Pa. official praises drillers on safety, economic gains

Posted: September 09, 2011

As a two-day natural gas conference in Philadelphia closed Thursday, Pennsylvania's top environmental official lauded the industry's effort to safely develop the Marcellus Shale.

"At the end of the day, we are going to get this right," Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer told the Shale Gas Insight conference at the Convention Center. "We're already getting it right. . . . And I know all of you are committed to getting it right as well."

Gov. Corbett's top environmental enforcer said that government's first job was to protect public safety by implementing tough state rules. But he focused much of his speech on the economic benefits of shale gas, which he characterized as a "tremendous opportunity."

A day after anti-drilling activists demonstrated outside the Convention Center, Krancer also said much of the opposition to drilling was "ideologically based" and "not based on science or fact."

Krancer's praise for the industry, and his dismissal of some drilling critics, contrasted starkly with the tongue-lashing delivered by former Gov. Ed Rendell to the conference Wednesday.

Rendell said the industry's behavior had helped create "a bipartisan coalition that cuts across party lines, that cuts across geographic lines, against shale drilling."

And Krancer's comments also provided more evidence for activists who say the Corbett administration is too cozy with what they say is an environmentally dangerous industry.

Anti-drilling activists, who were meeting at the Congregation Rodeph Shalom synagogue in the city's Spring Garden section to develop a strategy to block shale drilling, heard reports of Krancer's comments and responded.

Iris Marie Bloom, founder of the advocacy group Protecting Our Waters, urged bloggers, writers, and other activists to respond immediately to Krancer with a common message: "We have the facts on our side."

The two contrasting visions of natural gas development were on full display during the two-day conference, sponsored by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group.

The conference drew 1,600 registered participants, and its organizers said they chose to locate the event in Philadelphia to build support for the industry in Southeastern Pennsylvania, where there is no drilling activity. They said the two-day event injected $6.5 million into Philadelphia's economy.

Krancer, who lives in Bryn Mawr, congratulated the conference for choosing Philadelphia. "I think that in and of itself is a statement that's significant," he said.

Krancer was the substitute keynote speaker Thursday for Corbett, who changed his schedule to respond to flooding in central Pennsylvania.

Like other speakers at the conference, he focused on ways to improve hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract natural gas from shale by injecting the rock with high-pressure fluid. Drilling opponents say "fracking" is dangerous.

In addition to enforcement efforts by the state, he encouraged the industry to exert peer pressure, police itself, and demand the highest levels of excellence from one another.

"You are your brother's keeper in this business," he said.

At one point, Krancer poked fun at New York state, which only now is moving to start drilling the Marcellus after delaying development under pressure from anti-drilling advocates.

On Wednesday, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation released a report saying the state stood to gain 55,000 jobs and up to $2.5 billion in wages from the Marcellus industry.

"That's the DEC," Krancer said, "which I guess part of me is saying, DEC must stand for Department of Economic Catch-up."

Several blocks north of the industry conference, about 180 anti-drilling activists were meeting at the synagogue Thursday. Energized by demonstrations Wednesday, they spoke out during workshops on health impacts, pipeline safety, and environmental justice.

They debated the pros and cons of civil disobedience, and how to shape the debate.

"Once we neutralize the economic argument" put forth by industry, said activist Jerry Silberman, "we win on the pollution argument."

At the end, they formed a circle, held hands, and sang "This Land Is Your Land," and then Josh Fox, director of the anti-drilling film Gasland, played his banjo.

Contact staff writer Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947 or