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The Rewards and Risks of Natural Gas Pipelines

A possible 4,800 feet of natural gas pipeline from Delmont, Pa., to Lambertville, N.J., could be completed as early as 2018, according to the Energy Information Administration. The new pipeline would add to the area’s existing 6,800 feet of pipeline completed prior to 2014.  But the benefits and risks of natural gas pipelines are still being weighed against each other as advocates and opponents of the project battle it out in courts of law and the court of public opinion.

In 2005, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods made it possible to capture natural gas from shale. Less than a decade later, in 2014 Pennsylvania became the second-largest natural gas supplier in the country according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

An analysis by Argonne National Laboratory in 2010 indicated that natural gas is the “cleanest burning commercially available alternative fuel,” and the potential impact of a natural gas market is fueled by regional large companies with reliable energy needs. Today, the rate of drilling has surpassed the infrastructure in place to transport natural gas to the market. The DEP estimates that approximately 30 percent of the wells drilled for natural gas have no means for the gas to reach consumers.

In Pennsylvania, the proposed 118-mile PennEast Pipeline would transport that natural gas and serve two states. A study released by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce noted that increased demand in the Philadelphia region, combined with an excess natural gas supply, presents the opportunity for Pennsylvania to become an important East Coast energy hub. The study cited the potential impact the Marcellus Shale industry could have on economic revitalization in the region.

Currently, no single federal or state agency has oversight of pipeline infrastructure.  In 2011, the Public Utility Commission was given the legal authority to conduct safety inspections, but only for pipelines in populated areas (i.e., Class 2, 3, and 4 pipelines).  In 2015, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf created a Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force that held several public meetings. Recommendations from the task force included creating long-term operations and maintenance plans, reducing environmental impact in construction phases, and creating an atmosphere that maximizes the efficiency of permits and reviews. A final report, filed in February by the Pipeline Infrastructure Taskforce, recommended that the next steps include assessing which regulations recommended in the report fall under the state’s jurisdiction.

Safety concerns have become a reality. In May 2016, a natural gas explosion severely burned one person in Salem Township, Pa., and blew a hole 1,500-square-feet in diameter 12 feet deep into the ground. The resulting fire burned approximately 40 acres, according to NPR’s State Impact. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Association issued a corrective order following the incident, citing possible corrosion on the pipeline, which “indicates a possible flaw in the coating material.” Spectra Energy, the company that owns the pipeline, stated that a 2012 inspection revealed no such flaws.

In response to growing safety and land-use concerns, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is conducting multiple public hearings in Pennsylvania and New Jersey during its technical review of the PennEast plan. The DRBC is a regional body with the goal to oversee management of the Delaware River system across state boundaries. No meetings are scheduled during 2016, but future meeting schedules will be available on the DRBC website.

New regulations and long-term plans are still under review with both regulatory bodies and legislators. In June, the Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved an amendment to exclude conventional drilling companies from proposed regulations for the Marcellus Shale industry, citing differences between how the two methods of extraction operate.  A spokesman for Governor Wolf declined to indicate whether or not the Governor approved of the amendment, and instead expressed the intention to continue working with the legislature on regulations for the oil and gas industry.

RKR Hess Honored With ASCE Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award

ASCE AwardThe Lehigh Valley section of the American Society of Civil Engineering honored the civil engineering team at RKR Hess, a division of UTRS, Inc., for its work on the Aquatopia indoor waterpark at Camelback Resort in Monroe County, Pennsylvania.

The Aquatopia feature of the resort is the largest ever built in a single phase and the largest ski-in/ski-out waterpark hotel in the country, according to Lehigh Valley Business.

Nate Oiler, Engineer and Land Development Section Manager, accepted the Oustanding Civil Engineering Achievement award on behalf of RKR Hess, which shared the award with Geo-Technology Associates, Inc., and G.m.a Structural, LLC.

The construction of Aquatopia included large infrastructure improvements, such as a new pump station to address new sanitation needs with the expanded water systems. Despite the size and scope of the project, several aspects were completed ahead of schedule, and the resort remained open at full capacity thanks to collaboration between all involved.

RKR Hess, the civil and environmental engineering division of Universal Technical Resource Services, Inc. (UTRS), is located in East Stroudsburg, Pa. RKR Hess has an 80-year history of providing the highest quality engineering consulting services to both public and private sectors, maintaining a tradition of excellence and integrity. Our cadre of professionals, which includes Professional Engineers, surveyors, land planners and environmental scientists, provides a broad range of engineering and planning services to meet all our clients’ needs.

