Pennsylvania state Rep. Jesse White (D-Cecil), who has frequently voiced his opposition to the state’s omnibus Marcellus Shale law and the potential impacts of gas drilling in the state, sent e-mails to Range Resources Inc. — the largest driller in his home county — asking for campaign contributions and a ride to the 2011 Superbowl on Range’s corporate plane.
“Just found out I have a few tickets for the game and am looking at our travel arrangements,” White wrote in an e-mail sent to Range COO Ray Walker Jan. 28, 2011. The Pittsburgh Steelers were to play the Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX, on Feb. 6, 2011. “If the Range plane was heading down, any chance we could stowaway in the cargo hold?”
“No plane. Sorry,” Walker replied by e-mail later the same day, according to documents obtained from Range by NGI.
White did not respond to requests for comment, but he has said the request was a joke, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
In an earlier e-mail, White suggested that a former aide of his who was working for Range might oversee the planning of a campaign fundraising event that the company was organizing for him and worried that he might “get shortchanged,” according to the newspaper.
“It’s always been Range’s approach to have good relationships with the community, which includes lawmakers. In working with Representative White, frankly, we became uncomfortable with his tactics and behavior,” the company said. “He went from reasonable to ridiculous, and people here just deserve better. He may think his antics are part of some game, but these are real issues, involving real people, looking for real solutions, not grandstanding or politicking.”
White is an opponent of Act 13, the state’s omnibus Marcellus Shale law (see NGI, Feb. 13), and he recently blasted the state’s Public Utility Commission for withholding impact fee revenue from four townships challenging the law (see NGI, Oct. 22). Earlier this month he called for federal and state authorities to investigate the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), alleging that it committed fraud and misconduct when it tested water supplies suspected of being tainted by natural gas drilling, allegations which were denied by DEP (see NGI, Nov. 5).
DEP Secretary Michael Krancer on Thursday blasted White 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.” Krancer made his remarks during a question-and-answer session with analysts and reporters at Hart Energy’s DUG East Conference in Pittsburgh.
“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.”
“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 the Environmental Hearing Board for the case on Sept. 26 (Kiskadden v. DEP, No. 2-11-149-R). Her testimony was then entered as evidencein Washington County Common Pleas Court (Haney et al. v. Range Resources et al.,No. 2012-3534). 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 NGI, June 18).
“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 peppered 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.”
In September White introduced two bills to amend the state constitution and make the secretary of the DEP a commissioner post elected by the public, rather than one appointed by the governor (see NGI, Sept. 10). He submitted one bill in February to encourage companies to drill in the Marcellus; in June he submitted another to impose a surtax on natural gas production, the revenue from which would be used to lure Royal Dutch Shell plc to build an ethane cracker in Monaca, PA.
In 2011, shortly after the Superbowl e-mails were exchanged, White said he wanted to form a cooperative so that local municipalities could share ideas and resources as they manage development of the Marcellus Shale.
Range recently canceled a meeting with the Cecil Township Board of Supervisors just hours before it was scheduled to begin. In a column published on canon-mcmillan.patch.com, White said the company backed out because he had pushed to open the meeting to the public.
White was first elected to the state House in 2006 and won reelection in 2008, 2010 and again this year. His district includes Cecil, Mount Pleasant and Robinson townships in Washington County, and part of South Fayette Township in Allegheny County. All of the towns are plaintiffs in a legal challenge to Act 13, Pennsylvania’s omnibus Marcellus Shale law. The case is headed to an appeal before the state Supreme Court (see NGI, Oct. 2; April 2).
Range was operating nine rigs in the Marcellus in late October, more than any other operator except EQT Resources (nine rigs), Antero Resources (10 rigs) and Chevron (12 rigs), and six more than it was operating in the play a year ago.
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