PA Court Blocks Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s Approved Information Request for Radioactivity data on Marcellus Shale drilling

Court Blocks Environmental Group’s Pleas for Radioactivity data on Marcellus Shale drilling by Matt Miller, April 10, 2015, pennlive.com

An environmental group can’t have access to raw data collected during a state probe into potential exposure to radioactivity from Marcellus Shale gas and oil drilling operations, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled Friday.

The ruling overturns a decision by the state Office of Open Records that ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to turn over that data to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

However, Judge Anne E. Covey wrote in the state court opinion that the information gathered by DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection starting in 2013 is exempt from public disclosure as part of a “noncriminal investigation.”

The Open Records Office had concluded that the information was part of a study, not an investigation, and should be open to the public.

DEP collected the information, and is still collecting it, under a mandate to evaluate “potential radiation exposure to workers, the public and the environment resulting from certain materials generated by gas and oil exploration and production activities,” Covey noted in her opinion.

DEP, which appealed the Open Records Office ruling to the state court, has collected samples from more than 100 drilling facilities across the state. So far, the examination has generated more than 57,000 pages of records, the court ruling states.

Covey noted that DEP is to use the information to determine whether to recommend regulations or legislation to safeguard public health and the environment. DEP officials said the raw data is still being evaluated and once that is done the agency has pledged to release a detailed report that will be available to the public, the judge wrote. [What about the data? Much more important than any regulator report is the raw data. It has been proven that energy regulators fudge data and reports to protect polluting oil and gas companies and regulators, to enable the continued poisoning of families, livestock and communities]

She cited the agency’s argument that a “premature” public release of the still “unvalidated and preliminary” data could lead to the circulation of erroneous or misleading conclusions regarding health risks. [Or worse, the truth?]

“We hold that DEP met its burden of proving…that the data is exempt from disclosure and therefore is not a public record,” Covey wrote.

[Refer also to:

2015 04 13: Fracking Increases Radon Gas Hazard, US Study Finds, Levels of the carcinogenic gas rising in Pennsylvanian homes near industry sites by Andrew Nikiforuk, Today, TheTyee.ca

The U.S. findings collaborate and strengthen earlier studies by Australian researchers at Southern Cross University as well as recent shale gas research in Colorado. All suggest that the industrial activity of fracking can speed up the release of the odourless and tasteless gas in geologies already rich in uranium.

In 2013, Douglas Tait, Isaac Santos and Damien Maher reported that the radon air levels above the heavily fracked Surat Basin in Queensland, Australia were three times greater than those observed in a non-fracking region. (A separate and earlier study also showed that methane and carbon dioxide levels in the air were three times higher in the mined landscape.)

The Australian researchers suggested that the shallow fracking of coal seams radically changed “the geological structure” of the ground by cracking rock, removing water and lowering pressure in the formation. The fracturing of the ground structure simply created more pathways for radon and other gases to leak up through the soil.

The mechanism for releasing radon into the atmosphere in fracked landscapes may be similar to that caused by earthquakes, added the researchers. Atmospheric levels of radon will typically increase fivefold prior to an earthquake due to stress changes in rock which, in turn, opens new fractures and pathways to the surface.

“The disruptive process” of fracking, explain the John Hopkins researchers, not only brings gas to the surface but can liberate “heavy metals and organic and radioactive materials such as radium-226, which decays into radon.”

Pennsylvania, the home of the U.S. oil boom which began in the 1860s, is one of the most heavily drilled jurisdictions in North America. Industry has punctured the state’s geology with nearly a million holes, and then cracked and fracked that geology again during the shale boom.

Given that much of the state’s geology is also uranium rich and that well densities are extremely high, it is no surprise that the state has some of the highest indoor radon levels in the U.S.

