DEP chief Krancer defends agency from critics of water testing practices
By Timothy Puko
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012, 3:30 p.m.
Updated: Friday, November 16, 2012
The chief of the state Department of Environmental Protection fired back at critics of his agency's water testing policy while in Pittsburgh on Thursday, calling it an issue manufactured by personal injury lawyers.
DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, who spoke at the DUG East energy conference, referred to several dozen protesters outside as less imposing than opposition he sees as a Civil War re-enactor.
Diane Sipe, 65, a protest organizer from Evans City, called his comments outrageous and “very unbecoming” of a public official.
Krancer said the Cecil law firm of Smith Butz misrepresented recent testimony from DEP staff in a lawsuit alleging pollution from hydraulic fracturing operations in Washington County.
He said state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, “doesn't have the faintest idea what he's talking about” when White says that DEP testimony in the case indicates the agency is hiding some test results.
“That's a completely manufactured issue, manufactured by a law firm that's pursuing a personal injury case,” Krancer told reporters after his speech at Hart Energy's annual conference on unconventional gas, which includes shale drilling.
“A state representative jumped on that bandwagon (with Smith Butz) when that state representative — we've seen lately — is hitting below his own body weight in credibility and ethnic sensitivity,” Krancer said.
The Tribune-Review this week detailed the unraveling of White's relationship with Range Resources Inc., Washington County's largest driller.
“For a man who's running an agency that apparently has nothing to hide, he certainly is awfully defensive and awfully mean-spirited,” White said of Krancer's remarks. Reached by phone, White said he was on his way to visitation for his grandmother, Vivian V. White, at Coleman-Taylor Funeral Home in Cecil.
Range released three pages of emails showing White asked for a company plane ride to the Super Bowl in 2011 and repeatedly asked for fundraising help in 2010 before becoming one of the company's fiercest critics in the next year.
Range and critics of shale gas drilling described White as insensitive for writing an online column that noted a Range subcontractor hired Hispanics who could barely speak English instead of local workers.
White has suggested criminal and ethical investigations of DEP because it publicly reports only partial data from well-water contamination tests.
The agency tests for a range of chemicals but releases fully analyzed results, which prove or disprove contamination, for only a few chemicals. It won't release data that have not undergone quality-control analysis, Krancer said.
The disclosure issue emerged two weeks ago from depositions in a lawsuit led by Smith Butz.
Firm co-founder John M. Smith noted the DEP does not dispute that it withholds some information. Independent water experts said DEP could help landowners by releasing complete results but that the agency follows industry standards.
“Our primary purpose is to make sure that all the data that is available be made available to Pennsylvania citizens,” Smith said. He declined to comment further, citing the lawsuit.
Sipe of Marcellus Outreach Butler said she counted about 50 people protesting DEP's water-testing policy and any shale gas drilling on college campuses.
“If you can't argue the facts because they're not on your side, then you attack the people making those arguments,” Sipe said. “He's a public servant. He doesn't quite understand what public means. It doesn't mean gas industry only. He's paid by the people of Pennsylvania, and he needs to understand he represents us.”
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or email@example.com.
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