White calls on state, federal authorities for investigation of DEP over deceptive Marcellus Shale water-quality testing practices, Testimony by DEP lab chief reveals possibility of intentionally undisclosed public health risks from Marcellus Shale gas drilling Press Release by State Rep. Jesse White, D-Allegheny/Beaver/Washington, November 1, 2012
State Rep. Jesse White today called for state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for alleged misconduct and fraud revealed by sworn testimony given by a high-ranking DEP official. White said he received a letter and corresponding documents highlighting the sworn testimony of DEP Bureau of Laboratories Technical Director Taru Upadhyay, who was deposed in a lawsuit alleging nearby natural gas drilling operations contaminated drinking water supplies in Washington County, causing serious health issues. In the deposition, Upadhyay said that the DEP was clearly aware of water impacts from Marcellus Shale drilling, but no notices of violation were filed – a violation of the state’s Oil & Gas Act.
Of more critical concern to Pennsylvania residents, according to White, was that the deposition revealed that the DEP developed a specialized computer-code system to manipulate the test results for residents whose water was tested by the DEP over concerns of adverse effects from gas drilling operations.
According to the transcripts, which have been filed as exhibits in a related lawsuit in Washington County Court of Common Pleas (Haney et al. v. Range Resources et al., Case No. 2012-3534), the DEP lab would conduct water tests using an EPA-approved standard, but the DEP employee who requested the testing would use a specially designed ‘Suite Code’ which limits the information coming back from the DEP lab to the DEP field office, and ultimately to the property owner.
The code in question, Suite Code 942, was used to test for water contamination associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities, yet specifically screens out results for substances known to be hazardous and associated with Marcellus Shale drilling. Similar codes, Suite Code 943 and 946, are also used by the DEP in similar circumstances; both of these codes omit the presence or levels of drilling-related compounds.
As a result, if Suite Code 942 is applied, the report generated for the homeowner by DEP only includes eight of the 24 metals actually tested for: Barium, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Magnesium, Manganese, Sodium and Strontium. The homeowner would not be given results for: Silver, Aluminum, Beryllium, Cadium, Cobalt, Chromium, Copper, Nickel, Silicon, Lithium, Molybdenum, Tin, Titanium, Vandium, Zinc and Boron.
“This is beyond outrageous. Anyone who relied on the DEP for the truth about whether their water has been impacted by drilling activities has apparently been intentionally deprived of critical health and safety information by their own government,” White said. “There is no excuse whatsoever to justify the DEP conducting the water tests and only releasing partial information to residents, especially when the information withheld could easily be the source of the problem. This goes beyond incompetence; this is unlawful and reprehensible activity by the DEP. If these allegations are true, there needs to be a thorough and objective investigation to determine if someone belongs in a jail cell.”
White continued: “I am not releasing this information to hurt Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania, but to help ensure the reality matches the rhetoric. The Marcellus boom was built on the assumption that the DEP was competent and capable of balancing the positive impacts of the industry with its job of keeping residents safe and secure, but we now know that simply isn’t the case. Like most of us, I want the Marcellus Shale industry to succeed by doing things the right way, so it is crucial to find out what exactly the DEP was up to. If the system is indeed rigged, we must do everything in our power to root out corruption and restore public confidence in our ability to have an honest conversation with one another about developing a responsible energy policy for Pennsylvania.”
Due to the strong possibility of unlawful conduct, White is calling on the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Environmental Protection Agency, state Attorney General Linda Kelly and any other appropriate law enforcement agency to pursue an investigation of the DEP to discover the scope and depth of this scheme to withhold important information from Pennsylvanians. White is also sending a letter to the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NJ-NELAP), to investigate whether the DEP’s conduct and practices violated the accreditation standards for the DEP laboratories. If accreditation standards were violated, White is requesting the DEP’s accreditation be stripped, rendering the agency unable to conduct and certify its own tests.
White said he is sending a letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer seeking a summary of how many constituents in his legislative district, which includes communities with high levels of Marcellus Shale drilling activity, had DEP tests done using Suite Codes 942, 943 or 946. White also intends to make a blanket request on behalf of his constituents that DEP release the full testing data directly to the individual property owners in question.
Any Pennsylvania resident who received water quality test results from the DEP should look for the number 942, 943 or 946 as a ‘Suite Code’ or ‘Standard Analysis’. White encouraged anyone with questions to contact his district office at 724-746-3677 for more information and noted that the property owner should be entitled to the complete testing results from DEP.
“This isn’t a technicality, and it isn’t something which can be ignored,” White said. “We are talking about people’s health, safety and welfare. The sworn testimony from inside the DEP about a scheme to withhold vital information about potential water contamination is truly alarming. An investigation is necessary to answer these serious allegations.” [Emphasis added]
State representative calls for probe of DEP water testing reports by Don Hopey, November 1, 2012, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has created incomplete lab reports and used them to dismiss complaints that Marcellus Shale gas development operations have contaminated residential water supplies and made people sick, according to court documents and other sources. As a result, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, today called on state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the DEP for “alleged misconduct and fraud” described in sworn depositions in a civil case currently in Washington County Common Pleas Court.
