News

09/13/2019 - PUC says no leak or damage to line after latest sinkhole along Mariner East 2 in Delaware County

A five foot by eight foot hole in the ground opened up in a park in Middletown Township in Delaware County on Friday, exposing part of the Mariner East pipeline that transports natural gas liquids.

Eric Friedman lives in the area and saw what happened.

“The particular sinkhole that I saw was near the intersection of Valley Road and Forge Road, in Sleighton Park, just a few feet away from nearby residences and a few feet away from soccer fields in places where children play,” Friedman said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said heavy rain caused the hole, and that there was no contamination or environmental impact.

The gas company Sunoco filled in the hole Friday afternoon and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission started a safety investigation.

The PUC said in a news release that the sinkhole occurred in the right of way for a 12-inch steel pipeline that moves “highly volatile liquids (HVLs) and petroleum products” along Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline system.
The sinkhole was near construction work for Mariner East 2, and near “several other pipelines,” the PUC said.  The agency added that no leaks or injuries were reported.

The PUC said initial indications are that the pipeline was exposed by the sinkhole, but that there were no “integrity issues” with the line.

The Mariner East project has resulted in multiple sinkholes in the densely populated Philadelphia suburbs, including Chester and Delaware counties.

09/13/2019 - What we learned from StateImpact Pennsylvania’s forum in Philadelphia on climate change adaptation, resilience, and social equity

Panelists discussed how climate change is affecting vulnerable communities, and talked about potential solutions.

09/12/2019 - Pa. business advocates celebrate Trump’s Clean Water rollback

(Harrisburg) — The Trump administration’s new plan to repeal an Obama-era clean water regulation has been met with deeply mixed reactions in Pennsylvania, and across the country.

Business advocates largely support the change, but environmentalists say it would be terrible for rivers, streams, and other waterways.

The regulation in question is known as Waters of the United States, or WOTUS.

President Barack Obama’s administration rolled it out in 2015—an expansion of the existing Clean Water Act that applied federal pollution controls to smaller waterways, like streams and wetlands.

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency said it plans to redefine which waterways are federally protected, and which are left to the states.

Famers and business owners have long decried WOTUS as overreach. Kevin Sunday, with the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, said it caused permitting confusion.

“Businesses in Pennsylvania certainly want to do the right thing,” he said. “It’s just a question of interstate waterways—Susquehanna, clearly an interstate waterway, right? Conodoguinet feeding into that? Maybe. The stormwater runoff that’s going into the Conodoguinet? Possibly.”

Environmental groups, however, say WOTUS has been vital in protecting waterways.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, for instance, called the administration’s move an “assault” on clean water that “ignores the EPA’s own science.”

The foundation added, it is concerned the Trump administration aims to go further, and roll back protections on waterways from the original Clean Water Act.

09/12/2019 - PES refinery site attracts 3rd suitor: nationwide developer Industrial Realty Group

A nationwide real estate development and investment firm with more than 150 properties in 28 states is the third company to express interest in buying the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery site in South Philadelphia.

Ryan O’Callaghan of United Steelworkers Local 10-1, which represents about 640 of the now-laid-off refinery workers, said he met with representatives of California-based Industrial Realty Group LLC and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. to discuss IRG’s proposal to add the 1,400-acre refinery site to its portfolio.

“They buy shuttered industrial sites and repurpose them for either what it used to be or warehouses or whatever,” O’Callaghan said, describing Industrial Realty Group’s business model.

Jessica Calter, PIDC’s vice president for strategy, communications and partnerships, confirmed the meeting with Industrial Realty Group and other parties interested in the site. Anne Bovaird Nevins, PIDC’s chief strategy and communications officer, is part of the business committee of the city’s Refinery Advisory Group, and the public-private economic development corporation has been working with the city on the Lower Schuylkill River master plan and is providing expertise on real estate and land use to the group.

In an email, Lauren Crumrine, director of marketing for Industrial Realty Group, said, “IRG has no comment regarding the property.”

IRG’s website says the company specializes in retrofitting commercial and industrial real estate — including military bases and brownfield and Superfund sites — for productive new uses, “solving some of America’s most difficult real estate challenges.” The company then leases the space to tenants, such as Goodyear and General Electric.

Projects featured on the website include a business park offering with 2.3 million square feet of space on a former brownfield site and rubber plant complex in Akron, Ohio; an 8.5 million-square-foot commercial multi-use complex in a former Air Force base in Sacramento, California; and a 450,000-square-foot shopping mall at a former NASA site in Downey, California.

