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Organizations Want DEP To Disclose All Data From Drilling Water Tests

Twenty-five organizations sent a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett Wednesday criticizing the Department of Environmental Protection’s well water testing and notification policies as outdated, lacking transparency, and inadequate to protect residents and drinking water from pollution caused by gas drilling.

The groups called on the Governor to take immediate action to reform DEP’s procedures and disclose all data collected through DEP water tests that only partially reported to households where the testing occurred.

The letter and requests for action were prompted by information revealed through depositions in the case ofKiskadden vs. PADEP and DEP Secretary Michael Krancer’s recent announcement of changes to how suspected water pollution from shale gas operations is investigated.

Last week DEP Secretary Michael Krancer responded to similar concerns by Rep. Jesse White (D-Westemoreland) by saying the concerns were based on “misapprehended some important facts” involved in the testing program and said his characterization of comments made by a DEP employee in a deposition were  “untrue and inaccurate.”

In a letter to Rep. White, Secretary Krancer said, “Your characterization of the testimony in the case currently handled by the Smith Butz law firm is untrue and inaccurate.  Here are the facts:

“Contrary to your press release, Ms. Upadhyay, Technical Director of DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories, did not testify that DEP developed a special code in order to manipulate data.  The code used to report tested parameters for an investigation of potential impact to a water supply from oil and gas operations was first developed in 1991 and has been used consistently and successfully for decades.

“Moreover, your press statement fails to appreciate how the DEP lab and field staff operate.  There is a functional wall between our lab and our field staff.  The lab accurately generates data while the field staff reviews that data, along with other facts in the field, when performing an investigation into a water supply complaint.  Mixing these functions together would not only be redundant but would also be inappropriate protocol for any laboratory because it would put the laboratory’s rigorous impartiality into question.  The lab is not asked to weigh information, but to report it.”

On Thursday, Secretary Krancer told the Tribune Review: “That’s a completely manufactured issue, manufactured by a law firm that’s pursuing a personal injury case.”.

More background is available in an article in last week’s PA Environment Digest.

The organizations’ letter made three requests:

-- DEP must report all data from households where well water was sampled due to suspected pollution from gas and oil operations.  A court deposition of the technical director of DEP's Bureau of Laboratories indicated that DEP routinely omits data on 16 of 24 heavy metals for which it conducts water analyses from the final reports provided to well owners.  Some of the omitted metals have serious health impacts and have been found in drilling flowback and produced water.  DEP should revise its testing protocol to include all potential contaminants so the agency can accurately evaluate drinking water impacts, and affected residents can make informed decisions about their water supplies.

-- DEP must revoke the new policy requiring administrators in Harrisburg to approve any positive notices of water contamination before public notification is made. In response to previously made requests in this regard, Secretary Krancer claimed DEP was fully transparent. In light of the revelations of Kiskadden vs. PADEP, the groups reasoned that the data used by DEP and provided to the public is neither complete nor accurate, and should not be the basis of determining whether pollution has occurred.  Notification of contaminated water should be made without delay and bureaucratic red tape eliminated due to the potential harmful health impacts on residents waiting for testing results.

-- The missing results from all well water tests ordered by the DEP must be provided immediately to well owners.  This includes all tests using special reporting codes that omit from reports data that is necessary for accurate determinations by DEP of whether pollution occurred and whether residents’ health and water supplies are being harmed.  Determinations by DEP based on partial data must be questioned. 

The groups concluded that such actions are key to ensuring that the DEP, as a public agency, fulfills its responsibility to serve the public interest and rigorously protects Pennsylvania’s residents and the environment. 

The groups pointed out that current policies fly in the face of DEP’s mission to protect the state from gas drilling pollution, increase the risk of residents’ exposure to contaminated drinking water, and undermine DEP’s credibility in the eyes of the public.

“One the biggest fears for people living near drilling is the possibility of having your drinking water supply impacted.  We trust DEP to look out for us and safeguard this vital resource.  However, that trust is shaken and eroded when you learn about procedures and policies like this. 

Clean Water Action is proud to join with other organizations in calling for swift response to correct these procedures and policies and restore faith that DEP is looking out for the public’s best interest not the oil and gas industry’s,” says Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus Shale Policy Associate, Clean Water Action.

“As gas development spreads across Pennsylvania, problems with drinking water and health often follow,” says Nadia Steinzor with Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project.  “Residents of the Commonwealth turn to the DEP to help them find answers — not limit the very information on which those answers depend. Transparency and reliability are hallmarks of responsible public agencies, which the DEP in this case clearly is not.”

“Pennsylvanians need protection from the invasive pollution that drilling and fracking are bringing into communities and into the water people drink.  But when pollution of a water well is suspected, DEP isn’t on the job. Instead of digging deep to discover the facts, they are doing cursory testing and holding back critical information from those affected, making their decisions fatally flawed.  This is flat out wrong and we’re calling on Gov. Corbett to make immediate changes,” says Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

“Pennsylvania residents in fracked communities have complained for years that DEP has protected the industry instead of protecting their water, air, land and health.  Withholding information from impacted homeowners endangers public health and is inexcusable.  We call for a complete reversal in DEP's priorities and an end to their betrayal of Pennsylvania communities,” states Iris Marie Bloom, Director, Protecting our Waters.

“The deposition testimony shows where DEP's priorities lie - the agency doctored lab reports in order to protect the fracking industry from the people it is charged with safeguarding,” said Sam Bernhardt, Pennsylvania Organizer for Food & Water Watch. “The process of fracking simply cannot be done safely,” he concluded.

“As citizens concerned for the health and safety of their families, property owners deserve better from the DEP than having any water test results withheld.  Moreover, as taxpayers, property owners are entitled to all 24 data points in the test results because their tax dollars paid for them,” states Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth.

Julie Edgar of Lehigh Valley Gas Truth states, “Lehigh Valley Gas Truth thinks that this development, though superficially shocking, is unfortunately characteristic of the DEP under the regime of Governor Corbett, and we call out as demonstrated by these shady procedures that benefit privatized corporate profit agendas while sacrificing public health.”

A copy of the letter is available online.

            NewsClips: Rep. White Can’t Have It Both Ways In Drilling Debate

                            Lawmaker Urges Investigation Into Rep. White, Drilling

                            Column: For Anti-Drilling Lawmaker, DEP Action No Joke

                             Groups Urge Corbett To Revamp DEP Water Testing

                                DEP Secretary Defends Agency On Water Testing

                                Rep. White Says He’ll Continue To Address Drilling

                                Battle Between Driller, Rep. White Intensifies

                                Driller Releases Emails With PA Lawmaker

                                Driller Releases Emails With PA Lawmaker

                                Washington County Lawmaker, Driller Sour Ties


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