Environment & Energy

We explore issues of energy and the environment, along with our partners from Allegheny Front and StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Last year, a scientist from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York published a paper in a scientific journal. The journal is called Climatic Change. Robert Howarth is the scientist who published the paper. He teaches environmental science at Cornell. He got the idea for the paper about three years ago. That's when the region around Ithaca was drawing interest from the oil and gas industry because it sits on top of the Marcellus shale, a vast deposit of natural gas.

Turf Wars

Jun 22, 2012

Bill Day walks onto a platform at the Fayette Energy Facility. It's a vast warehouse-type building that's about five or six stories tall. There's actually a building in the building. Inside sits a turbine engine, the heart of the power plant.

"Yeah, it is similar to a jet engine design. It's just much, much larger," says Day.

Day is the plant operations manager. He's been here since Duke Energy opened the facility near Masontown, Pennsylvania in 2003. He walks across the plant and points to the so called "power block."

What used to be an abandoned BP gas station in Pittsburgh's Larimer neighborhood at the corner of Larimer Avenue and East Liberty Boulevard is now the Environment and Energy Community Outreach (EECO) Center.

State Funding For Black Fly and West Nile Virus Control Programs Could Face Cuts

Jun 4, 2012

The state's black fly and West Nile virus control programs will soon kick into full swing and, despite a cut of about 3% in the proposed budgets of Governor Corbett and Senate lawmakers, officials say it will be as robust as ever.

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokeswoman Amanda Witman said the loss of about $2,000 will be covered by cost efficiencies that have been developed.

"[The mosquito monitoring and spraying] program will still conduct the same amount of surveillance and maintain its staffing levels," Witman said.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is looking for volunteers to sit outside, enjoy the summer nights, and count bats. Biologists with the Game Commission will be compiling data on bat maternity colonies in the state and are now accepting applications to join the Appalachian Bat Count Monitoring Team.

Pennsylvania to Help Clean Up the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Jun 1, 2012

Pennsylvania isn't exactly leading the pack of the six states and Washington, D.C. in plans for reducing pollution to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. However, the state's plan for bringing down waste water pollution has been upgraded per the Environment Protection Agency's (EPA) estimation.

A separate plan for minimizing agricultural runoff is getting some amount of scrutiny from the federal government, but the proposal to cut nearly half of urban and suburban storm water pollution is being called overly ambitious.

The Little Blue Regional Action Group, along with attorneys from the Environmental Integrity Project and Public Justice, are taking on the nation's largest coal ash dump site. In a notice of intent to sue (NOI), the groups allege FirstEnergy's Little Blue Run coal ash impoundment is in violation of numerous state and federal laws. Part of the impoundment near FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield plant is in West Virginia; the other part is in Pennsylvania.

The Allegheny County Health Department has issued the first permit for a Marcellus Shale compressor station in the county to Superior Appalachian Pipeline, which will run the facility in Frazer Township on Kissick Lane.

Guillermo Cole, Allegheny County Health Department spokesman, said there are already compressor stations in Allegheny County that transport natural gas, but this one will be the first transporting Marcellus Shale natural gas.

The Powdermill Nature Reserve, a research center of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, has completed a list of all Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania. The list consists of all drilling sites in the state that have been permitted, drilled, are producing, abandoned, expired, shut-in (flow of gas has been stopped), or plugged (sealed with cement and/or mud).

Phipps ‘Living Building’ to Open Soon

May 23, 2012

Phipps Conservatory is almost ready to open a structure that will likely be the greenest of Pittsburgh's many green buildings.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes was designed to meet a standard called the "Living Building Challenge," in which a building's environmental impact is reduced to as close to zero as possible. To that end, the new office building will produce all of its own energy, and provide all of its own water using rainfall and aquifers.

The Earth's transition from the last glacial period to its present climate was a turbulent era of rapid climate change, according to University of Pittsburgh geologists.

The findings will be used to help scientists compare current climate changes with those of the ancient past.

Pitt PhD geology student David Pompeani studied soil extracted from the bed of Rantin Lake, in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Pompeani said his team found evidence that a currently deep part of the lake was once very shallow.

This summer, the Department of Conservation and National Resources (DCNR) and Gander Mountain are partnering to provide first-time campers with essential gear and a reduced $20 reservation fee for a two-night stay at participating Pennsylvania state parks.

Mike Krancer And The EPA: It’s Complicated

May 17, 2012

Over the last few years, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency has taken an increased inter­est in reg­u­lat­ing and mon­i­tor­ing hydraulic frac­tur­ing. And when the EPA steps into an area that the Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion is already over­see­ing, Sec­re­tary Michael Krancer appears to take it per­son­ally.

The Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) has been walking from Philadelphia to PNC headquarters in Pittsburgh since April 30th to protest the bank's financing of mountaintop removal coal mining, a type of mining that violates the Clean Water Act and has led to increased rates of birth defects and cancers for thousands of families across Appalachia, according to Zachary Hershman, EQAT campaign director.

Post Natural History, Now

May 5, 2012

You've probably heard the saying, "Don't mess with Mother Nature." But all around us, scientists, corporations, and even farmers are doing just that: breeding corn to resist pests and herbicides, inserting genes into salmon and spawning generations of lab specimens.

