“Darn Close to Zero” Wastewater In PA Treatment Facilities, Says Secretary Krancer

Yesterday evening, DEP Secretary Michael Krancer joined a four member panel at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. The panel included University of Pennsylvania Professor Richard Pepino, Rep. P. Michael Sturla (D., Lancaster) and ANS Senior Scientist, David Velinsky, who has studied the deleterious effects of industrial shale gas drilling on water supplies.

It was a full, but not packed, auditorium and heckling was – for the most part – polite. It was by design a calm conversation about why we have to frack for shale gas (cuz we like air-conditioning) and why we gotta “get it right” right now (cuz it’s coming, ready or not). It was generally agreed among all panelists, save Krancer, that the Delaware River Watershed is particularly appealing to drillers and Governor Corbett’s Office is basically a fact-free zone. Tom Corbett was the invisible boogie man in the room.

Krancer immediately impressed upon the audience that PA’s drilling regulatory program is “robust” and that he intends to be known as “the enforcement secretary.” Let’s hope!

It’s a big accomplishment, indeed, that the DEP has managed to stop gas drillers from depositing frack waste in PA’s antiquated waste treatment plants, and “in 28 days, not 28 months.” Our tap water is certainly much safer for it, yet this also underscores the serious problem of disposing of all the newly produced frack waste (fluids, sludge and brine) which we will soon have in larger volumes than ever before. Krancer pointed to the Bradford Well Blowout, and the record-level fine the department imposed. He stressed the importance of local response teams, and not having to wait, in that case nearly four days, for a clean up crew to arrive with equipment from Texas.

When asked about the role of the EPA in the enforcement of regulations on the Gas Industry, Krancer stressed  the state’s knowledge of its geology and topography. “We do it very well,” he said. “We’ll do it better than the Feds.”

The DEP has a long way to go if it wants to convince a room full of scientists and environmentalists, no matter how polite, that fracking for shale gas doesn’t pollute air and water. Nor can he justify the department’s overly efficient approval of new drilling permits in record numbers. At this rate, Krancer’s regulatory team will soon be charged with a heck of a lot of “gum shoe work.”

“Fracking is better than strip mining,” Krancer assured the audience, as if that’s our only other option. “There’s no question this is a cleaner-burning fuel.”

When it comes to air quality, Krancer “sees a lot of promise” in the future of natural gas, and he will “take issue” with the Cornell study in which Professors Howarth and Ingraffea concluded that the full life-cycle of shale gas emissions is worse on Global Warming than coal. Krancer went on to cite growing demand for Gas in our state’s energy mix, and mentioned a successful state pilot program which converted most of Lower Merion Township’s school buses to Natural Gas. I have been driving behind those same buses for a few years now, and his point is well taken.

Later, Krancer showed a bit of spunk by quoting EPA Chief Lisa Jackson who said that there is no evidence of fracking polluting a water supply, however, he omitted mention of Jackson’s repeated calls for greater and more detailed scientific study.

The discussion on the panel quickly turned to shallow, thermogenic methane migration but it was interrupted by an audience member before the debate gained traction. However, Krancer did have a chance to indicate that he would like the DEP scientists to conduct a peer review of the Duke Water Study, but that Duke Scientists had not been forthcoming with their supporting data. He said they would not disclose the locations of the sampling sites in the study, which found a 17% increase in methane migration when fracking occured within 1,000 feet of the 68 drinking water wells tested. “Duke says whatever Duke wants,” Krancer commented.

As Rep. Sturla aptly maintained, “We’re still babes in the woods” when it comes to fees/taxation and overall regulation. We need an Environmental Stewardship Fund. And while the DEP’s first big accomplishment should be lauded, Pennsylvania is still playing catch up.

“New tariffs” Krancer concurred, “will not be enough.”

In general, Secretary Krancer insists he is “driven by facts, driven by science.” He’s also a boss who wants to be told what you think he doesn’t want to hear. Okay, boss…

Secretary Krancer,
The long term, cumulative impacts of fracking in the Marcellus Shale are only just beginning to be studied. We don’t know where the drilling pollution tipping point will be. We can’t afford to find out.

It’s impossible for DEP regulators, at any budget levels, to ensure citizens that all gas well sties in Pennsylvania are properly cased and cemented, that all the frack waste is contained and disposed of adequately, and that none of the toxins are finding their way into our drinking water.

Governor Corbett appears to have no plan, but he is content to run out the clock while your department issues more and more drilling permits. The Public is looking to the DEP to have a strong and swift role in shaping policy. The DEP’s recommendations to the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission are a great start, but they don’t go far enough. Rational, moderate Pennsylvanians simply want to see a positive energy plan in which there is more support, ideologically, for the advancement of non-fossil renewables. We want to see a green revolution funded by gas profits.

The people of Southeastern Pennsylvania are truly counting on the DEP. You are our Paul Revere, to borrow Professor Pepino’s useful analogy, but even he would have gladly used a forever stamp.

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