The Downey site was first developed into movie studios. By 2009, film workers claimed they were getting sick after spending time there, but IRG chief executive officer Stuart Lichter and insurance companies rejected any link, the Los Angeles Times reported. IRG’s website says the studios were demolished in 2012 and that further environmental remediation was done at the site.

In February of this year, IRG acquired three industrial properties with logistics, distribution, and manufacturing assets: a 726,292-square-foot complex with 13 commercial buildings near the Columbus, Ohio, international airport; and two properties in Texas, adding 65.7 acres.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions shut down the refinery complex in late June, after a massive fire and explosion damaged parts of the facility. PES entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July, for the second time in less than two years.

The city created its Refinery Advisory Group to gather information from different stakeholders, including a business committee to get ideas of how the site could be used in the future. But the site is privately owned, and the city has limited control over it.

Market feasibility studies presented by the business committee earlier this week concluded that the refinery site’s infrastructure and location near major highways, the port, and the airport made it extremely well-suited for manufacturing, logistics, warehousing, and distribution uses.

Two other companies have expressed interest in acquiring the facility: Philadelphia Energy Industries, created by former PES chief executive Phil Rinaldi, whom environmentalists dubbed “Fossil Phil;” and S.G. Preston, a Philadelphia-based biofuels company that an article published Wednesday by the Real News Network called a “Flim Flam” in its headline.

Any sale of the refinery complex would be subject to the approval of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington.

“We want to work for anybody who can have the same amount of employment or even expand that,” the United Steelworkers’ O’Callaghan said.

09/11/2019 - StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Reid Frazier: Why I’m following Pa.’s Marcellus shale gas to Scotland

Dispatches from Scotland, part 1: Reporter Reid Frazier takes you behind the scenes of his trip to Scotland "to look at where America’s shale gas is going, and what happens to it once it gets there."

09/11/2019 - How did fracking contaminants end up in the Monongahela River? A loophole in the law might be to blame

Landfills are supposed to pre-treat fracking waste before sending it to a sewage treatment plant -- unless it's a smaller plant. Gary Kruppa found that out when the Belle Vernon plant he runs started failing water quality tests.

09/10/2019 - Federal appeals court strikes blow to PennEast pipeline project

Emma Lee / WHYY

A sign opposing the PennEast pipeline in Frenchtown. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of New Jersey, saying the seizure of public land violates the constitution.

A federal appeals court has blocked PennEast pipeline company from condemning state-owned land for its proposed 116-mile long line that would ship Marcellus Shale gas from northeast Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision, saying that condemning public land violates the 11th Amendment of the Constitution.

The PennEast pipeline company wants to build part of its natural gas pipeline through 44 state-controlled parcels of land in New Jersey. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had granted the company eminent domain authority, which it can use to seize land from uncooperative property owners.

But New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the state-owned properties are open space preserved for recreation, conservation and agriculture and should not be used to ship natural gas. Grewal argued the 11th Amendment grants states immunity from eminent domain takings by private entities.

“We will not hesitate to stand up to private companies when their actions violate the law — or, in this case, the U.S. Constitution,” Grewal said in a statement. “From the very beginning, we have made clear that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits private pipeline companies like PennEast from condemning state properties for private use, and we’re pleased that the Third Circuit agreed with our position. This is great news for New Jersey and the environment.”

The project has gotten approvals by Pennsylvania officials, but has met much greater opposition in New Jersey.

PennEast argued the federal Natural Gas Act allows it to condemn property along the pipeline route. A spokesperson for the company says it is reviewing the decision and considering its next steps.

“PennEast remains committed to moving forward with the PennEast Pipeline Project to provide New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents and businesses increased access to clean, affordable natural gas,” said PennEast spokesperson Pat Kornick.

The more than 40 properties at issue in the case include public state-owned land as well as private land with conservation easements. The project would cross dozens of waterways and wetlands, as well as the main stem of the Delaware River. PennEast says it will minimize impacts to waterways by drilling beneath streams where possible, and restore streambeds after construction is completed.

Environmentalists who are fighting the project praised the Third Circuit decision. The Delaware Riverkeeper’s Maya Van Rossum said the ruling could have wider implications.

“This is a huge blow against the PennEast pipeline project, it is a huge victory for states and states rights,” she said.  “And the ramifications of this decision are going to reverberate across the entire nation.”

A decision by the Third Circuit could have some influence in other pipeline battles across the country, but it doesn’t carry the weight of a Supreme Court decision.

The D.C. Circuit court also dealt a blow to a pipeline project in a ruling this week, ordering FERC to explain why it granted eminent domain authority to a pipeline project in Ohio that would export the gas to Canada.