The DEP quickly responded Mr. White’s statements in an email to the Post-Gazette. Department spokesman Kevin Sunday said the DEP’s testing lab received a “glowing” review last year in a peer review by the Association of Public Health Laboratories. He added, “Jesse White is ideologically opposed to responsible drilling regulations which is evidenced by, among other things, his vote against Act 13,” a state law that regulates Marcellus Shale drilling and gas production. “The battery of analyses we order during investigations are thorough and give us the results we need to make sound determinations, which we fully stand behind,” Mr. Sunday said. “DEP takes very seriously instances where we do determine gas migration has occurred from drilling — this administration issued the largest single civil penalty in the history of the state’s oil and gas program last year for such a case.”
According to the deposition transcript, Ms. Upadhyay said the DEP’s state laboratory tests water samples for a full battery of contaminants, but at the direction of the department’s Office of Oil and Gas Management, limits the number of contaminants reported to the oil and gas division and the property owner. In a second deposition filed in the case, John Carson, a DEP water quality specialist, said a special lab code for Marcellus Shale water contamination complaints is used statewide. He also said the department failed to provide its water quality specialists with training to help them interpret the lab reports and identify contaminants that could signal Marcellus Shale-related impacts.
A Post-Gazette review of DEP water quality reports generated under the department’s “942 Suite Code” found that those reports didn’t disclose all of the contaminants found in well water samples. The water complaints in these cases were dismissed because the abbreviated reports did not support the property owner complaints in Amwell, Washington County, the Woodlands area in Butler County, and Dimock in Susquehanna County. Ms. Upadhyay’s statements came in response to questions from Ms. Smith and are contained in a 336-page transcript of her deposition taken Sept. 26 for an Environmental Hearing Board case. The case, brought by Loren Kiskadden of Amwell, alleges that DEP’s investigation of his well-contamination complaint was inaccurate and incomplete. The depositions were filed as supporting documents in the related Washington County Court case. In that case, four homeowners, including Mr. Kiskadden, who live near the Yeager well site, allege their private water supplies were contaminated and they suffered a variety of health problems. Range, owner of the Yeager well site, has denied any responsibility for any contamination from its operations, which included three wells, a 13 million-gallon impoundment and a drill cuttings pit.
Lawsuit raises questions over DEP’s testing of water for drilling contaminants by Bill Vidonic, November 1, 2012, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
A Washington County lawsuit alleging that gas driller Range Resources contaminated three families’ drinking water has raised questions about whether the Department of Environmental Protection is releasing incomplete test results, a state representative and attorney said Thursday. The DEP defended its water testing. “The battery of analyses we order during investigations are thorough and give us the results we need to make sound determinations, which we fully stand behind,” spokesman Kevin Sunday said in a statement. “DEP takes very seriously instances where we do determine gas migration has occurred from drilling.”
Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella termed as grandstanding the release of depositions in the case by the plaintiffs’ law firm, Smith Butz of Canonsburg. The firm represents three Amwell families who claim they were sickened by chemicals used in gas drilling. He also criticized state Rep. Jesse White, who is calling for a criminal investigation. “This is simply the latest line of attacks by an outspoken critic of this industry. This is nothing to do with science or health,” Pitzarella said. White demands the state Attorney General and the federal Environmental Protection Agency investigate the DEP “for alleged misconduct and fraud.”
A litany of spills and leaks and the use of a potentially cancer-causing chemical to stop odors at the site contributed to air and water pollution, the three Amwell families claim. Range Resources and its contractors built a water impoundment above a dozen natural springs and the source of well water there, but made errors in its construction and repairs while using it as an unpermitted dump for well waste, lawsuits filed in Washington County Court said. [Emphasis added]
DEP water reports under new scrutiny by Rachel Morgan, November 1, 2012, Shalereporter.com
Testimony by a high-ranking state Department of Environmental Protection official reveals the agency may have intentionally left out part of the results of water testing in relation to Marcellus shale drilling. … Upadhyay, employed by the DEP since 1994, was deposed in a lawsuit alleging nearby natural gas drilling operations contaminated drinking-water supplies and caused health issues in Washington County. According to White, the court transcripts showed the DEP lab conducted water tests using an EPA-approved standard — the DEP employee who requested the testing would use a “Suite Code” that limited the information coming back from the DEP lab to the DEP field office, and thus the property owner. The suite codes used were Suite Code 942, 943 and 946. In short, if Suite Code 942 was used, the DEP would test for 24 contaminants, but list only eight of those in the report given back to the resident. The eight metals reported were: barium, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium and strontium.
State DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said Thursday night that these suite codes were developed specifically to test for certain types of contamination — namely, to indicate Marcellus shale drilling-related contamination. “If you’re looking at runoff from a mine site, that is different from looking at runoff from a landfill, and different from contamination due to hydraulic fracturing,” he said. “These are a Marcellus shale specific list of parameters that are most indicative to that contamination.” Using the same suite, the report would not include results for silver, aluminum, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, nickel, silicon, lithium, molybdenum, tin, titanium, vandium, zinc and boron. When asked whether this was because the list of aforementioned substances weren’t indicative of Marcellus shale-related contamination, Sunday didn’t say for sure.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he said.
“There is no excuse whatsoever to justify the DEP conducting the water tests and only releasing partial information to residents, especially when the information withheld could easily be the source of the problem,” White said. “This goes beyond incompetence; this is unlawful and reprehensible activity by the DEP.”
“Our investigators ask the lab to screen for parameters they need to determine water contamination,” he said. And when asked why the DEP doesn’t just release all findings of their tests since they’re already done, Sunday said, “We’re not out to do a public health analysis of private water supplies.” [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to: DEP alters policy on foul-water notifications ]