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Stupid weather causes natural gas price hike

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The price of natural gas topped $6/MMBtu last week. In fact, at one point it was up more than 10 percent on Wednesday.

But wait, wasn't the cost of natural gas coming down thanks to drilling in the Marcellus Shale region?

To echo many in the midstate who are tired of shoveling, shivering and sliding this winter, blame the groundhog.

Experts say the weather is driving up the price, which has been above $5 for most of the past month, according to Business Insider energy and economics reporter Rob Wile.

A quick glance outside your window at the snow on the ground will help remind you how cold most of the past month has been.

Ken Slaysman, an economics professor at York College of Pennsylvania, says weather is one of several factors.

"Predictions for more cold weather and potential shortages are driving up prices now," he said in an email. "Wouldn't surprise me if at least some of the natural gas mined here is exported to the global market, where it might fetch higher prices.

By the way, the National Weather Service in State College was predicting highs in the low 30s today with a chance of snow.

Temperatures in the lower 20s are predicted by Thursday, however.

•••

When a coal-fired power plant is deactivated, there's more to it than just turning off the lights and shutting the doors.

State Sen. Timothy Solobay, D-46, Canonsburg, notes there are big impacts to the communities that have come to rely on these power plants for employment.

And usually, there's no notice when a power company decides to deactivate a plant — so long as it does not adversely affect the power grid. The companies have to give notice only to PJM, the power distributor for this region, Solobay said.

That's why Solobay is sponsoring legislation to create a Coal-Fired Electric Generation Deactivation Commission.

The senator, whose district is the southwestern corner of the state, proposes the commission review and investigate the potentially adverse impacts that plant closures have on the economy, electric reliability and the environment.

"The Commission will provide an opportunity for state and local government officials, affected employees, business owners and other stakeholders to participate in the public hearing process," he said in co-sponsorship memo sent to other state senators. "And it would be required to render final decisions concerning the deactivation, cleanup and remediation of coal-fired electric generation power plants statewide."

The law also would look out for employees, setting minimum requirements for severance and health benefits.

So far, he has four cosponsors and is looking for more, said Hannah Walsh, Solobay's legislative director. Rep. Pam Snyder, D-50, of Jefferson, has sponsored a companion bill in the House.

Just how many coal-fired plants have been deactivated? Solobay says in his memo that it's a "record number" in the past five years. Walsh provided some documents presented by the Electric Power Generation Association last year that showed nine coal-fired plants were pending deactivation.

In a link from the U.S. Energy Information Administration she provided, the number of coal-fired plants in the country was 633 in 2002. That number had dropped to 557 — a 12-percent decrease — by 2012, the most recent year available. Just between 2011 and 2012, the number of coal power plants fell by 32, a more than 5-percent decrease.

•••

Here's an item that I just found amusing. The state Department of Environmental Protection fined Halliburton Energy Services (yes, that Halliburton) $1.8 million for 255 violations of the Solid Waste Management Act between 1999 and 2011.

According to a news release from Gov. Tom Corbett's office, DEP learned of the violations back in 2011 and, through investigation, learned they went all the way back more than a dozen years.

What did Halliburton not do properly?

From the governor's office:

"The violations occurred when the company, at its Homer City facility in Indiana County, stored, treated and transported waste hydrochloric acid without obtaining proper permits from DEP.

"During the 12-year time period, Halliburton transported acidic waste, which had originated from various gas well sites, without identifying the waste as 'hazardous waste,' without proper hazardous waste trucking records, and without using a licensed hazardous waste transporter. In addition, the company sent the hazardous waste to an unauthorized treatment and disposal operation."

The governor says there is no evidence the public or environment were ever in danger, but, you know, laws are there for a reason.

Joseph Deinlein

Joseph Deinlein

Joseph Deinlein covers York County, energy and environment, agribusiness and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at joed@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JDeinleinCPBJ. Circle Joseph Deinlein on .

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