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DEP Nominee Addresses Environmental Concerns Of Gas Drilling

By   /   March 2, 2011  /   No Comments

Says New York Times article contains “points of information”

Gov. Tom Corbett’s pick to head the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said Wednesday the department’s core function is protecting public safety while providing accurate and accountable information on the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.

The development of the Marcellus shale natural gas deposit beneath the state will be the major concern facing Michael Krancer if he is confirmed as DEP secretary. Environmental groups are concerned the drilling industry will permanently damage the state’s natural resources, but Mr. Krancer told the Senate Environment and Energy Committee the development can be done appropriately.

“Natural gas has a great potential to be a clean energy source and we have to do it right to protect drinking water and the environment,” said Mr. Krancer.

Michael Krancer, acting DEP Secretary

In a pair of stories published this week, The New York Times questioned whether drilling wastewater is being treated adequately before it is released into the environment in Pennsylvania.  The article was also critical of drilling inspections by the state.

Mr. Krancer was questioned by Republican and Democrat members of the committee about the content and accuracy of the article.  He said he read the article “with great interest” on Sunday but generally steered away from endorsing or denouncing its conclusions.

“The article, like everything else, is points of information.  It is pieces of information that we need to consider and evaluate,” said Mr. Krancer.  “That’s what I’m doing right now, I’m reading the article like everyone else.”

Earlier this week, former DEP Secretary John Hanger called the article “a malicious attempt to mischaracterize how Pennsylvania regulates its industry.”

Mr. Krancer did take issue with some of the statistics presented in the article.

The New York Times reported DEP has 31 inspectors to handle more than 71,000 active gas wells in Pennsylvania. Mr. Krancer said the department has 78 inspectors dedicated to inspecting the state’s Marcellus shale gas wells, of which there are fewer than 2,500 currently drilled, though more are expected.  Only about 1,100 of those wells are currently active.

There are more than 71,000 gas wells in the commonwealth, but 96 percent of them are conventional shallow wells.

Mr. Krancer said the article revealed the importance of accurate information to be made available by the DEP.

“It is part of the role of the department to help the public to discern,” said Mr. Krancer. “We have to deal with facts and not with fear or fiction.”

Committee Chair Mary Jo White (R-Venango) asked if more testing or more inspectors are needed.

A Marcellus shale natural gas well in Pennsylvania

Mr. Krancer said the department has enough “boots on the ground” to inspect all the wells currently being drilled.  All inspections are unannounced and more than 5,000 separate inspections took place last year, he said.

Well inspections are funded by the permit fees paid by drilling companies.

Mr. Krancer is well acquainted with environmental issues after spending 10 years as a judge on the state’s Environmental Hearing Board.  He was nominated by former Gov. Tom Ridge to serve on the board in 1999. He has also served as assistant general counsel for the Exelon Corporation, an energy company based in Chicago.  Exelon owns PECO, the major electric company in southeast Pennsylvania.

Mr. Krancer’s wife Barbara denoted $6,500 to Mr. Corbett’s recent gubernatorial campaign, according to state records.

His nomination was unanimously supported by the committee.  The full state Senate will vote to confirm him in the coming weeks.

In statements, both Republican and Democrat chairs of the committee supported his confirmation.

“Pennsylvania faces a host of challenges, and opportunities, in the area of environmental protection and energy, and I believe Michael Krancer will bring to the job a depth of knowledge and a temperament that is widely respected in the field,” said Ms. White. “I urge my colleagues to support this nomination when it comes before the full Senate.”

“I applaud the committee’s unanimous approval of Michael Krancer as DEP Secretary,” said state Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), the committee’s minority chair. “Michael Krancer recognizes the importance of protecting Pennsylvania’s environment and natural resources. I am particularly pleased that he is mindful of the natural gas and alternative energy industries coming to Pennsylvania and what this will mean to the state.”