'Gas Rush' Prompts DEP Shuffle to Create One-Stop Shop

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
20 September 2011
By Brad Bumsted and Timothy Puko

HARRISBURG — A reorganization at the state Department of Environmental Protection will streamline operations and impel consistent regulation of the burgeoning Marcellus shale gas industry, the agency secretary said on Monday.

"It's this simple," said Michael Krancer, who heads the 2,600-person state agency. "When we take four different ways of doing things and make it into one, everybody wins. Environmental protection wins. The predictability wins.

The oversight part of it wins. The enforcement is better. The implementation side in the field is better."

Krancer told the Tribune-Review that he plans to meet today with agency employees and environmental groups affected by agency decisions to explain the reorganization.

Natural gas drilling and the cleanup of brownfield sites are two of the key agency functions highlighted in the changes, Krancer said. The changes won't require adding or furloughing staffers, he said.

"When I got here in (January), I inherited a bit of a balkanized operation on Marcellus shale and unconventional gas regulation. I had three regions and a central Harrisburg office. Sometimes they were doing it three different ways. We want it to be done one way."

The Bureau of Oil and Gas Management, which oversees gas drilling, will become a stand-alone department headed by a deputy secretary.

A bureau of Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields will be created with an emphasis on developing brownfields, Krancer said. The office will be a "one-stop shop" for improving abandoned industrial sites for development, he said.

Environmental cleanup offices now are in regions, said DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh.

The staff of oil and gas regulators has grown so much during the gas rush that the new bureau will likely be one of the biggest in the department, said David E. Hess, the department head under former Gov. Tom Ridge. Hess was on Gov. Tom Corbett's transition team, which heard a lot about how those regulators were having problems communicating.

"There was no doubt the oil and gas program was pretty messed up," Hess said. "It wasn't talking to other programs, and you didn't get a ... complete picture ... of regulating all the things related to the Marcellus shale.

Anything they do to coordinate within the department and give more emphasis to the oil and gas program would be a very good thing."

If it's modeled on the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation, the oil and gas department would allow drillers to get their permits all in one place, Hess added. Drillers usually need several permits covering things such as erosion controls and water usage, and — in a consolidated department — experts on those issues will be able to focus on drilling operations in the larger context.

As a result of the changes, "the environment is going to get consistent and uniform application of the rules," Krancer told the Trib. "They are going to be playing with the same rulebook. I think enforcement, which always has been important to me, will be more prominent in what we do.

"We've always said cheaters need to be called out and treated like cheaters. ... The industry wants cheaters called out and dealt with," Krancer said.

Industry leaders have complained for decades about a lack of consistency, and administrations tried to resolve those complaints, said Jan Jarrett, president and CEO of the environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future. New hires and staff reorganizations are common responses, but the complaints have not stopped.

"If they are committed to tight permitting and robust enforcement of those environmental laws, that's what's important," she said. "Sometimes there'll be disagreements (in the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation), and the coal operators will get permits over objections from water quality guys who see things happening on the ground. Those are pitfalls they'll have to avoid."

"Secretary Krancer's decision to reorganize, streamline and modernize the DEP is a prudent step toward ensuring the agency can continue protecting the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians," Kathryn Klaber, president and executive director of the Cecil-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, said in a statement e-mailed by a spokesman.

Successful oversight will be determined primarily by the strength of the state's regulations, not its staff structure, former Secretary John Hanger, Krancer's predecessor, wrote on his blog yesterday afternoon. One challenge it may face is in providing local and regional responses because gas drilling sites are not as geographically concentrated as mines, he wrote.

"The move itself will likely have some beneficial and negative effects, but at the margins," Hanger said.