Pre-Election Update

Marcellus Shale UpdateSeptember 11, 2018 (8)

Just a day before one of the most consequential elections in a generation, there are fewer major races and ballot initiatives pertaining to shale and hydraulic fracturing than in recent years.

Here in Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf is cruising to reelection.  The most recent polls have him up double digits.  In the 2014 gubernatorial election, then little-known State Treasurer Tom Wolf shot to prominence by running ads focusing on Pennsylvania’s lack of a mineral extraction tax (while ignoring the local impact fee structure) and positioning himself as a foe of the gas industry.  In return, the industry has matched that opposition, and so far has beaten back all attempts to enact an extraction tax, in addition to the local impact fee.

Effective Tuesday, it appears both sides will have four more years to work together and try to figure this out, or not to work together and continue to serve no one’s interest.  They came very close to a resolution in 2017 during the eternal budget negotiations of that year but were ultimately not successful.  Now with Wolf freed from reelection constraints, expect the extraction tax to come back with a vengeance.  Once again, we shall see if the industry considers its most important legislative priority in Pennsylvania to oppose the tax, or whether it decides there are other issues in which it can deal with the Governor that will work better for the industry, the Governor and all Pennsylvanians.

Just north, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also is way ahead in his reelection bid.  Cuomo, who banned hydraulic fracturing by gubernatorial edict, can rely on the immense power of the downstate environmental lobby without worrying about its effect on the southern tier, where all the gas is and where struggling family farms also are.  However, if there is another severe winter, the failure of Governor Cuomo to address the pipeline issue may cause him trouble.  In order to grow, New York needs gas.  Cuomo has made that very difficult, if not impossible.

He has wanted it both ways.  He can play to his environmental base without having to worry about the economic effect to the State as a whole.  That will cease soon.  As the State, and especially New York City, try to keep growing, they’ll need power.  They’ve closed their nuclear reactors, the hydro from Quebec has not been sufficient, and they’re ideologically opposed to coal.  What’s left?  There is no real plan for renewables and how they’d power New York’s economy.  Could it be that statewide groups like “Chefs Against Fracking” may get their wish, and have to live with the consequences?

The most important ballot initiative is in Colorado.  Proposition 112 would mandate a state setback of 2,500 feet on any drilling operations from most inhabited buildings.  It is five times larger than previous and from the standard nearly everywhere else in the country.  Even in rural areas, plotting 2,500 feet setbacks from any inhabited building would make it very difficult to engage in any drilling activities.

As usual, the industry has spoken with many voices.  Just last week, an internal paper was leaked suggesting the increased setback actually would have little impact on the gas and oil that could be extracted in Colorado.  That was heatedly rebutted with another study – again “leaked” to the press – which stated the original paper was misrepresented.

Despite almost no support from the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, Proposition 112 is leading coming up to election day.  If it passes, expect similar pressure in other states, even in ones with entirely different geography.  Yet, some of the companies, including ones headquartered in Colorado, have been slow to make their case.  This is no surprise given the history of energy company public relations and the industry’s lack of understanding of where its long-term damage may be coming from.

Of course, the major event will be what happens to the US House and Senate.  If we have divided government once again, it will fall to both private industry and local governments to chart the path forward.  For the good of the economic, ecologic, and security health of the country, let’s hope they’re up to the job.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

A Conference, A City & A Tragedy

ADLBefore the end of each day at last week’s Shale Insight Conference in Pittsburgh, first MSC President Dave Spigelmyer and then WVONGA President Anne Blankenship warned the attendees to take off their conference badges once they left the Convention Center, for their personal safety.  I’m sure that struck some of the participants as odd, and even a little unnerving.  Owing to my religion, for me it was commonplace.  Ironically if not prophetically, two days after we left the Conference, eleven of my co-religionists were massacred less than ten miles from the Convention Center by a lunatic gunman while attending Sabbath Morning Services.

As I look back upon the events of last week, it strikes me how Jewish much of the week was.  I don’t know how many non-Jews who attended the Conference could truly comprehend it from a Jew’s perspective.  Please permit me then to try to use what happened last week in Pittsburgh, first when many of us conferees were together and then the awful events after we left, to explain what it’s like to walk in our religious shoes.

