Behind NRDC’s Disappearing Act on Krancer/DEP Debate
No one ever accused Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secretary Michael Kancer of being a cuddly fuzz-ball, but he’s hardly someone you’d expect a Senior Attorney from the notorious (and litigious) Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to run away from either.
But, believe it or not, according to a letter that NRDC sent to DEP obtained by EID, the mere mention on the part of Krancer that he and his office had compiled a set of compelling facts disputing an NRDC report on water quality caused NRDC’s Kate Sinding — normally no shrinking vi0let — to back out the day before of a previously scheduled debate with Krancer because, according to Ms. Sinding, Krancer’s “tone and tenor” were not to her liking. Of course, when you take a second to look at the issue in some greater detail, you find out pretty quick that Ms. Sinding’s decision to bail had very little to do with “tone,” and very much to do with being forced into a position of having to defend the indefensible.
So what’s the real story here? Well, six weeks ago, NRDC released a report entitled “In Fracking’s Wake: New Rules are Needed to Protect Our Health and Environment from Contaminated Wastewater.” It was 113 pages of recycled myths and long outdated data about the industry that managed to mention Pennsylvania 150 times, addressing the Commonwealth on every other page or so (58 pages in all). The authors specifically thanked Kate Sinding and five other individuals “for their guidance and expertise in developing the report,” so it’s not hard to imagine why; a) it received Secretary Krancer’s attention and b) he thought Kate Sinding might be a reasonable person with whom to discuss it. The report was also discussed on Kate Sinding’s NRDC Blog, where she was more than pleased to get into details. Here’s some of what she said:
… We have argued that there are few palatable options for handling this toxic byproduct, and that it therefore poses serious risks to our water supplies and public health. A new report from NRDC confirms, on the basis of scientific assessment of Marcellus Shale wastewater data from neighboring Pennsylvania, that we have been right …
It shows that, while fracking generates huge quantities of polluted wastewater – threatening the health of drinking water supplies, rivers, streams, and groundwater – federal and state regulations have not kept pace and must be significantly strengthened to reduce the risks of fracking throughout the Marcellus region and nationwide…
… most of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus wastewater has been being discharged into surface water bodies that serve as public drinking water supplies after treatment at publicly and privately owned treatment facilities. Treatment at publicly owned facilities over the past several years had created significant water quality issues …
Pennsylvania, in the meantime, has much more work to do to bring its own rules into line with the report’s recommendations if it is going to adequately protect the public and environment.
Nothing much here that should have raised Krancer’s eyebrows, right? Well, there’s more. Here’s how Sinding was quoted in an NRDC news release about the report:
“Pennsylvania and the entire Marcellus Shale region have geological limitations that make wastewater disposal a particularly vexing problem for the area,” said Kate Sinding, senior attorney at NRDC. “But the lessons learned there are applicable nationwide. It is critical states in this region that are already fracking clean up their act fast. And states like New York, where gas companies are still knocking on the door, must not let them in until they get this right.”
And, here’s what she says elsewhere on her blog (emphasis added):
These days, I spend most of my time fighting to ensure that new fracking isn’t allowed to happen in New York unless and until the risks have been comprehensively and properly considered. We want NY to serve as a model that helps put the pressure on other states, like Pennsylvania, where inadequately regulated fracking is already wreaking havoc on communities and the environment.
Yes, Kate Sinding is all about “tone and tenor,” isn’t she?
Why would Mike Krancer bother to challenge someone so reasonable and temperate in her remarks? Her organization only has a quarter of billion dollars to spend on this stuff, so why not just ignore it?
One can’t ignore it, of course, because it’s too darned important and it’s pretty hard to pretend you don’t see a rampaging elephant headed straight at you. The NRDC is, for better or worse, mostly worse, a powerful organization, able to command the attention of Governors, Presidents and the best actors out there (these roles sometimes overlap). Such a group needs to be engaged in discussion about what they say, if for no other reason than to get the truth out there. When such an entity puts out 113 pages of sophist remarks about what you’re doing, says you’re wrecking havoc and doesn’t tell the whole story, you have an obligation to set things straight.
This is, of course, exactly what Krancer attempted to do. It all started with an invitation both Krancer and Sinding had to participate in a panel discussion about the regulation of hydraulic fracturing in the Mid-Atlantic region as part of a Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners meeting scheduled for June 26, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Krancer, prior to the meeting, sent the NRDC a letter indicating the kinds of things he wanted to discuss and his views on the matter of the report that organization recently issued on the subject,
He sent the letter to Francis Beinecke, the $431,000 per year President of NRDC, outlining the DEP’s disagreements with the former and noting he wanted “to share with (her) some preliminary feedback and perspectives that have been provided to me which I think would be helpful to the discussion.” He also put the word out on the DEP website and in a news release indicating, “I am aware of the NRDC’s longstanding opposition to natural gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing. I do hope that NRDC’s constitutional adversity to natural gas as a fuel will not prevent open-minded discussion and fair fact finding.” It was all out in the open and one would have thought the Sinding and Beinecke crew might have appreciated advance notice of what Krancer would say. It was not to be.
