Tuesday, September 20, 2022

House Committee Fails To Address $70 Million In Penalties On Natural Gas Pipelines Or Real Concerns Of People Living Near Gas Production & Distribution Facilities

On September 20, the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a two-hour hearing on natural gas production and pipeline distribution system without once discussing the legitimate concerns people living in and around these facilities have about their health, safety and environmental and water supply impacts or the record $70 million penalties assessed on pipelines for violating environmental laws.

The hearing also did not tackle the issue of why Pennsylvanians, sitting on top of one of the richest natural gas reservoirs in the world, have been subjected to natural gas cost increases of as much as 154 percent over the last year from utilities.  Read more here.

Or, why a Susquehanna County Gas Company is proposing to raise rates 33.2 percent when Susquehanna County is the #1 shale gas producer in Pennsylvania?  Read more here.

The answer is simple-- the cost of natural gas is controlled by foreign markets and international demand, regardless of what we have under our feet.

This is just another in a series of hearings Republicans on the Committee have held on issues surrounding natural gas infrastructure and “unleashing” the natural gas industry.

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the Committee, said climate change is the biggest threat to humanity and argued that weather events are becoming more severe, noting that Hurricane Fiona just knocked out the entire power system in Puerto Rico.

He questioned witnesses about the need to address methane emission leaks from natural gas infrastructure and said the world needs to be carbon neutral by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

“Building more pipelines is simply baking in the use of fossil fuels into the future,” said Rep. Vitali.  “I hope you'll agree that we will never get to carbon neutrality by continuing to burn natural gas at its current rate.”

“The 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions [Pennsylvania has seen], that's the shift from coal to natural gas. And I think we all know that, that's probably played itself out,” said Rep. Vitali.  “I mean, people shifted to natural gas because coal couldn't compete. You're not going to get any more reduction from that. To get to carbon neutrality, [you need to get] very much more than that 17 percent.” 

In response, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Committee Chair, said there is a “drive from the left” to destroy energy production in the U.S..

"All these sky is falling narratives we have to debate every day, let's debate reality,” said Rep. Metcalfe.  “Inflation is through the roof, people are hurting. Who is actually going to pay more when you restrict pipeline development?”

[Note: At DEP’s House budget hearing February 28, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell  said the delay in building pipelines has not been in Pennsylvania, and citizen and environmental groups would agree.  Read more here.]

“Our nation, both sides of the aisle, have to wake up to the reality that we're not facing this cataclysmic climate event that's going to occur if Rep. Vitali and ‘AOC’ in Congress don't get their way,” said Rep. Metcalfe.

“China is the threat. China controls the solar market. China controls the wind market. China controls the battery market. China is the one producing the majority, if not producing it and mining it, then processing it with the rare earth minerals that we use for all of that,” said Rep. Metcalfe.  “I mean, we've said this over and over. We've tried to get the word out.”

“The narrative being painted over and over by my Minority Chairman Rep. Vitali today should be alarming because I think it doesn't face reality,” said Rep. Metcalfe. “He wants to try and paint a narrative that creates a new reality out of his sci-fi predictions of what's going to happen in the world. We have to operate within reality.”

“But to continue this narrative of, we have to stop climate change no matter what else happens, you'll be speaking Chinese if you don't wake up to the reality of China being the real threat,” said Rep. Metcalfe.

March Hearing

Rep. Metcalfe was very clear where he stood on the need for natural gas infrastructure during a March Committee hearing--

“I think this NIMBY attitude that occurs with pipelines going through New York or with facilities being located in Philadelphia, the not in my backyard people, I think they ought to be run over with policy changes by the federal government and state government that are in the best interest of the citizens of this nation and best interest of our national security.

“This is a national security issue, but NIMBYs should have no input on not allowing this in their backyard when it's a viable alternative just 'cause they don't want it there.”  Read more here.

Pipeline Penalties

The Committee held a general hearing August 17, 2021 on “environmental and economic benefits of pipelines” where they again failed to even acknowledge the over $55 million in penalties-- at that time-- imposed by DEP and the Public Utility Commission for violating environmental, health and safety laws and regulations between 2016 and 2021.  Read more here.

Since then, Energy Transfer/Sunoco were convicted of criminal charges related to the construction of Mariner East 2 and Revolution natural gas/liquids pipelines in Pennsylvania. Part of the August 5, 2022 settlement requires the company to pay $10 million toward local projects to improve health and safety or water sources along the pipeline routes.  Read more here.

Sunoco was also penalized $4 million by DEP on December 6, 2021 for damages related to a Mariner East Pipeline construction spill into Marsh Creek Lake in Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County.  Read more here.

Energy Transfer Partners was fined $1 million by the Public Utility Commission for the 2018 explosion of the brand new Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County on November 18, 2021.  Read more here.

