Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Krancer took aim at a state lawmaker for accusing his agency of wrongdoing when it tested water supplies allegedly tainted by natural gas drilling.
During a question-and-answer session with analysts and reporters at Hart Energy’s DUG East Conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Krancer blasted Rep. Jesse White (D-Cecil) as someone “who jumped on that bandwagon, and who I think we’ve seen lately is probably hitting below his own body weight in credibility and integrity, and apparently also in ethnic sensitivity.”
Earlier this month, White accused the DEP of fraud and misconduct by not disclosing the results of tests for 16 metals in water sampling (see Shale Daily, Nov. 5). The lawmaker cited the testimony of a DEP official before the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) in September, remarks that were then entered as evidence in a separate case against Range Resources Inc.
“It’s a completely manufactured issue from a law firm that is pursuing a private personal injury case,” Krancer said, adding that he wrote letters to White on Nov. 6 and 9 addressing what he called “really false charges.”
“The bottom line is our oil and gas program is asked to do investigations,” Krancer said. “It determines which parameters are required to answer the question that’s posed by that investigation, and that is whether oil and gas operations have impacted a certain water supply. Those parameters are chosen for that purpose. Other results are not QA/QC’d, which means they’re not valid results, which means they’re not results.
“It’s that simple, and no laboratory in the country would see it any differently. We don’t do anything different here than is done in a handful of states: New York, Michigan, Ohio. The way we approach that question is completely consistent with how it’s done throughout the country.”
Pressed on the issue by local Pittsburgh reporters, Krancer added, “It’s not simply a matter of cost, it’s a matter of answering the question that the investigation is aimed at answering. It’s that simple. Those analysts are chosen by our experts, our investigators and our lab, and we’re not the only ones who make the same choice.
“Frankly, we’re happy to discuss our processes and procedures with anybody at any time. There’s never a closed door. But what we do like to see, though, is folks that know what they’re talking about come to the table and talk about these issues, not plaintiff’s law firms and not state representatives. Frankly, [White] doesn’t have the faintest idea what he’s talking about.”
DEP Bureau of Laboratories Technical Director Taru Upadhyay testified before EHB for the case Kiskadden v. DEP (Docket No. 2-11-149-R) on Sept. 26. Her testimony was then entered as evidence for the case Haney et al. v. Range Resources et al. (Case No. 2012-3534), in Washington County Common Pleas Court.
In the Haney case, several families near Range’s Yeager site in Amwell Township allege that Range Resources Appalachia LLC and two independent water testing labs conspired to hide evidence of drinking water contamination (see Shale Daily, May 31).
“The plaintiff’s lawyers have made these allegations,” Krancer said. “Our folks did not say what they said they said. It’s that simple, and it’s coming out in the context of them trying to win a personal injury case, or to get an early settlement, either one. For them, it’s a win either way.”
Pittsburgh reporters continued to pepper Krancer with questions about White’s accusations. When asked about calls for an investigation into the way the DEP handled the water testing results, Krancer said, “I haven’t had any discussions yet with the auditor general-elect. We will have those discussions, if and when they become ripe and appropriate. We will do what is appropriate and required.”
But he upbraided another reporter for not reading his letters to White. “Do your homework and then come ask me an intelligent question,” Krancer said.
On other issues, Krancer said he was hopeful that the DEP would have some input into possible federal regulations governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
“We’re [working to] see that we have a seat at the table for discussions at the federal level and be a part of the discussion as best we can,” Krancer said. “I still believe that the federal government ought not to be the party regulating these issues. It’s a message I’ve taken, and a message that lots of folks do agree with. Certainly, regulators in other sovereign states feel the same way and a lot of folks in Congress feel the same way.”
The secretary also pointed to the DEP’s efforts to have regulatory consistency across the state. “That’s a project we’ve been working on since I was sworn in, consistency among the regions. It’s not tolerable, frankly. The law is the law; the regulation is the regulation, whether it’s in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Williamsport or wherever.
“We have 2,600 people [working at the DEP]. Are we going to be perfect on that every day of the year? Probably not, but we’re going to be working darned hard, and have been, to get to a consistent letter of the law approach to the application of the rules and regulations.”
E-mails between White — an opponent of Act 13, the state’s omnibus Marcellus Shale law — and Range show the lawmaker had asked the company for campaign contributions and travel to Super Bowl XLV in 2011 on the company plane. “No plane. Sorry,” Range COO Ray Walker replied by e-mail later the same day, according to documents obtained from Range by NGI’s Shale Daily (see Shale Daily, Nov. 15).
White’s district includes Cecil, Mount Pleasant and Robinson townships in Washington County, and part of South Fayette Township in Allegheny County. All are plaintiffs in the legal challenge to Act 13, Pennsylvania’s new omnibus Marcellus Shale law. The case is now before the state Supreme Court (see Shale Daily, Oct. 18; July 27; April 2).
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