Very few people inside the Conference hall considered themselves, and the people they were with, inherently evil.  That was not the case outside.  When we attended the opening night reception, we were met by demonstrators, some dressed up like ghouls, claiming that the natural gas industry is the enemy of mankind.  They believe members of that industry – meaning, you and me – are heartless profiteers, willing to suck the blood out of the environment for our short term financial gain.  According to the protesters, we will endanger their lives, and indeed even our own, for our personal pecuniary interests.

In order to do so, we members of the industry will use our financial wealth and acumen to seize effective control of State, local and even national governments.  We then will subvert the will of the decent, common people in favor of our own interests.  While our actions may result in the ultimate destruction of the planet due to our blind pursuit of profit and power, we don’t care about that.  So driven are we by the prospect of financial wealth that we will risk celestial destruction for our parochial benefit.

Sound familiar?

Welcome to the world of Jews.

There is no accusation too incredible or outlandish that it can’t or hasn’t been leveled against the Jewish people.  Last week it was that we were responsible for the immigrant caravan heading toward this country from Central America.  Seriously?  During the Middle Ages, Jews were blamed for Bubonic Plague.  We “poisoned the wells!”  Actually, we washed our hands before eating.  Later Jews were accused of kidnapping Gentile children, murdering them, and using their blood to make the unleavened “matzoh” we eat during Passover.  And of course less than one hundred years ago we were told we “stabbed the German State in the back” during World War I.  Six million of my distant relatives died because of that claim.

As with us Jews, we members of the natural gas industry needn’t bother trying to argue against our critics using facts.  It won’t work.  To them, the case is settled.  Fracking destroys communities, pipelines foul Mother Earth, and natural gas is a fossil fuel that causes climate change which will end life as we know it on our planet.  So what if Yale, Penn State and the University of Cincinnati all this year published research saying they could not find a causal connection between fracking and water contamination or other environmental evils.  The critics don’t want to hear it.  They “know’ the truth.  Any arguments we make to the contrary are just smokescreens set up to confuse the people.  We’re good at that you know.  Besides, we will stop at nothing to achieve our evil ends.

When we confront the “enviros”, we might as well be on another planet.  They want to reduce carbon emissions.  We show how the increased use of natural gas has actually decreased those emissions 15% in the United States.  It doesn’t matter.  We’re still killing the planet in other ways.  This way just makes us rich.

They want economic justice.  We show how one of the leading causes of poverty in the less developed countries is the lack of a reliable energy supply, and natural gas can make that possible for hundreds of millions of people.  To them, that’s just another example of how we weasel our way into other societies for our ultimately nefarious ends.

For we Jews, Israel is the most tolerant society in the Middle East with regard to the LGBTQ community.  Does that impress the human rights community?  Hardly.  They even invented a new term, “Pinkwashing”, to describe how Israel’s treatment of the LGBTQ community is just a ruse to deflect attention from Israel’s “grievous” human rights abuses against Palestinians.  I’m not kidding.

Perhaps the enviros are right.  It may be that hydraulic fracturing is causing grave harm to the planet.  None of us really knows, any more than we know whether or not cell phone use over extended periods of time causes damage to the human brain.  We need to do the best we can, keep studying what’s happening, and make our decisions based on rational thought, study and analysis.  Fracking is an industrial process, not a religion.  If it turns out to be doing great harm, it should be stopped.  Modern environmentalism now borders too uncomfortably on becoming a religion.  As it moves closer to that state, industry members become more like Jews.  It is not enough that the industry should be stopped.  It (and us as its members) must also be destroyed.  Any action taken against the industry in that greater cause will be justified.

For members of the industry at least there is a chance at absolution.  We can always join those people of pure heart and mind, turn away from our evil fracking, and worship at the altar of “renewables”.  If we do so, we will gain the eternal gratitude of the mainstream press, get invited to the swankiest parties, be celebrated as far seeing visionaries, and be a part of the eternal salvation of the planet.  But please don’t ask uncomfortable questions like how will the energy created get where it needs to go, what types of non-renewable elements and other sources will be needed to get it there, and what environmental damage will be caused by the massive infrastructure needed to power our society by renewables, or if we even can.  Some things you just have to take on faith.  Some questions are best left unanswered, or never even asked.