So as of now, major pipelines have been penalized a total of over $70 million in Pennsylvania for environmental, health and safety violations and convicted of criminal charges related to their construction since 2016.

Strengthening Pipeline Regulation

Earlier this year, the Public Utility Commission invited the public to submit comments on how to strengthen the PUC’s regulations on natural gas, hazardous liquid pipeline safety.

DEP and others submitted comments and some groups, like unions, opposed any new regulations.  Read more here.

Many are surprised to learn natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline companies are not required to have basic insurance or financial assurance in place to cover property damage, bodily harm and environmental cleanup if a leak or explosion happens.  Read more here.

There have been many House and Senate hearings on strengthening state law to deal with the very real issues surrounding pipeline construction and location, but nothing has come of them other than to further document how inadequate the laws are.  Read more here.

Large-Scale Industrial Process

It is important to understand natural gas development from wellhead to stovetop is a large-scale industrial process spread out over rural Pennsylvania.

Brian S. Schwartz, M.D., Professor of Environmental Health and Engineering, Epidemiology and Medicine at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Geisinger Medical said it best in a June 2, 2022 Senate hearing--

“This industry is a large-scale industrial engineering project that involves a number of impacts on communities and their environments. 

“It involves many steps over time, clearing land, building roads, preparing the surface, bringing in chemicals and large volumes of water, bringing in large and heavy equipment like drilling engines and compressor engines. 

“Then drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Receiving returned liquids and processing them at the surface. Receiving and processing gas at the surface. 

“Sending the gas through pipelines. And also a disposing of the waste stream. 

“And this requires monitoring of the safety of all of these steps.”  Read more here.

It can also be described as an industrial machine moving across the Pennsylvania countryside that is changing the landscape in very fundamental ways.  Read more here.

Unleashing Gas Industry

In March, House Republicans proposed a series of bills to expand natural gas drilling, subsidize pipeline expansion, automatically approve well permits and preempting local government regulation of natural gas infrastructure.  Read more here.

They said they were proposing the legislation in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but in reality the measures were part of a long-standing “wish list” by the natural gas industry.  Read more here.

Republicans on the House Environmental Committee moved several of those bills out to the full House in April for consideration.  Read more here.

Hearing Video/Testimony

Click Here to watch a video of the hearing [when posted].

Available written testimony includes--

-- Keith Coyle, Marcellus Shale Coalition

-- Robin Rorick, American Petroleum Institute

-- John Stoody, Liquid Energy Pipelines Association

-- Donna Clark, Energy Association of PA

No environmental, citizen, landowner or local government groups were included.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: dmetcalf@pahousegop.com. Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: gvitali@pahouse.net

(Photos: Natural Gas Infrastructure- Top- Shale Gas Drill Pad (FracTracker); Drill pad at end of drilling (Bobscaping Blog); Middle- Pipeline Compressor Station (Bobscaping Blog); Pipeline construction in Lancaster County (LancasterOnline.com); Revolution pipeline and MarkWest gas processing plant (Bobscaping Blog); Bottom- Revolution Pipeline explosion site; Greene County well explosion; Mariner East 2 construction spill into Marsh Creek State Park Lake. Click Here for gas infrastructure flyover video from Allegheny and Washington counties.)


-- WESA: Global Leaders Meet In Pittsburgh In Hopes Of Charting A Clean Energy Future

-- Clean Energy Justice Convergence: Citizen Activist Events Related To Global Clean Energy Action Forum In Pittsburgh

Related Articles This Week:

-- Penn State Research Links Groundwater Contamination To Areas Of Unconventional Shale Gas And Conventional Oil And Gas Drilling  [PaEN]

-- DEP Tells Citizens Advisory Council Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Still Does Not Meet Residual Waste Regulations; Remains Illegal  [PaEN]

-- U.S. Dept. Of Interior Notified DEP A Republican Bill Allowed To Become Law In July May Block Funding For New Federal Conventional Oil & Gas Well Plugging Program  [PaEN]

-- DEP Finalizing First Bid Packages To Plug 249 Conventional Oil & Gas Wells Under New Federal Taxpayer Funded Well Plugging Program  [PaEN]

-- PA Environmental Council: Clean Hydrogen & Carbon Capture Can Be Part Of A Comprehensive Decarbonization Strategy: Responsibly Deployed With Environmental Integrity, Accountability And Equity  [PaEN]

-- Landowners Urge Lawmakers To Pass Real Community Solar Energy Bills To Give $1.8 Billion Boost To PA Economy, Help Farmers As Senate Committee Meets Sept. 20  [PaEN]

Related Articles - Natural Gas Cost Spikes:

-- Explainer: So Why Does A Susquehanna County Gas Company Have To Raise Rates 33.2% When Susquehanna County Is The #1 Shale Gas Producer In PA?  [PaEN]

