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Krancer doth protest too much: Spin machine gone wild on methane migration; Health advocates accused of “air war”

June 26, 2013

Michael Krancer. Photo: Post-Gazette, “Pennsylvania Environmental Secretary Mike Krancer to Step Down”

Former PA DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, now working for the Marcellus Shale Coalition member law firm Blank, Rome, is still going to bat for the shale gas industry. Blank, Rome recently made headlines when news media exposed their donation of $15-25 thousand dollars worth of gifts to Governor Corbett. Now Krancer appears to be betraying even his corporate clients’ interests by skewing the facts about shale gas drilling impacts so wildly that the truth is almost unrecognizable.

For example, in a recent newsletter Blank, Rome sent to clients, Krancer discussed methane migration. He said:

 “Even one case of methane migration is surely too many, but even if one does happen it can be addressed and corrected both in terms of the impacted water supply and the well itself.”

Even if one does happen? Really, Mr. Krancer?

The actual, documented well casing failure rate for Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania, based on data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection during Michael Krancer’s tenure, was 8.9% for 2012 alone… and that is only the well casing failures PA DEP actually found. The actual acute failure rate is likely to be substantially higher; and that 8.9% figure, which comes from Anthony Ingraffea’s research staff at Cornell University crunching PA DEP data, only represents the immediate, one-year failure rate. Over time, the failure rate of cement well casings goes up to 50% within a decade or two, and to 100% within 100 years — yet our waterways must be protected from fluid migration from Marcellus Shale gas drilling for perpetuity.

Based on those numbers — let alone the hundreds of water contamination complaints and the sprouting of water buffaloes (containers holding clean potable replacement water) in shale country, PA — there have likely been hundreds of cases of methane migration so far caused by Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Sometimes methane migration is extremely dangerous, as when at least two homes blew up in Bradford Township, McKean County, early in 2011.

A home in Bradford, Pennsylvania (not Bradford County but Bradford, McKean County) which blew up apparaently due to methane migration.

It’s highly unlikely that Krancer could be unaware of either the failure rate, the total numbers of failed wells, or the fact that Pennsylvania’s “robust” regulations, as Krancer likes to spin them, have resulted not in any decrease in well casing failures and methane migration, but rather in an increase in the well casing failure rate, up from 6.2% in 2010 to 7.2% in 2011 and 8.9% for 2012.

So, why the dissembling? Aren’t business clients best served by understanding what’s really going on?

Distracting Attention Away from Science

The  Blank, Rome newsletter is dated June 2013, making it appear as if Krancer’s dissembling is designed specifically to coincide with — and for those who buy the spin, to emotionally counter — the release this week of a scientific study showing that methane, ethane and propane concentrations are, in fact, higher in water wells within a kilometer of gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

Rob Jackson, PhD - at Quail Ridge Books

Rob Jackson, PhD, co-author of water contamination study. Photo: Quail Ridge Books

The study, a careful and thorough expansion of the 2011 Duke water study, examined over 140 water wells in Bradford, Lackawanna, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.  “Our research strongly suggests contamination with stray gas for a subset of homeowners,” said co-author Robert Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke.

The industry doesn’t like the study one bit, so they are trotting out their spokesmen aggressively in an attempt to drown out the quiet but persistent voice of science. Michael Krancer behaves as one such spokesman, forever loyal to industry talking points, regardless of who writes his paycheck. His referring to methane migration “as if” one case of methane migration might, hypothetically, happen someday is not, technically, a lie. It is simply grossly emotionally manipulative. Which is kind of funny, because aren’t we public health advocates supposed to be the ones who are so emotional?

Krancer Refers to Health Advocates as Waging an “Air War”

Taking an even more aggressive tone, Krancer goes on to attack the Clean Air Council in another Blank, Rome publication. Clean Air Council is pressing PA DEP to aggregate (combine) Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry sources of air pollution, in order to better protect the public from the industry’s intense air pollution.

The goal in every instance of Clean Air Council’s legal actions is to protect the lungs of people — newborn infants, elders, asthmatics, growing children, pregnant women. Every Pennsylvania resident who lives in the two-thirds of the state with shale gas underneath is at risk for exposure to “single” sources of pollution which cumulatively can make them sick, with impacts not only on lungs but also on neurological and reproductive health. Is it really appropriate to use the term Americans used for our own military’s deadly carpet bombing of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia — “air war” — in a cutesy way to vent annoyance about Clean Air Council’s hard work?