But for we Jews, there is no true salvation.  Regardless of whether or not I convert, my children and even their children will be marked with the Scarlet Star of David.  They always will look over their shoulder, and will always feel a little uneasy to show freely and proudly who they are among others who aren’t. And they will always know that there is no accusation too ridiculous that somebody, somewhere, will still hate them for it and try to destroy them.

This week, we say “Kaddish,” our memorial prayer, for eleven souls whose only crime was to believe a different way than other people.  It’s a terribly uncomfortable feeling.  We Jews carry it around wherever we go and throughout our lives.  Yet when the conferees took off those badges after we left the David Lawrence Convention Center so that we would not advertise who we were, all conferees became de facto Jews as well.  Wear that Star of David well.  Regardless of what the haters think, our tradition is a glorious one, and something to be eternally proud of.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

Foreign Policy Realism and the Importance of Shale

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Just six months after the Chinese Communist leadership massacred hundreds of their own people at Tiananmen Square in 1989, President George H. W. Bush sent his envoy Brent Scowcroft on a secret mission.  When pictures of National Security Advisor Scowcroft raising glasses for a champagne toast with the Butchers of Beijing leaked out, Americans were outraged.  However, Bush and Scowcroft realized that the Chinese relationship was too important and that the Communist leaders weren’t going anywhere.

Today, critics of President Trump, especially the conservatives, wish he were surrounded by international “realists” like Mr. Scowcroft.  Instead, they see Mike Pompeo and John Bolton.  It is curious, however, that the same crew which praised the Bush/Scowcroft team for their “skillful” handling of the aftermath of Tiananmen and the fall of the Soviet Union now criticize Mr. Trump for not immediately taking steps to isolate Saudi Arabia following what appears to be the murder of a Saudi journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

For reasons ranging from oil to Iran, the US/Saudi relationship is important.  Trump has to exert a price from Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (MbS), but he has to be careful not to risk the overall relationship.  Whatever decision the President makes will affect the energy industry.  Will the Saudis retaliate by withholding oil supplies?  Will they do the opposite?  Will increased Saudi supply of oil be part of the overall “price” that Mr. Trump extracts from MbS for this sordid affair?  We don’t know the answers yet, and we may never know.

What we do know is that the future of many Pennsylvanians will both impact and be impacted by the intrigue playing out over the Saudi journalist.  That’s a remarkable accomplishment when you think about it.  The Saudis will have to consider places like Washington County and Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania in their calculations of how to respond to American anger.  Who would have thought that ten years ago?

While the international situation plays out, elections loom in this country.  Fewer than three weeks before election day, it looks increasingly likely that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf will win a second term.  That will put both the Governor and the gas industry in a bind.  The industry has been loath to engage with the Governor after he bludgeoned them during his 2014 campaign and after they had some dealings with him in the early days of his administration that the industry felt were not up front.  The Governor is bitter that the industry fought him so hard on his extraction tax, robbing him of one of his most important campaign promises.

Both the industry and the Governor may be in a pivotal international position in a few months if things spin out of control in the Middle East or elsewhere.  Pennsylvania gas production may prove to be a critical bulwark against mass economic dislocation that would please no one as much as the Russians and the Iranians.

First comes the approaching winter.  New York and New England are more vulnerable than ever to energy shortages due to their short-sighted policies on pipeline infrastructure and their closing of their nuclear plants.  Will they have to import gas again from Russia?  If they do it will it limit the President’s ability to deal with Russian involvement in the Middle East? What if the Saudis respond to American pressure by just moving closer to Vladimir Putin?  Meanwhile, as this is happening will New Englanders be forced again to go hat in hand to Putin to save them from freezing to death this winter?  It could happen.  By making themselves vulnerable to energy shocks – especially when the answer is five hours away in Pennsylvania, the New Englanders have weakened us all.  Domestic miscalculations often have international implications.

