Thursday, March 24, 2011

DEP Says Illegal Dumping Of Drilling Wastewater Not Widespread

Acting Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer told the Senate Appropriations Committee today the illegal dumping of Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater is not a widespread practice in spite of the impression left by a recent case in Greene County.
Last week agents from the Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Section filed charges against a Greene County business owner and his company for illegally dumping millions of gallons of wastewater from drilling operations and other sources.
Krancer said as long as he has been involved with environmental issues there have always been criminals, but that activity will not be tolerated by DEP or the Attorney General, saying they are "all over it like a ton of bricks."
Testimony: Copy Of Written Testimony (same as in the House)
Here's a summary of some of the major topics discussed at the hearing.
Radioactivity In Water From Marcellus Drilling: In response to a question by Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, about the New York Times articles on testing drinking water for radioactivity, Krancer said testing by his agency through its stream monitoring network showed nothing above background levels. He noted DEP is also asking drinking water and wastewater treatment plants to do additional testing for radioactivity.
Krancer said DEP has promoted the recycling of drilling wastewater which is already done extensively by the industry. In addition, new requirements regulating the discharge of Total Dissolved Solids are in effect and will increase the agency's ability to deal with these issues.
Krancer said there are 27 wastewater plants approved by DEP to treat drilling wastewater.
Later in the hearing, Krancer noted the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water program said last year he had seen no evidence fracking fluids have caused any problems, yet EPA sent the state a letter a few weeks ago raising concerns.
In response to a questions from Sen. John Pippy (R-Allegheny) and Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Minority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on whether DEP has tested fracking fluids to confirm its contents, Krancer said he would be open to discussing that and would get back to the Committee with additional information.
Sen. Hughes commented the public is concerned about whether their drinking water is safe and that DEP has enough people to make sure drilling is done right.
Krancer said he shares that concern and it is his job to ensure drilling companies follow the law and regulations.
Illegal Dumping Of Drilling Water: In response to a question from Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, about the recent case involving the illegal dumping of millions of gallons of drilling and other wastewater in Greene County, Krancer said as long as he has been involved with environmental issues there have always been criminals, but that activity will not be tolerated by DEP or the Attorney General.
He said he does not believe illegal dumping is a common practice, but said they are "all over it like a ton of bricks."
Marcellus Shale Impact Fees: In response to a question from Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia) about the potential of Gov. Corbett to support a Marcellus Shale impact fee, Krancer said he read the same newspapers, adding he was not at the press conference where the Governor made his remarks.
Sen. Gordner noted Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and others in the Senate have talked about the need for a community impact fee.
Gas Well Inspectors: Krancer said DEP has "the boots on the ground" to do the inspections required to make sure there is compliance with the law, saying there are 78 DEP inspectors working in the field. He noted DEP is on track to do about 7,200 Marcellus Shale natural gas well inspections this year, up from 5,000 last year.
Krancer said if there is a need to add additional staff they would add the staff saying staff costs are supported by permit application fees.
Conservation District Review Of Drilling Permits: Sen. Mary Jo White asked Krancer to review the policy which took away the ability of county conservation districts to review Marcellus Shale drilling permits.
Krancer said they are reviewing all the policies and regulations in the agency to determine if they are effective or should be changed and that is one of them.
Reporting Gas Well Violations: Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) asked about the number of violations from Marcellus Shale wells, how those violations are reported and the penalties imposed. Krancer said he tends to focus on the violations that have real environmental consequences, not where someone made a spelling error or left a soda can on the site. He was going to get back to the Committee with more specifics.
In response to a follow up question from Sen. Pippy about the need to offer a more organized approach to presenting violations and inspection information on Marcellus Shale wells, Krancer said he is always looking to increase the ability to share information with the public.
Sen. Pippy also asked if Krancer would support an increase in penalties for well violations. Krancer said those who do not follow the rules have a market advantage and he would like to look at that issue.
Increased Bonding For Gas Infrastructure: In response to a question from Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) about increasing bonding rates for Marcellus Shale gas wells and pipelines, Krancer said that will probably be a topic discussed by the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission beginning this week.
Regulatory Philosophy: Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) expressed a concern about Marcellus Shale drilling, noting some people are "freaking over fracking" and asked what Krancer's philosophy is on regulating drilling under the state's Article I, Section 27 Environmental Rights Amendment to the state's constitution.
Krancer said he has no philosophy, he follows the law and the constitution and the facts in doing his job.
Marcellus Shale Air Policy: In response to a question from Sen. Mary Jo White about revisiting the air aggregation policy on how to regulate air emissions from facilities such as natural gas compressors, Krancer said the document was an interim guidance issued without public or even internal review and was a compilation of how decisions were made in this area and did not offer good guidance to staff.
He said federal law requires decisions to be made on case-by-case basis and that's what the agency is going to continue to do.