The Blank, Rome post, called “The All-Out Litigation ‘Air War’ Over PA DEP’s Oil and Gas Midstream ‘Air Aggregation’ Decisions Rages On,” has Krancer’s byline.

Krancer is clearly disappointed by a decision Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board made to listen to evidence presented by Clean Air Council in the case of MarkWest. While MarkWest is responsible for widespread air pollution, it first came to my attention as the company responsible for driving Joseph Giovannini and others out of their homes due to intense chemical fumes.

Here is Krancer: “The case is Clean Air Council v. Commonwealth, EHB Docket No. 2011-072-R. The Board denied MarkWest’s motion to preclude the Clean Air Council (“CAC”) or the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) from introducing any evidence on the issue of “functional interrelationship” among MarkWest’s eleven different facilities over a 40-square mile area. The CAC had appealed the DEP’s decision to not aggregate all of these facilities as a “single source” for air permitting purposes.”

There you have it. The Environmental Hearing Board shows some backbone and refuses an intensely polluting corporation’s motion to deny evidence of the connection between these eleven MarkWest facilities. And in a snit, Krancer calls this an “air war.”

Right, Mr. Krancer. And would you like to move into the former home of stonemason Joseph Giovannini, who built his beautiful stone Central Pennsylvania home with his father and expected to live out the rest of his years there, only to find himself cementing the windows shut in a desperate attempt to keep the fumes out when the MarkWest plant began operating? Thanks only to the kindness of former industry worker turned whistleblower Mac Sawyer, Mr. Giovannini found a bearable living situation this spring, away from the toxic MarkWest plant.

Last word: Air war? Is there such a thing as history? During the Vietnam War the United States government waged a massive, secret air war in Laos.

Two million tons of bombs were dropped on one million people.

Laotian refugees. Photo: Walt Haney, Haney has been interviewing refugees from the Plain of Jars for 40 years. His motto: History. Healing. Hope.

Fred Branfman, an educational advisor living in Laos at the time, interviewed over 1,000 Laotian survivors. Shocked by what he heard and saw, he urged them to record their experiences in essays, poems, and pictures. Voices from the Plain of Jars was the result of that effort.

We’d encourage Mike Krancer to speak with Joe Giovannini; read Voices from the Plain of Jars; get some perspective, and spend about ten years doing nothing but cultivating compassion, before he uses the term “air war” again. Lungs matter. Lives matter. Limits matter.

  1. Maggie Henry permalink
    June 26, 2013 5:04 pm

    Awesome post! A set of cryogenic plants are being constructed 1.2 miles from my farm. OhioEPA has permitted them as “minor sources” of pollution w/o considering the combined effect or the industry ‘s bragging that the plant is being built so it will eventually be 3’s the size it is permitted for. This is literally 50 feet from the state line, DEP won’t do anything (the pollution is staying in Ohio, right?!?) how can I get the air tested now before the plant is built so I can prove they screwed it up?

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      June 27, 2013 6:58 am

      Maggie, that is terrible news for your farm and for everyone around. Please keep us informed by commenting as you learn more about the cryogenic plants. It’s so typical of this industry that they get a permit for something, like an ordinary size compressor station, which spews acetone, benzene, toluene and other carcinogens and neurotoxins into the air breathed by local people — and then triple the scale and intensity of fumes by doubling or tripling the size of the facility after the fact. As to how you can get your air tested BEFORE the plant is built (prevailing winds are from the west, correct?) the first places to check are Shaletest and Earthworks. Keep us posted.

  2. June 26, 2013 6:29 pm

    Truth matters. Thanks, Iris.

  3. June 26, 2013 7:46 pm

    Krancer has been working for the industry at least since Corbett handed him his job with DEP to be a paid liar.

  4. former PADEP permalink
    June 26, 2013 8:39 pm

    Seems like the working back provision of at least one year don’t apply to former high level bureaucrats? Not that Krancer has any conception of normal methane concentrations, migration in groundwater, and appropriate construction of wells.

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      June 27, 2013 6:52 am

      Good point, former PADEP. Do you happen to know exactly what that working back provision of at least one year says, how it is worded?

  5. macman2 permalink
    June 27, 2013 12:10 am

    It is hard to believe that someone so clearly blind to the abuses of the gas industry was placed as Secretary of DEP, charged with the responsibility of protecting the environment. He is a joke. That Blank Rome hires him makes their law firm a joke. It is pathetic to see law used to protect corporations against the interests of the public.


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