An arty crowd gathered in a suite of dark rooms got the first peek at a curiosity shop of exhibits. The black paint was barely dry on the cases, lit to reveal live sea monkeys swimming around a beaker and a stuffed white lab rat making a last stand on its hind legs — and then there were the domestic cat testicles.

Residents in the 400 block of Jucunda Street in the Knoxville neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh gathered today in an open lot on their street to join Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in announcing an expansion of the Love Your Block campaign.

The campaign, begun last year, gives small grants to blocks throughout the city which have proposed ideas to spruce up the appearance of their streets.

With last week's rains in northeastern Pennsylvania, the record low water levels in the Susquehanna River Basin have recovered and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) has lifted its order to 10 natural gas drilling companies to halt withdrawals.

Record low water levels in the Susquehanna River Basin have forced a halt to water removal by natural gas drilling companies.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses a mixture of water and chemicals shot deep into the ground with massive force to fracture rock shale and release the natural gas contained inside. According to a report from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), the drought conditions of this spring have temporarily suspended 17 different water withdrawals, impacting 10 drilling companies in Bradford, Luzerne, Lycoming, Susquehanna and Tioga Counties.

Air Pollution Better But Still Bad

Apr 27, 2012

The American Lung Association's State of the Air Report shows the Pittsburgh metro area is the sixth most polluted in the country for fine particle pollution and twentieth for ozone pollution.

Fine particles are inhaled deeply into the lungs and can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma. Ozone irritates the lungs and is especially harmful to the young, the elderly, and outdoor exercisers.

Getting the Fingerprint of Pollution

Apr 20, 2012

A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Electric Power Institute have developed a method of "fingerprinting" air pollution. The developers collected samples of air emissions from several coal-powered power plant stacks in the nation and discovered a way to detect a unique signature, or fingerprint, in nitrogen oxide (NOx) compounds emitted from the stacks.

The institute is a nonprofit that is funded by the electric power industry.

An expected 20,000 volunteers will hit the streets and parks throughout the Pittsburgh region this weekend for a semi-annual litter clean-up in conjunction with Earth Day on Sunday.

Boris Weinstein, founder of Citizens Against Litter, which helps organize the clean-up effort in Washington, Allegheny, Westmoreland, Butler, and Beaver counties, said 250 communities and groups have already signed on to help out.

Of those 250, 84 are city neighborhoods and 57 are Allegheny County boroughs and townships.

Seed and Story Library Comes to Lawrenceville

Apr 18, 2012

Starting in May, southwestern Pennsylvanians can "borrow" local seeds from the Lawrenceville branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, with the hope that gardeners will then return harvested seeds in the fall for use the following spring.

Mary Monaghan, Assistant Director of Neighborhood Libraries, says returning newly harvested seed is completely voluntary. There will be no late fees, and librarians will not come to your garden to confiscate seeds.

EPA Moves to Curb Gas Well Air Pollution

Apr 18, 2012

The Obama administration has ordered natural gas developers to address the air pollution that's created when a gas well is hydraulically fractured.

The rule only applies to wells drilled into deep shale gas formations, like the Marcellus Shale beneath Pennsylvania.

National Aviary's Steps for Safe Bird Migration

Apr 16, 2012

Every spring, birds migrate thousands of miles to cooler climates, and there are simple steps that humans can take to make their journey as safe as possible.

Robert Mulvihill, Conservation Outreach Manager at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, says there are more than 100 kinds of birds migrating through western Pennsylvania at night during this time of year.

New Evidence Shows Being Active Outdoors Benefits Veterans

Apr 14, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Sierra Club’s mission for its Military Families and Veterans Initiative is, “to ensure those who defended our country and their families get to enjoy the land they served.” Heading up that mission is Stacy Bare, an Iraq war veteran, based in Washington D.C.

Bare said being outdoors helped him deal with the stresses of being a veteran and move forward with his own life after returning home.

Shale Industry Brings Jobs For Veterans

Apr 14, 2012

Molly Born, a writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has been reporting on the challenges returning veterans face when trying to find jobs, and she's found that the Marcellus shale gas industry has provided one of the bright spots for servicemen in a lagging economy.

"There have been a lot of companies in this industry who have pledged to help veterans and they've been saying it very loudly," she said.

New Evidence Shows Being Active Outdoors Benefits Veterans

Apr 14, 2012

The Sierra Club's mission for its Military Families and Veterans Initiative is, "to ensure those who defended our country and their families get to enjoy the land they served." Heading up that mission is Stacy Bare, an Iraq war veteran, based in Washington D.C.

Bare said being outdoors helped him deal with the stresses of being a veteran and move forward with his own life after returning home.

Lawmaker Wants Moratorium on Deep Injection Wells in Pennsylvania

Apr 13, 2012

Now that deep injection wells have been linked to a dramatic increase in earthquakes in Ohio, Colorado, and Oklahoma, a Pennsylvania lawmaker wants a freeze on such wells in the commonwealth. The state has five operating deep injection wells, but many more are proposed.

Active duty Navy Sailor Ed Klonowski is an outdoorsy guy. He grew up in the country in a family that hunted and fished and watched birds. So when he was deployed to Iraq, those were the kinds of things he missed.