09/10/2019 - Bonuses paid to PES refinery executives infuriate ex-workers and environmentalists

Emma Lee / WHYY

Refinery employee Shawn Tolomeo argues that the Philadelphia Energy Solutions property in South Philadelphia should remain a refinery.

Infuriating. Unfair. Repulsive. Those are some of the printable words used by former employees of Philadelphia Energy Solutions to describe their thoughts about the news that company executives got about $4.5 million in bonuses before PES filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

A group of the workers gathered at a Philadelphia Refinery Advisory Group meeting on Monday night. They are among the more than 1,000 employees who were laid off with no severance pay or extended medical benefits by the end of August, after working at the refinery complex for years. Some have not been able to access their pensions, according to their union.

Meanwhile, PES chief executive officer Mark Smith, in the job since August 2018, received a $1.545 million retention bonus, according to documents filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, as first reported by Reuters.

“Big bank for just a year,” said Ryan O’Callaghan, who headed United Steelworkers local at the refinery and is now out of job himself. “They stuffed their pockets while they walked — and had already walked — people out the gate, and intended to walk the others out the gate, without any compensation for a life’s time of work. It’s infuriating.”

O’Callaghan said most union members are not that surprised about the executives getting paid: “These corporations, they feather their own beds all the time.” But union members are shocked about the amount, he said.

“It’s a tough amount to swallow,” said Robert Campbell, who worked at the South Philadelphia refinery for more than 20 years. “I wish they would have shared their bonuses more fairly with everybody who worked there. A lot of guys put their blood, sweat and tears to that place, and they were crushed that they lost their jobs.”

The bonuses were paid on July 5, exactly two weeks after the explosion and fire that ultimately shut the facility down, and just weeks before the company filed for Chapter 11, according to documents filed with the bankruptcy court. Others receiving bonuses of over $300,000 include executive vice president John McShane; chief financial officer Rachel Celiberti, who also received an extra $75,000 spot bonus; deputy staff attorney Anthony Lagreca, who also got a $50,000 spot bonus; and refinery manager Daniel Statile.

Among other payments that bothered former refinery workers: those to Billy Goodhart, a human resources consultant who received $363,340 in 10 months working for the refinery while living in Texas — $295,646 for professional services, $56,651 for travel expenses, and $10,043 for other expenses.

“It’s upsetting he was a self-proclaimed union breaker and earned so much for it,” Campbell said.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

In a fully operational year before both the fire and the bankruptcy filing, the PES complex provided $2.1 billion in economic activity and supported 6,300 jobs, according to a report presented Monday night to the Refinery Advisory Group by Gabrielle Connor, senior analyst at Econsult Solutions Inc. That’s including direct, indirect and induced jobs and activity made possible by the refinery — grocery stores, health and financial services, restaurants, and more.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Data analyst Gabrielle Connor reports that the shutdown of the PES Refinery will have an annual economic impact of $2.1 billion in Philadelphia and cost the city 6,300 jobs.

The direct economic impact for the city in annual expenditures was $1.1 billion, according to the report. The refinery directly employed 1,950 people full time on average annually, with a total annual employee compensation of $237 million. Including indirect and induced jobs, the employee compensation for the city went up to $600 million, Connor said.

Numbers for the Philadelphia metropolitan area and for Pennsylvania were a little bit higher, with $2.3 billion in total economic impact across both.

The total estimated tax impact for Philadelphia was $33.2 million, with an additional $30 million in state taxes, according to the report. That included income, business, sales and use, property, and use and occupancy taxes.

Refinery workers did not openly comment on the executive bonuses while they talked about the regional economic benefits that would be lost if the 150-year-old complex permanently shut down.

“Guess what keeps changing here?” asked Kendra Brooks, who identified herself as a “tree-hugging, union-loving” activist. “The corporation. People … they make wealth, get money off of our city, and they’re gone. And we’re still left to hold the bag.”

Activists also said the numbers shared did not include health and environmental costs that could be associated with the refinery.

“Funeral costs help the economy, but not in a way that I would wish on anyone,” said John Bergen, a third-generation pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church. “While we’re debating the business benefits of what could happen here, those who truly, really profit from the death in Southwest Philadelphia, they are not in the room — we know that. Their lawyers are off somewhere else, putting money in other people’s hands to determine the future of people in both sides of this room.”

Emma Lee / WHYY

Kendra Brooks urges Refinery Advisory Committee members to consider their grandchildren’s children when deciding what should become of the PES refinery complex.

Possible future uses for the refinery

The market conditions for refineries on the East Coast are not promising, according to a presentation by Phil Hopkins, senior consultant at IHS Markit and director of ECR Consulting in Philadelphia.