In Pennsylvania we have a separate problem.  Pennsylvania’s shale producers are notorious for their inability to develop common positions.  This limits their effectiveness when dealing with state government.   Assuming he wins, Governor Wolf will owe the industry nothing for his reelection.  Still, the industry provides a critical service at an unsettled time.  There is a lot that can be accomplished on both sides given any willingness to engage based on the new international and electoral realities.  There’s no time like the present.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

 

Depoliticizing Middle East Oil Dependence through Increased Production of U.S. Shale

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While America was transfixed with the sordid spectacle of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, the news that really can have international impact was playing out in Istanbul, Turkey.  On Thursday its ramifications began being felt in this country.  Thanks to our shale industry, however, President Trump will have many more options going forward than otherwise.

Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian journalist who has been highly critical of the ruling House of Saud.  A columnist for the Washington Post, Khashoggi was a permanent resident of the United States.  He also has been a thorn in the side of the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  Readers of this blog will know that I’ve written about “MbS” before.  He is part reformer (opening up new avenues for Saudi women), part irresponsibly aggressive international leader (kidnapping the Lebanese President; getting involved in a reckless war in Yemen), and part thin-skinned autocrat (ordering many of his own royal family held at a Saudi hotel on corruption charges).

Over the last several months, Khashoggi received death threats and other intimidations.  Nevertheless, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain necessary papers for his upcoming wedding.  He hasn’t been seen since.

Turkey, which is a major Middle Eastern adversary of Saudi Arabia, claims he was murdered inside the consulate, his body later dismembered so it could be smuggled out to uncertain location.  The Saudis deny this but can’t produce him.  American intelligence intercepts seem to point the finger directly at MbS for a plot to at least detain Khashoggi, or worse.

Congress now is up in arms.  Twenty-two senators from both parties signed a letter demanding President Trump sanction Saudi Arabia, including cutting off arms shipments.  Trump is resisting the arms embargo, but it looks more likely that he will have to do something substantial.  It was, after all, an American green card holder who was detained and possibly executed in brutal fashion.

What can the President do?  Saudi Arabia is crucial to Trump’s strategy of developing a new axis of power in the Middle East featuring Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt.  It is regarded as a counterweight to the ambitions of Turkey and Iran, both of which are led by Islamic governments (as is Saudi Arabia) yet neither of which is friendly toward the West.

Since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Saudi Arabia literally has held the United States over a barrel (pun intended).  Their oil weapon intimidated American presidents for 40 years; quite simply, the United States needed their product.  However, during that time, Saudi oil money – in large part coming from America – also funded Islamic schools called madrassas that indoctrinated Saudi (and in Pakistan, Taliban) youth into their radical, misogynistic form of Wahhabism Islam, sponsored terrorist camps around the world, and produced 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001.  Somehow, the Saudis always got a pass.

Now, however, the world might be different, and that difference is due in significant part to our frackers.  As out of “PC” favor as it may be, it is the shale industry that has given the President, or any president, freedom of movement in this situation.  Given the gravity of the situation, Trump will probably have to make serious moves, but he must be very careful in what he does given the complexity and volatility of the Middle East.  A military option would only be a last resort.  An economic one is far more likely but its chances for success in bringing about reform are heavily dependent on the degree of Saudi pain that it might inflict.  This is where the shale industry becomes an important factor.In response to any economic sanctions, any threat by the Saudis to use its oil weapon would have far less sting today than it did during the oil embargos of the early 1970s.  Such a move certainly would increase the price of oil and gas, but it would also give the American shale industry a huge opening to increase production, expand international market share, and actually make some money (which many of the companies really don’t do).  Environmental activists can act self-righteous all they want, but it is the frackers who provide the breathing space for the American government to use economic weapons instead of military ones – and for the economic weapons to have real effect.

Provided many scientific questions get answered (which is not a foregone conclusion), both America’s and the world’s long term future may be with “renewables.”  In the short term, however, those of us with younger children need to say a “thank you” to George Mitchell and the other pioneers of the shale industry.  Thanks to them, our sons and daughters have substantially less chance being sent overseas to fight another Middle Eastern war we don’t want among people we don’t understand.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

The DRBC and the Limits of Administrative Agency Power

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There are two lessons from the petition by Pennsylvania State Senators Lisa Baker and Gene Yaw and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnatti to intervene on behalf of a Wayne County landowner in his challenge to new rules by the Delaware River Basin Commission that would ban hydraulic fracturing in the entire Basin. The first is that there is a limit to how far administrative agencies can go and how far their power extends.  The second is that it is imperative for the industry to engage with the citizens of the State to enforce its rights and not just speak to some residents or concentrate on only one issue.

