Marcellus shale

As Industry Pushes Billion-Dollar Fracked Petrochemical Projects, State Regulators Struggle To Keep Up

Read time: 12 mins
Shell's ethane cracker petrochemical plant under construction in Pennsylvania

Fueled by fracking in the region, petrochemical and plastics projects in the Ohio River Valley are attracting tens of billions of dollars in investment, but as plans for this build-out hit the drawing boards, signs already are emerging that state regulators are unprepared for this next wave of industrialization. And the implications of their inexperience could mean major threats to the region's health and environment.

One of the projects currently underway, an underground natural gas liquids (NLG) storage site — designed to support the construction of several huge petrochemical complexes — is undergoing review by state regulators who have little experience with NGL storage facilities of its size.

$83 Billion West Virginia Petrochemical Deal with China on Skids Due to Trade War, Corruption Probe

Read time: 9 mins
Brian Anderson, Woody Thrasher, Jim Justice

Last November, China and West Virginia signed an $83.7 billion dollar, 20-year agreement to build a massive petrochemical hub in the state but that deal may be on hiatus in the midst of a de facto trade war spurred by President Donald Trump and a corruption investigation unfolding in the Mountain State. 

The deal would be worth more than the total gross domestic product of West Virginia, which was $76.8 billion in 2017. China's sizable investment would create a sprawling petrochemical center in West Virginia, focused on storing and refining natural gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Marcellus Shale. Full details are sealed in a yet-to-be-released Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which was inked during a trade mission attended by Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last fall in Beijing, China.

TransCanada's New 'Best-In-Class' Gas Pipeline Explodes in West Virginia, Causing Fiery Blast

Read time: 5 mins
Gas pipeline flames

This morning, residents of Marshall County, West Virginia, awoke at 4:15 a.m. to a major natural gas rupture and explosion on TransCanada's Leach XPress pipeline on Nixon Ridge — a quickly built pipeline only half a year old.

The fire was visible for miles, local TV news reported. Police warned anyone who could see the flames to evacuate — and the Emergency Management Agency director of neighboring Ohio County said officials had received dozens of 911 calls from locals able to see the fire, which was extinguished roughly four hours later. The blast was so powerful that one resident told a local CBS affiliate it felt like a tornado was passing through.

No one was injured, and no property damage was reported, TransCananda said in a statement released today, adding that the cause of the explosion was not yet determined.

The Leach XPress pipeline is just six months old, having been put into service on January 1, 2018.

Energy CEO Says Fracking Build-out in New York Not Over, Wants Regulators to 'Lay Down and Approve Every Pipeline'

Read time: 9 mins
Crestwood natural gas compressor sign in Seneca Lake, New York

At a pipeline industry conference in Pittsburgh on January 31, Robert G. Phillips, CEO and President of Crestwood Equity Partners, offered an unusually candid perspective on pipelines, fracking, environmental regulations, and how industry plans to fight back against public opposition and permitting problems.

This past May, Crestwood announced that it was halting plans for a natural gas storage facility in the Finger Lakes region of New York following a three-year civil disobedience campaign by grassroots activists and environmentalists who feared contamination of Seneca Lake, which supplies drinking water to roughly 100,000 New Yorkers. But as Phillips told the conference, the company isn't backing off for good.

“Now, this is hand-to-hand combat in this region,” Phillips told the crowd of oil and gas company representatives at the pipeline conference, dubbed Marcellus Midstream 2018.

China Is Financing a Petrochemical Hub in Appalachia. Meet its Powerful Backers.

Read time: 16 mins
U.S. President Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and West Virginia Commerce Sec. Thrasher join in the Great Hall in Beijing for MOU signing for the Appalachian Development Hub  in November 2017

Over the past year, oil and gas industry plans to build a petrochemical refining and storage hub along the Ohio River have steadily gained traction. Proponents hope this potential hub, which would straddle Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, could someday rival the industrial corridor found along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana.

Those plans center around creating what is known as the Appalachian Storage Hub, which received a major boost on November 9 during a trade mission to China attended by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. At that trade mission, also attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the China Energy Investment Corp. announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to invest $83.7 billion into the planned storage hub over 20 years. For comparison, West Virginia's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 was $72.9 billion.

Though called the Appalachian Storage Hub as a broad-sweeping term, in practice the hub could encompass natural gas liquids storage, a market trading index center, a key pipeline feeding epicenter, and a petrochemical refinery row. Its prospective development has been spurred by the current construction of a $6 billion petrochemical refining facility in Pennsylvania owned by Shell Oil.