According to Hopkins, the demand for refined products in the United States will peak in 2020, with a long gradual decline after that year caused by increased fuel efficiency and wider use of hybrid and electric cars. East Coast refineries are expected to see the steepest decline, due to higher operating costs and competition from refineries in the Midwest, the Caribbean, and Africa.

“Our feeling prior to the fire was that we have five refineries on the East Coast and probably one of those was going to have to close just because it would be hard to compete,” Hopkins said.

Based on the site’s assets, uncertainties and liabilities, including land-use factors related to climate change, Hopkins said potential reuse options for the PES complex are to continue to process oil in spite of the challenges, or to repurpose it for production of biofuels and alternative energy, natural-gas liquids or petrochemicals. The location also could be used for heavy manufacturing or as a warehouse for distribution.

“It has outstanding transportation access. It’s hard to think of any place in the country where you have a 1,400-acre site that’s near two interstates, near an international airport, has easy access to the port and rail access, and pipeline access,” he said.

A group of 23 stakeholders engaged by the Refinery Advisory Group’s business committee arrived at similar conclusions, according to Eliza Klesten Alford, government relations manager at the Sustainable Business Network of Philadelphia.

Their analysis took into consideration the current zoning of the site, the level of remediation needed, market viability, public health and environmental impact, estimated land requirement for other uses, existing infrastructure, and job types available. And it concluded that the site could potentially host alternative-energy and resource-recovery industries, from solar, wind or battery farms to waste recycling or processing plants, port operations or logistics operations, or traditional energy facilities including gas-to-liquids production and storage.

To date, there are two potential buyers of the refinery complex: former PES CEO Phil Rinaldi’s newly formed Philadelphia Energy Industries and Philly-based biofuels company S.G. Preston. Any sale would need bankruptcy court approval.

Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy, who co-chairs the advisory group, announced a new meeting date, Sept. 25. That session will not include public presentations or comments, but will provide an extra opportunity for residents to offer input before the group starts to prepare a final report, to be presented sometime this fall.



09/09/2019 - Fort Indiantown Gap added to list of PFAS contamination sites

Bastiaan Slabbers / for WHYY

In this file photo, people at a community meeting in Abington, Pa. on April 15, 2019 got an update of where the state will test drinking water for levels of the toxic family of chemicals known as PFAS. They include sites across central Pennsylvania.

(Lebanon) — Fort Indiantown Gap Army National Guard base in Lebanon County has been added to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s growing list of military and industrial sites where the PFAS class of chemicals has been found.

The toxic chemicals were widely used in industrial and consumer products and are often found around military airstrips where firefighting foam was used. PFAS has been connected to liver damage, high cholesterol and cancer.

PFAS was first detected at the Gap in summer 2017, said Pa. Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs environmental management director John Franco. It was found in a water well in part of the base called the “training corridor.”

“That is where a lot of the live fire artillery ranges are, our strafing pits for our aircraft to come in…not a lot of structures out there but a lot of open training area.”

The well provides water for putting out fires and is not designated for drinking water, Franco said. The base buys most of its drinking water for soldiers from the Lebanon water authority. Other water wells on base tested negative for PFAS, he noted, including one at the residence of the state national guard’s top official, the adjutant general.

Additional PFAS testing was done this year, and base officials are awaiting results, Franco said.

The level of PFAS found at Fort Indiantown Gap was 2.93 parts per trillion, much lower than the Environmental Protection Agency’s “health advisory level” of 70 parts per trillion, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Elisabeth Rementer.

However, some advocates, such as the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, say not enough is known about PFAS, and “even the smallest doses” of the chemicals are linked to health problems.

“The EPA and the Department of Defense have utterly failed to treat PFAS contamination as a crisis demanding swift and decisive action,” said EWG president Ken Cook in a July 11 news release.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is investigating nearly two dozen sites around the state where PFAS contamination is known to have occurred. Most of those are in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The agency also launched a year-long sampling plan in May to test water from more than 300 public water supplies with a higher potential for contamination, based on their proximity to sites such as military bases, fire training sites, landfills, and manufacturing facilities.

It’s uncertain when Fort Indiantown Gap was added to the DEP’s list of contaminated sites. Environmental Working Group added it to its interactive map in July, according to spokeswoman Monica Amarelo.

DEP likely added it to its website earlier this year, Rementer said. DEP didn’t put out any press release disclosing the findings.

09/05/2019 - Lawmaker: Proposal for Pa. cap-and-trade system to cut carbon emissions is ‘a beginning’

The bill would allow Pennsylvania to set its own cap, or negotiate with a group of other states in a regional program.