Pennsylvania secretary says he's been 'vilified' by foes of natural gas drilling

Michael Krancer, secretary of the Pennsylvania DEP.
Michael Krancer, secretary of the Pennsylvania DEP.
Posted: June 10, 2011

At a hearing Thursday about drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer lamented the "radicalization" of the discourse.

He said he was being "vilified" by drilling opponents.

"This matter has been radicalized fairly recently. Some folks just don't want to debate at all how it can be done safely," said Krancer, a lawyer from Bryn Mawr. "They just want to kill it . . . they're pulling out all the stops to make sure it doesn't happen."

In contrast, he said, "My mantra is sound science, facts; no emotion; no fiction."

The hot afternoon that was nudging 100 degrees in the city was "an object lesson showing us the value of this resource," which burns cleaner than oil and coal, he added.

This region in particular, where cars contribute heavily to ground-level ozone, or smog, "has a lot to gain from the gas that is available in terms of clean air," he said.

The hearing was held by the state House Democratic Policy Committee, chaired by State Rep. Mike Sturla of Lancaster County, who said afterward that he found Krancer "impressive. I think he's sincere about what he wants to do. . . . If his boss allows him to do his job, that's half the battle."

The dozen legislators who attended questioned him about a severance tax on drillers, about stronger regulations, and about whether he had the budget to do the job.

"Everybody testifies there's never been an incident" of drinking water contaminated with fluids from the hydraulic-fracturing process, "but we haven't done it in this geology, and it's not 25 years from now," Sturla said. "Nobody had ever found acid mine drainage in the first 25 years of coal-mining, either. Some of this stuff takes time."

Others who testified were Michael Wood, research director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center; Preston Lutweiler, chief environmental officer of Aqua America; and Jan Jarrett, president of PennFuture.

Krancer's remarks were much the same on Wednesday night, when he participated in a shale forum hosted by the Academy of Natural Sciences organized by the Clean Air Council.

Joseph O. Minott, executive director of the council, called natural gas drilling the major economic, environmental, and public health issue in Pennsylvania today.

"To date, I have not been impressed with industry's acknowledgment of the impact its activities are having on public health and the environment," he said.

The Wednesday event was more animated, with audience members occasionally applauding speakers or, in the case of Krancer, voicing their dissent.

Criticizing what he called a "forced conversion of the American economy" to renewable-energy sources such as solar and wind, Krancer noted the "abundant source of clean energy below."

He spoke of the employment opportunities, saying, "I see the jobs being created. I've been there."

He said his department was doing a good job of policing the industry, citing two large fines recently levied against drillers and his request that drilling companies cease taking drilling wastewater to water-treatment facilities.

"I knew that if I had issued orders or sued . . . what would I get? I'd get two years of litigation. And I wouldn't get to where I was today," he said. "I got compliance in 28 hours instead of 28 months."

At both events, Krancer said companies should not view fines as just a cost of doing business.

"I do want to be known as an enforcement secretary," he said. "The governor I work for is a former prosecutor. It is incumbent on us to do that."

He criticized a recent Duke University study that found higher concentrations of methane in private water wells near gas drilling sites. Although the study said the gas was from deep formations that suggested migration from the Marcellus Shale, Krancer said the gas was from shallow formations that occurred naturally.

When David Velinsky, vice president of the Academy of Natural Science's Patrick Center for Environmental Research, suggested that Krancer submit his comments to the journal that published the study so they could be peer-reviewed, Krancer said he could not because the Duke researchers refused to share their data with him.

Sturla was at both events as well, pushing for a severance tax that he said industry was fully expecting to pay. He bemoaned that the industry got a head start on regulations and legislative policies. "We are truly babes in the woods on this one," he said.


Contact staff writer Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147 or sbauers@phillynews.com. Visit her blog at http://go.philly.com/greenspace

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