-- PA PUC: Cost Of Natural Gas Provided By Major Utilities In PA Increased As Much As 154% Over Last Year  [PaEN]

Related Articles - PA Pipeline Penalties:

-- AG Shapiro: Energy Transfer/Sunoco Convicted Of Criminal Charges Related To Construction Of Mariner East 2 & Revolution Natural Gas/Liquids Pipelines In PA  [PaEN]

-- Sunoco/Mariner East Pipeline To Pay $4 Million In Damages And Restore Lake At Marsh Creek State Park Polluted By A Spill In Chester County  [PaEN]

-- PUC Imposes $1 Million Penalty On Energy Transfer Company For 2018 Revolution Pipeline Explosion In Beaver County  [PaEN]

-- Republican Chair Of House Environmental Committee Believes Opponents Of Natural Gas Infrastructure Projects ‘Just Need To Be Ignored And Politically Ran Over’  [PaEN]

-- Republican House Bill Contains Natural Gas Industry Wish List Of Measures To Expand Natural Gas Drilling, Subsidize Pipeline Expansion, Automatically Approve Well Permits, Preempt Local Governments [PaEN]

-- House Environmental Committee Fails To Discuss Poor Compliance, Record $55 Million In Penalties Imposed On Natural Gas/Hazardous Liquid Pipelines In Last 5 Years  [PaEN]

Related Articles- PA Pipeline Experiences:

-- Senate Budget Hearings: PA’s Experience With New Pipeline Construction Shows State Laws Not Strong Enough To Prevent Environmental Damage, Protect Public Safety  [PaEN]

-- Natural Gas, Hazardous Liquids Pipelines Are NOT Required To Carry Insurance Or Show They Can Pay For Damages If They Explode, Leak Or Kill Someone  [PaEN]

-- Exceptional Value Water Quality Designation, State Forest Land, River Honors Were Not Enough To Protect Loyalsock Creek From Natural Gas Drilling & Pipelines In Lycoming County - By Friends Of The 'Sock   [PaEN]

-- DEP, Fish & Boat Commission Investigate Multiple, Continuing Water Pollution Discharges From PGE Natural Gas Pipeline Construction Site On Loyalsock Creek, Lycoming County  [PaEN]

-- Rare Eastern Hellbender Habitat In Loyalsock Creek, Lycoming County Harmed By Sediment Plumes From Pipeline Crossings, Shale Gas Drilling Water Withdrawal Construction Projects [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Natural Gas Drilling: An Industrial Machine Moving Across The PA Countryside Leaving Behind Big Liabilities & Spreading Pollution Everywhere It Goes  [PaEN]

Related Articles - Oil & Gas Health Impacts:

-- Senate Hearing: Body Of Evidence Is 'Large, Growing,’ ‘Consistent’ And 'Compelling' That Shale Gas Development Is Having A Negative Impact On Public Health; PA Must Act  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project: PA’s Natural Gas Boom - What Went Wrong? Why Does It Matter?  What Can We Do Better To Protect Public Health?  [PaEN]

-- Creating New Brownfields: Oil & Gas Well Drillers Notified DEP They Are Cleaning Up Soil & Water Contaminated With Chemicals Harmful To Human Health, Aquatic Life At 272 Locations In PA  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project: Setback Distances And The Regulations We Need To Protect Public Health From Oil & Gas Facilities  [PaEN]

-- Preliminary Results From New Penn State Study Find Increased Cancer, Health Risks From Road Dumping Conventional Drilling Wastewater, Especially For Children  [PaEN] 

-- DEP: Potential For Environmental Impacts From Spills Or Leaks Of Radioactive Oil & Gas Waste Materials Is Real; Health Dept. Not Aware Of All Chemicals In Oil & Gas Wastewater Making Risk Assessment Difficult   [PaEN]

-- Penn State Study: Potential Pollution Caused By Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Makes It Unsuitable For A Dust Suppressant, Washes Right Off The Road Into The Ditch  [PaEN]

-- The Science Says: Spreading Conventional Drilling Wastewater On Dirt & Gravel Roads Can Harm Aquatic Life, Poses Health Risks To Humans - And It Damages The Roads  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project - Part 1: Personal Narrative Of Environmental, Health Impacts From Oil & Gas Drilling On Siri Lawson, Warren County [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project - Part II: Personal Narrative Of Environmental, Health Impacts From Oil & Gas Drilling On Siri Lawson, Warren County  [PaEN]

-- Center For Coalfield Justice Hosts Oct. 5 Public Meeting On PA Health Studies Of Natural Gas Development In Southwest PA  [PaEN]

-- University Of Pittsburgh School Of Public Health Recruiting Families In Southwest PA For Study Of Childhood Cancer, One Of 3 Studies Of Potential Health Impacts Linked To Shale Natural Gas Development [PaEN]

[Posted: September 20, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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