2011-03-10 / Local & State

Two Corbett Cabinet Picks OK’d

By Peter Jackson

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Gov. Tom Corbett’s choice for Pennsylvania’s next environmental protection chief on Wednesday defended the state’s regulation of natural gas drilling that is rapidly expanding on the rich Marcellus Shale formation, but assured lawmakers at a hearing on his nomination that he is keeping an open mind about critics who say more regulation is needed.

Also Wednesday, the Senate Law and Justice Committee endorsed the nomination of Frank Noonan as commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Several members of the environmental committee pressed Krancer to respond to recent news reports about aspects of the drilling that included the disposal of wastewater from gas wells at treatment plants that discharge into rivers and streams. Nearly 1,400 new wells were drilled last year, up from 768 the previous year, and thousands more well permits have been approved.

Krancer, a lawyer who is acting as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection pending confirmation of his appointment, said at least 70 percent of the wastewater is being recycled, rather than disposed, and that he expects that proportion to grow as more businesses get involved in recycling.

Until the latter half of 2010, Pennsylvania was the only state to allow most of the briny wastewater from the gas- extraction process known as high-volume hydraulic fracturing to be discharged after only partial treatment into rivers that provide drinking water. Despite the increase in recycling, the volume sent to treatment plants continued to increase last year because of the explosive growth in drilling.

Krancer said the department conducted 5,000 unannounced inspections of well sites last year, twice as many as in the previous year. Seventy eight employees, including supervisors, conduct the inspections, he said.

Revenue generated by permit fees will increase as drilling continues to expand and should cover the cost of hiring additional inspectors,

Krancer, who lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr, previously served for 12 years as a judge on the state Environmental Hearing Board, which hears appeals of DEP actions. He ran unsuccessfully for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2007.

Noonan, a retired FBI agent, previously worked in the state attorney general’s office since 1998, including the six years Corbett served as attorney general before he stepped down in January to take his oath as governor. He was the office’s chief of criminal investigations when Corbett tapped him for the state police post.

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