Pa. environmental chief locks horns with activists

Michael Krancer has won some praise from the gas industry for his feistiness.
Michael Krancer has won some praise from the gas industry for his feistiness.
Posted: August 06, 2012

Michael Krancer, Gov. Corbett's chief environmental regulator, seems to delight in doing battle with critics of the state's oversight of the Marcellus Shale gas boom.

In May, Krancer said that Delaware "smells like the tail of a dog" because of its opposition to drilling regulations proposed for the Delaware River Basin. In a congressional hearing, he challenged a Cornell University scientist to a duel over hydraulic fracturing (just kidding, Krancer said).

Then there were Krancer's snarky skirmishes with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over regulation of drilling, which is traditionally a function of state agencies like Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, the agency Krancer heads.

"We realize and recognize that EPA is very new to all of this and the EPA's understanding of the facts and science behind this activity is rudimentary," Krancer wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson this year.

In an interview last week, Krancer said he was not out to pick fights with opponents, only to engage in mutual enlightenment.

"I'm not battling with people," said Krancer, a former corporate lawyer and environmental law judge who lives in Bryn Mawr. "I'm dialoguing with people."

Krancer's feistiness has won some praise from industry supporters, who say anti-drilling activists have distorted the risks of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial shale-gas extraction technique. But the secretary's tactics have also galvanized environmentalists, said Maya von Rossum, the head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. She said Krancer's "name-calling and bullying" had worn thin.

David Masur, director of PennEnvironment, said Krancer's approach is polarizing. He said DEP continues to call out PennEnvironment for publishing a photo last year of a flooded Marcellus drilling rig that turns out to have been shot in Pakistan.

"I don't think if I called the secretary a horse's ass he would say, 'Great, we're starting a dialogue,' " said Masur. "He would be irate."

Krancer's latest nemesis in the shale-gas culture war is the Natural Resources Defense Council, which he has been jousting with since the environmental group released a report in May that criticized Pennsylvania's management of drilling wastewater.

The resource council's report, which received little media attention, apparently touched a nerve with Krancer, who believes that the Republican administration has not gotten enough credit for reining in the drilling industry on wastewater.

More than six weeks after the council released its report, Krancer issued a letter and news release challenging the assertions. Krancer's challenge came the day before he and council attorney Kate Sinding were scheduled to appear on stage together in Hershey at a conference of utility regulators.

Sinding, citing Krancer's "malicious" and "erroneous" statements, canceled her appearance. In a letter to Krancer, she scolded him for not having the "common courtesy" to reach out to council directly rather than through a news release.

Krancer responded in another epistle last week, pointing out that the council had not contacted Pennsylvania regulators before publishing its report critical of the state's practices.

"Your reference to common courtesy of prepublication notice is apparently a 'do as I say, not as I do,' " he wrote.

Sinding, reached at her office in New York, said the resource council stands by its report, but declined to comment beyond the letters.

In her July 3 letter to Krancer, she noted that the DEP's responsibility, as spelled out in its mission statement, is to protect Pennsylvania's air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment.

"Despite that obligation, nowhere in your three-page letter . . . did you even once acknowledge the need to further strengthen either federal or state laws and rules governing hydraulic fracturing practices or related gas- and oil-industry wastewater activities," she wrote.

Krancer argues that Pennsylvania has done much to regulate the oil and gas industry, including upgrades to well construction standards and disposal methods.

The feud with the resource council originated with publication of the organization's 113-page report, which asserted that no method of wastewater disposal is adequate to protect human health and the environment. It held out Pennsylvania as an example of how not to respond to the industry, saying that a majority of Pennsylvania's fracking wastewater was being discharged into waterways without adequate treatment, that there was little recycling taking place.

But Krancer argued that shortly after the Corbett administration entered office last year it ordered an end to a practice that allowed some Marcellus drillers to send wastewater to municipal treatment plants, which can only dilute rather than remove the pollutants. He said the state's order had effectively ended the discharge of inadequately treated wastewater into waterways.

Krancer also argued that more than 90 percent of wastewater is now being recycled, and that the council's "math seems to be off" because it was counting wastewater sent to treatment facilities that was being recycled as being discharged.

Krancer was also irked that the report said Pennsylvania disposed of some Marcellus wastewater by applying it to dirt roads for dust suppression, which Krancer said is incorrect - the practice is not permitted. In addition, he took umbrage that the council cited the on-site storage in plastic-lined pits as a disposal method, when he referred to it as short-term storage.

"I am aware of the NRDC's long-standing opposition to natural gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing," Krancer wrote in his June 25 letter to the organization. "I do hope that NRDC's constitutional adversity to natural gas as a fuel will not prevent open-minded discussion and fair fact finding."

Sinding, in her July 3 letter, said the council disagreed with all of Krancer's assertions.

Krancer, like Corbett, is an unabashed supporter of shale-gas development, which he regards as the state's major economic driver. But argues that the industry is more closely regulated than critics are willing to acknowledge.

"I think we regulate the natural gas exploration and extraction industry just like we do every other industry in the state," he said. "I would not agree there is a bias one way or another."

Krancer's combativeness has struck a chord with industry supporters such as Energy in Depth, the Washington advocacy group that is also known for its impertinence.

"One can understand why Secretary Krancer would be frustrated with mischaracterizations of Pennsylvania's oil and gas regulatory program," said John Krohn, an Energy in Depth spokesman. "Having updated its regulations in 2010 and 2012, tightening wastewater treatment requirements, and increasing field inspectors and its focus on enforcement, DEP is doing quite a bit more than NRDC, and others, are giving them credit for."

Anti-drilling activists say Krancer's tone is demoralizing. Though PennEnvironment apologized last year after publishing the photo of a flooded drilling rig in Pakistan that was misrepresented as being in the Marcellus, Krancer's agency continues to cite the incident whenever it wants to dismiss the activists' concerns, said Masur, the PennEnvironment director.

"The administration can do whatever they want - they control the legislature," said Masur. "The secretary has pooh-poohed concerns about drilling. Why bark at people? You're already king of the hill."

A Running Battle

May 9. The Natural Resources Defense Council in New York issues a report: "In Fracking's Wake: New Rules Are Needed to Protect Our Health and Environment from Contaminated Wastewater," singling out Pennsylvania's regulatory practices for criticism ( NRDC's news release states that Pennsylvania last year discharged a "majority" of its fracking wastewater into rivers "including drinking water supplies," though the state had actually halted the practice. Kate Sinding, NRDC's fracking expert, blogs that Pennsylvania "has much more work to do to bring its own rules into line with the report's recommendations."

June 25. Michael Krancer, the state's secretary for environmental protection, challenges NRDC the day before he and Sinding are scheduled to appear together at a conference in Hershey. (DEP also issues a news release: "PA DEP Secretary Krancer Starts Dialogue with Natural Resources Defense Council to Correct Recent Report." Sinding cancels her appearance at the Hershey conference, calling Krancer's claims "malicious" and "erroneous."

July 3. NRDC responds to Krancer, suggesting the secretary should have the "common courtesy" of reaching out directly to the environmental group rather than posting his challenge through a news release.

July 30. Krancer responds to Sinding, pointing out that NRDC had not contacted Pennsylvania regulators before publishing its critical report. "Your reference to common courtesy of pre-publication notice is apparently a 'do as I say, not as I do.' "

Link to the documents at

Contact Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947, @Maykuth on Twitter or

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