Lawmaker accuses DEP of ‘deceptive’ practices; Marcellus Shale water testing at issue
HARRISBURG, NY — A member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Jesse White, is accusing a government agency of deceptive practices in relation to testing for contamination, specifically the testing for possible well water contamination related to drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
White issued a press release on November 1 saying that when testing water for contamination in such cases, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) tests for the presence of 24 metals in the water, but the report received by homeowners and others reveals results for only eight of the metals.
He said the DEP has developed a specific computer code called Suite Code 942, and when a person at DEP requests testing of a water sample and uses that code, it “limits the information coming back from the DEP lab to the DEP field office, and ultimately to the property owner.”
White said, “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. 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.”
The DEP responded with a statement saying, “Jesse White is ideologically opposed to responsible drilling regulations, which is evidenced by, among other things, his vote against Act 13.”
The release continued, “Our laboratory has the capability of analyzing many, many compounds. Not all of these analyses are necessary for an investigation into whether oil and gas impacted a water supply. Our investigators request certain compounds be screened for an analysis, in particular, those associated with oil and gas activities.”
The information regarding Suite Code 942 surfaced in a deposition regarding a lawsuit in Washington County, PA in which it was alleged that drilling in the Marcellus Shale contaminated water supplies and caused serious health issues, including stomach ulcers, nosebleeds and headaches.
The deposition about Suite Code 942 came from Taru Upadhyay, a technical director at the DEP Bureau of Laboratories. Kendra Smith, a lawyer representing well-owner Loren Kiskadden, who is suing Range Resources, wrote a letter to Michael Krancer, secretary of the DEP, about the matter. The letter said that the lab identified various amounts of molybdenum, boron, lithium, tin, cobalt, silicone, titanium, zinc aluminum and nickel in the well water of her client but, because of the Suite Code 942, the presence of those chemicals was not revealed to the DEP Oil and Gas Division or to Kiskadden.
The lawyer further wrote that the metals “have clearly and repeatedly in scientific studies been found as contaminants in oil and gas flowback and produced waters.”
A report on the incident posted by the pro-drilling group Energy In Depth said the chemicals in question have nothing to do with gas drilling.
The DEP initially determined that Kiskadden’s well, which is located near a junkyard he owns, had high levels of sodium and total dissolved solids, but that condition was not caused by the activity of Range Resources or gas drilling.
Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board ruled in May that Kiskadden could appeal the DEP determination.
Regarding Smith’s letter to Krancer, DEP wrote, “It is clear to any fair-minded person that this letter, which we received only today [November 1] and are reviewing, is an effort by a plaintiffs’ attorney to mislead and manipulate news coverage in an effort to litigate his cases in the press instead of the courtroom. This lawyer misrepresents the deposition transcripts by selective quotation and the lawyer either misunderstands how a laboratory functions or is intentionally misrepresenting how one does.”
In a second deposition related to the case, John Carson, a DEP water quality specialist, said Suite Code 942 is used across the state.