FERC, Which Rejected 2 Gas Pipelines Out of 400 Since 1999, to Review Approval Policy

Read time: 5 mins
Beyond Extreme Energy protesters outside the FERC headquarters

The new chairman for the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Kevin McIntyre, says the agency plans to review its permitting process and procedures for natural gas pipelines.

FERC has come under fire for serving as a “rubber stamp” for these pipelines, which these days mostly carry gas obtained via the horizontal drilling and injection technique known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). The agency has rejected only two out of the approximately 400 pipeline applications received since 1999, when it last updated its gas pipeline review process. That's according to a report published in November by Susan Tierney, currently employed by economic consulting firm Analysis Group and former member of the Obama-era Department of Energy's Natural Gas Subcommittee.

1999 was quite a while ago, particularly in the natural gas pipeline area. So much has changed. So much has changed in our entire industry, of course, since then,” McIntyre told reporters at a December 21 FERC meeting, according to The Hill. “But it would be hard to find an area that has changed more than natural gas and our pipeline industry.”

Study: Babies With Low Birth Weights More Likely Near Pennsylvania Fracking Sites

Read time: 4 mins

A new study published in the journal Science Advances has concluded that babies born within two miles of sites of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale basin are more likely to have low birth weights.

Researchers from Princeton, the University of Chicago, and UCLA analyzed a decade of Pennsylvania birth data from 2004 to 2013 — reviewing 1.1 million birth certificates — and concluded that those babies born to mothers living in close proximity to fracking sites are more likely to weigh under 5.5 pounds at birth. Specifically, the study concluded that babies born within a kilometer (just over half a mile) of fracking sites are 25 percent more at risk of low birth weights, which comes with other health effects.

While we know pollution from hydraulic fracturing impacts our health, we do not yet know where that pollution is coming from — from the air or water, from chemicals onsite, or an increase in traffic,” said UCLA researcher Katherine Meckel in a press release

Here's the PR Firm Behind 'Your Energy America' Front Group Pushing Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Read time: 7 mins
rows of pipeline segments

Your Energy America” is a newly formed front group pushing Dominion Energy's Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline. By tracing hosting information for the group's website, DeSmog has found evidence pointing to the PR firm behind the group: DDC Advocacy, which has known ties to the Republican Party. 

Short for Democracy, Data & Communications, DDC's founding partner, chairman, and CEOB.R. McConnon in the past “has acted as a key contact and spokesperson for [National Federation for Independent Business],” according to his LinkedIn. NFIB takes funding from Koch Industries and other major corporate interests, and McConnon began his career as a policy analyst for the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, the precursor to Americans for Prosperity

“Your Energy” was launched in the heat of the Virginia gubernatorial primary races and is run by the American Gas Association. The race for Virginia's highest office recently saw Democratic Party candidate Ralph Northam and GOP candidate Ed Gillespie come out ahead as their parties' nominees for the looming November election.

Rover Pipeline Owner Disputing Millions Owed After Razing Historic Ohio Home

Read time: 6 mins
Rover pipeline about to be laid underground next to a home in Ohio

After taking heat last fall for destroying sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the owner of the Dakota Access pipeline finds itself embattled anew over the preservation of historic sites, this time in Ohio.

Documents filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) show that Energy Transfer Partners is in the midst of a dispute with the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office over a $1.5 million annual payment owed to the state agency as part of a five-year agreement signed in February.

Energy Transfer Partners was set to pay the preservation office in exchange for bulldozing the Stoneman House, a historic home built in 1843 in Dennison, Ohio, whose razing occurred duing construction of the Rover pipeline. Rover is set to carry natural gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from the Utica Shale and Marcellus Shale — up to 14 percent of it — through the state of Ohio. The pipeline owner initially bulldozed the historic home, located near a compressor station, without notifying FERC, as the law requires.

How a Judge Scrapped Pennsylvania Families' $4.24M Water Pollution Verdict in Gas Drilling Lawsuit

Read time: 14 mins
Ely family

For many residents of Carter Road in Dimock, Pennsylvania, it's been nearly a decade since their lives were turned upside down by the arrival of Cabot Oil and Gas, a company whose Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) wells were plagued by a series of spills and other problems linked to the area's contamination of drinking water supplies.

With a new federal court ruling handed down late last Friday, a judge unwound a unanimous eight-person jury which had ordered Cabot to pay a total of $4.24 million over the contamination of two of those families' drinking water wells. In a 58 page ruling, Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson discarded the jury's verdict in Ely v. Cabot and ordered a new trial, extending the legal battle over one of the highest-profile and longest-running fracking-related water contamination cases in the country.

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