The move by the State Senators is the latest in a series of maneuvers related to proposed rules by the DRBC that stretch back years. In their current manifestation, the DRBC announced on September 13, 2017 it would publish new rules that would ban fracking throughout the Basin. The Commission claimed that fracking anywhere in the Basin constitutes a “water project” that is within the DRBC’s power to regulate. Earlier, in 2016, a landowner in Wayne County had sued the DRBC claiming that it did not have jurisdiction to prevent the drilling of a natural gas well on his property. The lawsuit was dismissed in US District Court but overturned by the Third Circuit, which in July 2018 sent it back to the District Court.

The current landowner argues that the DRBC interprets the term “Project” so broadly that it can regulate anything that happens within the Basin. I made that same argument at a public meeting in Philadelphia in January 2018. One person from the American Petroleum Institute came, but nobody from any of the natural gas producers showed up. Because there was no one there to advance the industry position, all we heard was a series of truths, half-truths and plain falsehoods. It was a propaganda session for those who oppose any natural gas development. Given a chance to engage with Southeastern Pennsylvanians who know little about the subject, the energy industry punted. It was yet another missed opportunity.

The industry could have made the point that the DRBC’s position is so overbroad it puts them in virtual control of, or at least gives them a veto over, any development, whether fracking related or not, that happens anywhere within the Basin – which extends the length of the 330 mile Delaware River. Supporters of the ban were thrilled, but cooler heads in the Third Circuit asked whether the 1961 interstate compact granting power to the DRBC was meant to be so broad. Using the DRBC standard, it could prevent the erection of a gas station 30 miles away from the river.

All three Pennsylvania State Senators seeking to intervene are Republican, but we need to ask ourselves whether this truly is a partisan issue. Are our citizens truly comfortable with an administrative agency comprised of five unelected but appointed individuals claiming so much power to regulate our lives, even for activities outside the natural gas industry? There are those who think fracking should not be permitted in the area within the jurisdiction of the DRBC – or anywhere else for that matter. Regardless, they should not be so sanguine about the enormous power grab being attempted by the DRBC.  Over subscribed power has a way of appearing fickle when the next project comes along that we do not oppose but actually support.

One other area where those opposed to natural gas development should not be so sanguine is in their ultimate reliance on Russian gas exports for their winter power.  Heading into the 2018-9 winter, New York and New England may be even more reliant on gas imports than they were last winter. As you recall, that meant Boston had to turn to Moscow for gas drilled in the environmentally sensitive Arctic. The Russian supply may not be as available this winter. While all eyes have been focused on the Supreme Court confirmation, the United States and Russia are edging closer to confrontation in the Middle East.

Last week, Israel attacked a Syrian rocket facility in Latakia, on the Mediterranean coast north of Lebanon.  The area is well outside of the normal Israeli area of operation, and indicates the importance the Israelis placed on the target. Syrian anti-aircraft guns erupted, missing all of the Israeli planes but shooting down a Russian military transport plane, killing 15 Russians. The Russian military blamed Israel, claiming it did not follow the normal rules for informing Russia when Israel conducts military operations in Syria.  Although Russian President Putin played down the issue, the Russian military continued to accuse Israel. Last week Russia announced that new, more sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons were being transferred to Syria. National Security Advisor John Bolton warned Russia that such a transfer would be a “significant escalation”.

Oil prices rose over $70/barrel. While not moving in step with natural gas prices, the coming of further Iran sanctions adds to the price pressure on fuel. If Russia and the United States grow further estranged in the Middle East, it could affect the ability of Massachusetts to call on Russian gas now that it has effectively banned Pennsylvania gas. Both short term and long term, I doubt that is a good move economically, ecologically or national security-wise for New Englanders.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

The Lawrence, MA Pipeline Explosions

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On January 11, 1912, women weavers shut down the Everett Mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  Earlier that day, they opened their pay envelopes to find their wages cut by 4%.

