Philadelphia + a Pipeline (or Two) = America’s Next Energy Hub

The PES refinery in South Philly. Photograph by Jonathan Barkat

The PES refinery in South Philly. Photograph by Jonathan Barkat

About 1,400 miles from Philadelphia, at the northern edge of the Louisiana bayou, lies a spaghetti junction of steel tubing called Henry Hub, where 13 natural-gas pipelines converge amid farmland and little else. The nearest town, Erath, population 2,100, is about four miles away.

Gas from all over the country flows through the Henry Hub. Even gas extracted from drill pads just 100 miles or so from Philadelphia — gas sucked from the almost unfathomably rich reserves of the Marcellus Shale — is often pumped to distant Louisiana before making the long, and expensive, return trip to homes and businesses in Philadelphia.

Apart from Henry Hub, this section of Louisiana is probably best known for the bizarre cautionary tale of extraction run amok at nearby Lake Peigneur. There, in 1980, an oil crew dug too deep, puncturing a hole in a working salt mine that lay beneath the lake bed. As water rushed into the mine, a swirling vortex formed on the lake surface, swallowing two drilling platforms and 11 barges. The suction reversed the flow of a canal leading to the Gulf of Mexico, and within a few hours, a shallow fishing hole had turned into a 1,300-foot-deep saltwater lake.
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GAO: Fracking Could Threaten Clean Drinking Water

A new report from the Government Accountability Office suggests the federal Environmental Protection Agency has fallen somewhat short in its duties to ensure that  gas production in Pennsylvania — using the “fracking” process, particularly — leaves behinds safe, clean drinking water.

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Court Delivers Blow to Tom Corbett, Drilling Industry

A Pennsylvania court upheld the rights of municipalities to regulate drilling, delivering a setback to Tom Corbett, the Republican legislature and the drilling industry. In December, a state court ruled that a 2012 law unconstitutionally restricted towns from regulating where oil and gas facilities can be located.

The state won on some points. For example, the court “confirmed that state regulators can be required to notify public water suppliers but not private water well owners of drilling-related spills.” Also, it upheld the limits on what doctors can tell the public about proprietary chemicals used in the extraction process. Yay?

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Ex-State Health Official: Pennsylvania Didn’t Study Fracking’s Health Effects

Former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Eli Avila said Gov. Tom Corbett did the state’s citizens a “disservice” by not having the state study the potential health effects of fracking. “The lack of any action speaks volumes,” Avila said. “Don’t BS the public. Their health comes first.”

Avila is now the public health commissioner for Orange County, New York. He made the comments after retired state officials said they were silenced on responding to residents with questions about fracking’s health claims. “What are you so afraid that we’re going to uncover?” Avila told the Associated Press. “It’s not that I’m against fracking. I’m sure it’s helping many individuals financially.”

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Retired Pennsylvania Workers: State Health Employees Silenced on Fracking

Two retired state employees have said they were told not to respond to calls about drilling in the Marcellus Shale by their bosses. The former employees — Tammi Stuck, a retired nurse in Fayette County, and Marshall Deasy, who worked for the Bureau of Epidemiology — made allegations that Department of Health employees were told to keep silent on drilling.

Stuck says employees at state health centers around Pennsylvania received lists of “buzzwords” — fracking, gas, soil contamination — that they could not respond to questions about. Instead, they’d take down information and pass it along to a supervisor. Stuck says she didn’t know if calls were ever returned. While science is unclear on the effects of fracking on nearby residents, some studies show adverse health effects.

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