DEP Staff Working On Unrelated Projects: In response to a question from Sen. White about the complexity of funding sources and DEP staff administering hundreds of energy and federal stimulus projects when they would otherwise be reviewing permits or make inspections, Krancer said it has tied up valuable staff time and contributed to the permit backlog. He also said it has helped to lower staff morale when you have a DEP geologist, for example, checking to see if a solar panel is installed properly.
Infrastructure/Growing Greener Funding: Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) expressed concern about the fact Growing Greener II is out of funding and funding for local drinking water and wastewater projects is being reduced and asked if there are other sources available to fund these projects.
Krancer said there are many programs looking for funding and in these difficult budget times the state needs to be creative in looking to fulfill those needs.
Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) urged DEP to consider additional sources of funding for wastewater system improvements through the H2O and other programs.
Sen. Mary Jo White commented the Rendell Administration wanted to get the Growing Greener money upfront and pushed for enactment of the Growing Greener II bond issue. She said the money is still there, but now most of the funds coming into the Growing Greener Program are now going to pay debt service for the bonds.
Sen. Yudichak agreed with the value of the Growing Greener Program, particularly for mine reclamation, and asked if the Administration has a plan to renew funding for the program. Krancer said he did not know now where that issue is going, although it is being discussed.
Chesapeake Bay TMDL: In response to a question from Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) about Pennsylvania meeting the requirements of the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay TMDL, Krancer said Pennsylvania has some disagreements with the federal government on several issues related to the Bay requirements.
He said he favors more use of market-based solutions, like nutrient credit trading, to reducing nutrients going into rivers and streams because they are economically and environmentally more efficient.
Sen. Smucker also expressed concern about the need to comply with requirements to eliminate combined sewer overflows, like in the city of Lancaster.
Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster) asked whether DEP is considering legal action against EPA over the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. Krancer said litigation is a last option for resolving the Bay issues, noting DEP has "not yet begun to fight" for Pennsylvania's interests.
Pressed again by Sen. Brubaker, Krancer said he would like to argue their points more aggressively first with EPA before considering litigation.
In response to a follow up question from Sen. Brubaker, Krancer said Pennsylvania farmers have stepped up to the plate and are doing great work in reducing nutrients and sediments from farmland. The state, however, has not been given enough credit for that and in some cases not even counted those projects and they should.
Part of his approach on Chesapeake Bay issues, Krancer said, will be as a strong advocate for Pennsylvania solutions.
Nuclear Power Plant Role: In response to a question from Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, about the role DEP has in overseeing Pennsylvania's nuclear plants, Krancer said DEP has a major role and noted preparation for emergencies is built into the construction of the plants and in emergency response planning around the facilities.
DEP has five nuclear reactor sites and assigns its own engineers at each of these sites, provides monitoring and other oversight at the facilities in addition to being involved in emergency planning and response.
DCED Permit Acceleration: Sen. Ferlo asked about a line in the Governor's budget announcement about the Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary being given authority to speed up permit reviews in any state agency and encouraged the Corbett Administration to issue an Executive Order to define "friction-free" permit processing.
Krancer said he felt this whole issue was overblown by stories in the media.
He said this is about all the agencies working together to "cooperation communicate and coordination," especially in this difficult economy on economic development projects. It has nothing to do with suspending existing law or responsibility or giving DCED any additional authority.
Environmental Education: Sen. Mary Jo White expressed concern about the zeroing out of funding for the PA Center for Environmental Education and the McKeever Environmental Education Center saying they perform valuable functions for the Commonwealth at the DEP budget hearing and at an earlier budget featuring Dr. John Cavanaugh, Chancellor, PA State System of Higher Education.
Flood Control Funding: In response to a question about a $3.5 million reduction in the flood control project funding, Krancer said the reduction does not affect DEP's Dam Safety Program or funding for projects through the Capital Budget process. He said it will affect funding for some very localized projects which may or may not be funded by local sponsors, noting these are part of the tough budget decisions that need to be made.
In a follow up question about whether the reduction will cause any loss of staff, Krancer said they are hoping to work to make sure there are no furloughs.
Delaware River Flooding: Sen. Bob Mensch expressed concern that the management of the Delaware River flows by the Delaware River Basin Commission is aggravating flooding along the river. Krancer said he is personally aware of the flooding issues and the DRBC activities are guided by a U.S. Supreme Court decision and said he is working closely with the Commission on that issue.
Solar Industry/Alternative Energy: Asked by Sen. Smucker about whether there is a need to increase the solar mandate in the state's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, Krancer said he is "old fashioned" and looks to the market to pick energy and other technologies. He said he did not see Gov. Corbett proposing to increase the AEPS mandate.
Krancer said DEP will not be the only voice on setting the state's energy policy. It will be a cooperative effort through Patrick Henderson, the Governor's Energy Executive.
Future Of Coal: In response to a question from Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill) on the future of coal, Krancer said for the foreseeable future, coal will be an important part of Pennsylvania's energy future and doing without it would mean living much differently until alternatives come online.
Energy Independence: Sen. Yudichak asked if the new Administration has any new plans to promote energy independence. Krancer said the natural gas industry has a staggering potential for helping to achieve energy independence, noting it is a cleaner and low carbon fuel alternative.

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