Sinding responded by immediately withdrawing from the event, claiming Krancer was just plain mean, or words to that effect. Read Krancer’s letter for yourself and compare it to Sinding’s remarks about Pennsylvania and DEP. It won’t take you long to realize the NRDC can give it like they’re a modern day version of Patton and the Third Army, but when it comes to taking it, they abandon their positions, cry foul and run for the hills (no analogy required but some will come to mind for most of you). She played the victim and resorted to name-calling, describing Krancer as “malicious and intentionally adversarial,” as if the NRDC wasn’t adversarial when it accused Krancer and company of “wrecking havoc with communities” and made numerous other similar over-the-top statements. Simply correcting the record with facts sent her into apoplexy.
Here are a few of those facts (emphasis added):
The Report is incorrect and inapplicable to Pennsylvania in many respects. First of all, in Pennsylvania, we do not allow disposal of wastewater from shale operations by road spreading.
Second, the well known April 2011 DEP call to operators virtually ceased the practice of delivering such wastewater to municipal sewage treatment plants that were not fully capable of fully treating the wastewater to the state standard of 506 ppm of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS).
NRDC’s math seems to be off with respect to Pennsylvania when it reports that only 30 percent of wastewater is being recycled. Most fundamentally, NRDC incorrectly fails to include in the recycling category wastewater that is being sent to wastewater treatment facilities that fully meet the commonwealth’s latest regulations on TDS. These treatment facilities, for the most part, are treating wastewater for reuse, not discharge.
We have even asked these facilities to go above and beyond what is required in their permit and test for radiation if they are downstream of a facility that formerly discharged treated Marcellus Shale wastewater. Our monitors have consistently shown no levels of radioactive materials above background.
When you add the “reuse other than road spreading” plus “brine or industrial treatment plant” methods of disposal, by our calculations, that adds up to approximately 91 percent of all liquid waste for 2011 being recycled. Some operators, we believe, are at 100 percent and we think that the overall percentage will grow even higher over time.
DEP also recently released a revised general permit for facilities that process oil and gas wastewater. WMGRI23, as it is known, provides regulatory clarity and encourages the reuse of treated wastewater at Zero Liquid Discharge facilities. In fact, since we unveiled the revised permit, ten facilities have applied for the permit-doubling the number of facilities permitted under this general permit. Combined, we expect that these 20 facilities will have treatment capacities of more than 12 million gallons per day. Some will even use evaporative distillation to remove every trace of every contaminant from the water.
Pennsylvania has very stringent regulations for the oil and gas industry and has never had a case of drinking water contamination from the hydraulic fracturing process…My predecessor as DEP Secretary as well as the sitting EPA Administrator and Secretaries of Interior and Energy have all said that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely.
I am aware ofthe NRDC’s longstanding opposition to natural gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing and, as part of that, NRDC’s labeling of natural gas as a “dirty fossil fuel.” With respect to this “dirty fuel” epithet NRDC hangs on domestic natural gas, I would simply note for discussion purposes the recent press accounts from Canada and Great Britain regarding the dramatic reduction in U.S. carbon emissions mostly resultant from the use of natural gas as fuel. The International Business Times Green Economy Section ran a story on June 20, 2012 headlined, “US Carbon Emissions Down More Than Any Other Country” and the Vancouver Observer ran a story on June 4, 2012 with the headline, “Climate Change Stunner: USA Leads World In C02 Cuts Since 2006.” I have enclosed those stories for your review. I do hope that NRDC’s constitutional adversity to natural gas as a fuel will not prevent open-minded discussion and fair fact finding. As we move forward, it is crucial that debate on proper policy and regulation rest on a solid foundation of facts.
It doesn’t sound all that mean, does it? Yet, poor Kate, playing the victim, called it “malicious and intentionally adversarial” as if the NRDC had never done any anything along this line. This is classic anti-natural gas activist talk – accuse your opponent of doing what you’re doing and then use it as an excuse to avoid honest debate altogether.
Krancer’s remarks, if anything, were reserved and far too polite. Indeed, he might have pointed out no companies are using open pits for anything but freshwater in our region. He might have noted the NRDC’s sugar daddy role in supporting groups such as the Catskill Mountainkeeper and Delaware Riverkeeper, with whom it has typically shared directors (including financial support in the former case). He might have pointed its relationship to the Open Space Institute from which his counterpart in New York hails and its goals of preventing all development anywhere near the lands its funders own in the Catskills. He might have explained that NRDC successfully placed Sinding and two other of its attorneys on that state’s advisory committee where they attempt to do the same thing.
Oh, there’s much more Krancer might have said, but did not. No, all the DEP secretary wanted was an honest discussion about a seriously flawed report — a paper with which Sinding was intimately familiar, notwithstanding her attempt to pretend otherwise. Of course, when push came to shove, she ran away from that debate faster than Forrest Gump — and gave some pretty flimsy excuses that betray what the NRDC is: a well funded hit and run machine that fires bullets from afar and then shifts immediately into reverse when faced with even the mere prospect of having to defend its work.