2015 04 08: “It looks like fracking has unearthed an unbargained for and serious cancer risk in peoples’ homes.” John Hopkins study links radon levels in Pennsylvania homes to fracking: “These findings worry us”

States undermine EPA’s argument for exempting fracking waste

New study details Marcellus/Utica shale states’ failures to regulate oil & gas waste, leaving health and environment at risk

“Whether it is wastewater or solids such as drill cuttings, we know that Marcellus shale waste is the elephant in the room that gas operators and regulators alike ignore. If the cost of treatment of this toxic material to standards protective of clean water was fully borne by the operators that are producing it, fracking for shale gas just wouldn’t be economical. The only responsible course is for government to require that frack waste not pollute or degrade the environment, and apply our environmental laws to the fullest, no matter how it impacts companies’ profits.” — Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network

“Laced with cancer-causing and even radioactive materials, toxic fracking waste has contaminated drinking water sources across the Commonwealth. Earthworks’ report shows the current failure of our system to protect communities from the billions of gallons of fracking waste. It’s time to put people’s health first by establishing real protections.” — Adam Garber, PennEnvironment Field Director

2011 10 Encana drill waste under Ernst home, Radioactive fish scale shales

EnCana dumping heavy facing west towards 05-14 the Encana gas well that repeatedly fractured directly into Rosebud drinking water aquifers in 2004

2012 02 21 Ernst Presentation Belcoo Fermanagh Northern Ireland EnCana Waste Pits Rosebud Community2012 Drilling Waste on Food Land in Wheatland County Alberta 1 in short film Home by FrackingCanada

Above slides/photos: Encana waste (radioactive?) at Rosebud

In April 2012, after Ernst paying $4,150 dollars, 1.5 years in official inquiry by the OIP Commissioner’s Office and giving up thousands of hours over four years trying to get the public baseline testing data used by Dr. Blyth (as of April 13, 2015 still withheld) and records used/related to his reports under Freedom of Information Legislation, ARC finally releases to Ernst that Alberta Environment (the regulator the ARC was “reviewing”) secretly edited Blyth’s “independent” reports:

The released records also revealed that Alberta Environment edited Dr. Blyth’s publicly released “Independent” Summary Report of the four water contamination investigations by Alberta Environment (on the Zimmerma, Signer, Lauridsen and Ernst water wells).

Dr. Blyth’s CV, Proposal and Terms of Reference agreed to with Alberta Environment are included:

A few key quotes:

The purpose of the Summary Report is to inform the general public about the findings of the ARC scientific reviews and to increase public confidence in the AENV complaint investigation process. 

[Shouldn’t the purpose be to find out what happened to the water to contaminate it, what companies did with their hydraulic fracturing and where, and if the companies were compliant with Alberta laws and regulations etc?]

The Summary Report is to be written in a manner that is…. Clearly understood by the general public (aim for Grade 8 education level) [Emphasis added]

[Much vital “public” data collected by Encana and used by ARC and AENV to dismiss the water contamination cases, and requested by Ernst under FOIP and ordered released after formal inquiry, remains withheld. Encana did not even disclose it under the court’s ordered document filing deadline of December 19, 2014 ]

2012 04: Ruling advances Jessica Ernst’s tainted water lawsuit, documents must be released, says Alberta information boss

In a scathing decision that ends a three-year battle by Rosebud resident Jessica Ernst, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has ordered a government agency to release thousands of pages of documents that could reveal how scientists concluded the contamination was naturally occurring. Adjudicator Teresa Cunningham ordered Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures to refund the entire $4,125 fee charged for processing Ernst’s request because keeping test results, draft reports and even proposed news releases under wraps with no legal basis contravened her right to timely disclosure.

“The amount of severing done and the lack of justification for it has resulted in the applicant being deprived of her rights,” Cunningham said. “The public body withheld information for reasons that were not borne out by the records, and charged inflated costs for processing the access request.”

The commissioner’s order will now force the agency to reveal the results of tests on the wells on which it based its conclusions as well as discussions about drafts of the report between its scientists and Alberta Environment officials. In ruling those records were not advice that could be kept private, Cunningham said e-mails indicated changes in the report appeared to be the result of instructions from the department.

Rob Semeniuk, spokesman for Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures [previously Alberta Research Council], said the agency will comply with the order to refund the fees and release nearly 6,000 pages of documents. “We thought we were doing the right thing by not supplying the information,” Semeniuk said. …

Encana did not respond to a request for comment.

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