PA DEP Sec. Michael Krancer Makes a Controversial Policy Change on Marcellus Drilling Inspections

Newly appointed Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Krancer has made a major change in procedure at the agency. “Routine matters” like notices of violations (NOVs) for problems found at drilling sites were, until now, issued by DEP field inspectors and their regional directors. But now all routine matters, including NOVs, must be pre-approved by officials at the DEP headquarters in Harrisburg.

Word of the major procedural change, which was not publicly announced, was emailed March 23 to DEP regional directors and the director of its Oil & Gas Bureau by John Hines, DEP executive deputy secretary.

The email directs them, "effective immediately," to take no final action involving Marcellus Shale drilling before getting "final clearance" from Mr. Krancer.

Permitting and enforcement actions also must be preapproved by Mr. Hines and Dana Aunkst, who this month was appointed acting DEP deputy secretary for field operations.*

DEP inspectors and regional directors, who have collectively issued more than 1,400 NOVs from 2008-2010, are not happy with the change. Critics of the new policy say it is counterproductive to have a bureaucrat in Harrisburg second-guess decisions of those on location in the field. A DEP spokesperson has defended the change by saying that Sec. Krancer heard repeatedly during his confirmation hearings that the DEP is widely perceived as having an inconsistent enforcement policy, and this move is designed to bring consistency—to remove the perception that depending on where you are in the  state, regulations are being enforced more or less vigorously.

The man who held the position of DEP Secretary before Krancer, John Hanger, believes the new policy will have the opposite effect and will cause a loss of public faith in the DEP:

"This can do nothing but crater public confidence in inspections and oversight of the industry," Mr. Hanger said. "It will not benefit the industry, which will be the biggest loser because it needs the authentic, independent and professional inspections and oversight to maintain confidence in the industry. This intrusion into longstanding professional practices by political appointees is the opposite of what should be happening."*

*Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Mar 31, 2011) – Harrisburg takes reins for Marcellus enforcement