A recently enacted Massachusetts law had reduced the workweek for women and children from 56 hours to 54. Mill owners reacted by cutting the pay of their already lowly-paid workers.  The women revolted.

The strike soon engulfed the city.  Workers slashed machine belts, threads and cloth. Mill owners hired strike breakers and militiamen.  That only ratcheted up the tension.

Known in history as the “Bread and Roses Strike”, the bitter work stoppage lasted nine weeks.  When it was over, Congressional hearings had galvanized the public against the working conditions allowed by the owners, and the workers gained a 15% pay raise.  The political earthquake would be one of the seminal moments of the American labor movement.

A century later, a more literal earthquake in Lawrence, Massachusetts may portend a seminal movement for the natural gas industry.

Just three days after a gas pipeline exploded in Western Pennsylvania, at least 70 explosions tore through a Columbia Gas pipeline in Lawrence.  Fires broke out throughout the city.  One person is dead, at least twelve are injured, and 60-100 homes burned.  A large geographic area around Lawrence has been evacuated.

It is far too early to tell what caused the explosions, but certain things are clear.

First, our national infrastructure is deplorable.  Decades of disinvestment leave us with power lines, electrical grids, roads, airports and bridges that would embarrass a third world country.  The nation is falling apart.

Second, it is the responsibility of the owners of natural gas pipelines to ensure their safety.  That means adequately maintaining lines that already exist, properly building new pipelines, and informing the authorities when pipelines begin to decay or show damage.

Third, pipelines carrying pressurized gas are inherently dangerous.  To deny that is to deny reality.  It is up to the owners of the pipelines to show that they are safe, and not up to the public to show they are not.

Fourth, “renewable energy” will not solve this transmission problem.  Solar and wind power can create electricity, but it takes high-tension lines to transmit it.  To those who propose offshore solar and wind as a major source of the nation’s power, imagine the situation in the Carolinas right now if they obtained a significant amount of their power through offshore solar and wind farms transmitted by high-tension lines.  Even inland, think about the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in a “renewable energy’ world.  How many of those solar and wind installations would survive intact, and what would be the result of the storm on the transmission lines?  For how long would the area be unlivable?

Fifth, given modern political realities, the natural gas industry in the Northeast could be in serious trouble.  It must get a handle on its pipeline situation.  Andrew Cuomo defeated Cynthia Nixon in the New York Gubernatorial primary, but Nixon pushed Cuomo even further to the left than before.  With two pipelines blowing up in four days, what chance does the industry have of convincing the public or political leaders that natural gas pipelines are a good idea?

For the last decade, gas industry workers have produced an energy revolution in the Marcellus Region.  Whole parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia that faced economic depression have been revitalized; the grip on our economic lifeline of tyrannical regimes in the Middle East, Africa, South America and Russia has been broken.  American consumers throughout the country have saved tens of billions in energy costs.

All of that will be at risk if the gas industry doesn’t get serious about policing its own.  The boards of directors of our major gas producers should think about the tens of billions of dollars in investment they’ve made in our region.  Are they prepared to see it vanish because they refused to hold the pipeline companies to the highest standards of construction and maintenance?  If they abdicate their responsibility at this most delicate moment, they will have only themselves to blame.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

When Gas Pipelines Explode

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At 5:00 a.m. yesterday, a portion of the newly-built Revolution pipeline exploded in Center Township, Beaver County, western Pennsylvania.  Luckily nobody was hurt, but one home, two garages, a barn and several vehicles were destroyed.  Nearby residents described what at first sounded like an airplane crash or a freight train, then a fireball.  The fire burned out by 7:00 a.m., but parts of Interstate 376 were closed for hours and the Central Valley school district cancelled classes.

The Revolution Pipeline is a 24 inch gathering line owned by the star-crossed Energy Transfer Partners.  It is used to feed ETP’s Rover and Mariner East 2 pipelines.  Officials believe that a mudslide occurred in the vicinity and may have caused the explosion.