EPA Asks Public to Comment on “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources”

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking for public comment and peer review on the recently released Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (Executive Summary, Full Report, Appendices). As a part of the peer review process, the draft report must be presented to and reviewed by a Research Advisory Panel.

Public meetings and teleconferences will be held by the Science Advisory Board (SAB) with the intention of informing the panel and the public about the EPA findings, reviewing compliance with the SAB’s charge for this research, and collecting questions through a panel discussion. A public review of the agency draft report will be conducted at a face-to-face meeting in October.

The “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resource” investigates the potential impacts on human health and the environment hydraulic fracturing may have on the quality of drinking water at each stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. The draft estimates 25,000-30,000 new wells were drilled annually between 2011 and 2014. Most of these wells were drilled in Texas; Pennsylvania ranked third in number of wells drilled during the period covered.

Between the years 2000 and 2013, the report estimated 9.4 million people lived within one mile of a hydraulically fractured well. In addition, approximately 6,800 drinking water sources for public water systems were within one mile of at least one hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

The report evaluated both above-ground and below-ground mechanisms whereby hydraulic fracturing activities could potentially impact drinking water resources. No evidence of widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources was identified in the assessment, although several specific instances where one or more of these mechanisms led to drinking water resource impacts were identified. The relatively small number of cases of identified impacts, when compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells, could reflect the rarity of effects on drinking water. However, the study found that there is frequently insufficient data on the quality of drinking water resources both pre- and post-hydraulic fracturing to accurately determine the true frequency of impacts.

The public teleconferences will be held from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern Time) on the following dates:

The public face-to-face meeting will be at the Washington Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. on:

A teleconference line will be made available for those who cannot attend the advisory panel in person.

Comments on the draft advisory assessment are due Aug. 28, 2015 using the e-Government Regulations website. More information, including relevant contacts, can be found by visiting the Federal Register.


Public Comment on Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Rulemaking Ends May 19

The public comment period in the final rulemaking of the “Environmental Protection Performance Standards of Oil and Gas Well Sites” ends on May 19, after four years of revisions to and multiple rounds of comment on the regulations proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The revisions to Chapter 78 of the Pennsylvania Code, governing the protection of natural resources, include public resource protection, revisions to information collected in the permit application process and revisions to waste storage/management regulations. In addition, the revisions split Chapter 78 into two sections, one for conventional oil and gas development and one for unconventional development (i.e., fracking).

The DEP said it is specifically looking for comments regarding noise mitigation, centralized tank storage, and “other critical communities,” which are defined as animal and plant species not currently on the endangered list.


Impacts to public resources will be considered in the application process. These resources include, but are not limited to, publicly owned parks and game lands, public drinking water wellhead protection areas, and playgrounds and schools, among other areas.

Additional review of the application may come from the Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Game Commission, and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. These agencies will have 30 days (instead of 15 days) to review permits.

Abandoned and orphaned wells in the vicinity of the proposed development must be reported in the permit application process, with a monitoring plan in place for drilling operations.

The permit renewal term will be extended from one year to two years. Drilling must be completed within 16 months of permit issue.

Proposed regulations require operators to restore drinking water impacted by drilling to either the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act or pre-drill conditions, whichever is of a higher quality. In addition, all remediation must be conducted in accordance with the Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act.

Resource Protection

Requires operators of unconventional well sites to report to the DEP the amount and type of waste produced, and the method of disposal or reuse on a monthly basis.

Some additional permits may be required, including for operators using centralized wastewater storage impoundments.

The proposed regulations prohibit the use of pits for temporary storage of production fluids or wastes on unconventional well sites.

Storage and Disposal

In the event of a spill or release, the regulations require notification to owners and sampling of water supplies with the potential to be impacted.

Additionally, health standards for noise control from unconventional operations will be put into place.

A previously proposed requirement to remove older underground tanks was removed from the draft final rulemaking.

The draft makes a centralized tank storage site an option for natural gas drilling, with the proper permit approval and with geographical restrictions.

The proposed regulations require DEP approval of the disposal of waste and cuttings from below the casing seat at unconventional well sites.

For more details about the proposed regulations, visit Title 25 at pabulletin.com.

Written or electronic comments must be received by May 19, with a subject heading Oil and Gas Rulemaking and a return name and address. Faxes and voicemail will not be accepted.

Electronic comments can be submitted through the DEP online comment system at http://www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/RegComments or by email to RegComments@pa.gov.

Written comments can be sent to the Department of Environmental Protection Policy Office, 400 Market Street, P.O. Box 2063, Harrisburg, PA 17105.

RKR Hess Wins Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Award

On October 23, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) held its inaugural “Celebration of Excellence in Planning” awards ceremony at Iacocca Hall in Bethlehem, Pa.  Read more