Midstream, connected gathering lines to Well Pad E. NFG Midstream operates a compressor station to push the gas through the pipeline system. Both the well pad and the pipeline/compressor station are subject to air emissions regulations by the state Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP). Each subsidiary on its own–the well pad, and the compressor station–don’t produce enough emissions to trip a costly upgrade in technology. However, if you combine both together into a single “source,” the two together do cross the threshold and would cost NFG big bucks in emissions technology to comply. The DEP lumped both together and told NFG to upgrade their emissions technology. Thing is, if another company owned the pipeline system, say Williams, the DEP would not have tried combining the two into a single source. So NGF appealed the DEP decision to the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB), a quasi-court set up to hear appeals of DEP decisions. The EHB found in favor of the DEP, so NFG appealed it again, this time to PA Commonwealth Court. Last week the court overturned the DEP decision and said just because two subsidiaries have the same parent, you can’t just lump them together as a single source for air emissions regulations…Continue reading

PA Enviro Justice Listening Tour Continues to Draw Almost No One

Last December the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) said it would go on a “listening tour” in early 2017, to focus on so-called environmental justice (see PA DEP to Conduct ‘Listening Tour’ for ‘Environmental Justice’). The DEP finally set up a schedule for its listening tour, which began in March in Greene County (see PA DEP Conducting “Listening Tour” for “Environmental Justice”). Our take: “environmental justice” means asking poor people if they’ve been abused by the oil and gas industry in any way–and if they have a beef, the DEP will “do” something about it. The first session in the tour was interesting for several reasons. For one, just a handful of people turned out–a maximum of 30 in the crowd. For another, the po’ folk didn’t bother coming. It seems only radical activists bothered to turn up, claiming to represent the abused, repeating the same tired, old lies they always repeat. Another stop along the tour was held last week in Williamsport, PA. The pattern repeats. If anything, there were fewer people in the crowd–about 20 according to the local newspaper. Next to nobody turns up for these things. Why is the DEP wasting its time, and PA taxpayers’ money?…
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