ETP of course, is the same company that has had such difficulty with Mariner East 2.  It is instructive that fear of moving earth in the form of sinkholes in Chester County caused the suspension of construction of Mariner East 2 earlier this year.  If a mudslide was sufficient to cause such a fireball in the Revolution, then ETP has some serious explaining to do about how Mariner East 2 will be safe given the geology of Chester County.

As I’ve written numerous times before, ETP has done itself no favors with its dismissive attitude toward governmental oversight and regulation.  Now, at perhaps the worst possible time (right before an election and with Mariner East 2 still not completed and operational) and with little to no goodwill among Pennsylvania State legislators or DEP officials, ETP must show how and why the Revolution exploded, why this won’t happen again and why residents near Mariner East 2 shouldn’t be suspicious of that pipeline.

The leaders of this demand for explanation should come from the industry itself.  The people at the Marcellus Shale Coalition and at the major producers like Cabot, Range Resources, Chesapeake and EQT need to be insisting that all work on such important projects be done correctly, without cutting corners, with maximum transparency and giving safety ultimate priority.  It is their industry that is at risk, and all of our futures.  It must be the industry standard to insist that all companies use best practices and to demand that any company which fails to do so not be allowed to continue operating in Pennsylvania.

There is no risk free method of energy generation and transmission.  We all know about the dangers of nuclear power.  You can generate electricity by solar and wind but you need dangerous high tension wires to transmit it.  Given the modern political realities regarding fracking and natural gas, however, it is in the industry’s interest to show that it will not tolerate anyone who won’t walk the extra mile for the safety of all Pennsylvanians.

In more mundane legal news, last week the industry received a split decision from Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.  Ruling in the case of Marcellus Shale Coalition v. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Court struck down part of the Act 78a Regulations  which stated that as part of the well-permitting process the DEP had to consider comments and recommendations submitted by municipalities.

The background is a little confusing.  Previously in the Robinson case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated what was known as Section 3215(d) of the regulations that said the Environmental Quality Board of the DEP “may” take such comments into account.  This was considered improperly minimizing local input.  The new regulation sought to cure this defect, but the Court said this fix would not work because the clause in the Act 13 Oil and Gas Law that gave the DEP the right to promulgate such regulations in the first place no longer exists.

The result of the ruling is hard to predict.  The Court also said the DEP did not exceed its authority in the regulations when it allowed applicants and public resource agencies, including municipalities, to provide information that could assist the Agency in deciding whether or not to grant a permit.  A lot of this seems inherently contradictory.

On the plus side for the industry, the Court ruled that the expansion of the definition of “public resources” in the Act 78a Regulations to include “common areas of a school’s property” and “playgrounds” was unlawful as it was “unduly burdensome” on the applicants.  The Court noted that a McDonald’s playground or a school parking lot utilized as a playground would be covered by this definition.  These uses were not of the same class or nature as a scenic river or public park.

Finally, north and east of the Pennsylvania border New York State goes to the polls today for its primary election.  Two-term Governor Andrew Cuomo has run an uninspired campaign against challenger Cynthia Nixon.  Ms. Nixon, known most for her role in Sex and the City, has forced Cuomo even more to the left than before.  Specifically, Nixon proposes that New York adopt a law requiring it to obtain all of its energy through renewable sources by 2050.  In her platform, Ms. Nixon criticizes the Governor by saying “his plan still won’t fully halt all new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Cuomo’s policies already have led to a halt in the pipeline infrastructure for New York and New England, as well as a stoppage of much power plant construction.  Events like today’s explosion in western Pennsylvania can only add to the pressure on natural gas proponents.  Unfortunately for New York, their governmental officials have been overly optimistic in describing the current science for renewable energy.  New York officials will shut down Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant by 2021.  Given Massachusetts’s sad experience in predicting how it will make up the energy shortfall from mothballed nuclear plants, expect New York’s energy situation to become dire quite soon.

With Massachusetts likely to import more natural gas from Russia this winter, New Jersey and Maryland officials limiting construction of offshore wind and solar farms and Pennsylvania natural gas pipelines exploding, the time is more critical than ever to have an honest conversation on energy.  It needs to be led not by Cynthia Nixon, Josh Fox or the executives at ETP but by people who recognize the pluses and minuses of all forms of energy generation, storage and transmission, and who are not afraid to ask the stupid questions.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.