Last week, we told you about a Department of Environmental Protection employee’s deposition testimony claiming the state does not report complete lab results, when testing for water contamination near natural gas drilling sites. ”The heavy metals left out of one particular report back to a resident of Washington County,” we reported, “included cobalt, silicon, tin, titanium, zinc, boron, silicon, aluminum, copper, nickel, lithium, and molybdenum.”
DEP Secretary Mike Krancer is responding to the charges in a letter addressed to House Democrat Jesse White, who publicized the deposition in a press release last week. Krancer tells White his “characterization of the testimony…is untrue and inaccurate,”
Krancer says state lab employees were following protocols developed in 1991, and revised after the state’s Marcellus Shale boom began. Read an excerpt from Krancer’s letter below:
Professional staff, trained in evaluating Water complaints, utilize the relevant data and information to inform their conclusions. Although other results are generated by the lab tests, such results would not contribute to answering the question at hand– determining whether there is a connection between the gas Well activities and the Water supply.
Your press release also omits that these parameters subject to investigation in Pennsylvania are
substantially similar to the ones used in other states such as, for example, New York, Ohio, Colorado and Wyoming.
In this particular investigation, the levels of the additional parameters were extremely low. None exceeded a primary or secondary Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for drinking Water. Silica, one of the additional parameters mentioned, is one of the most common compounds found in our natural environment. Therefore, finding Silica – particularly at these low levels – doesn’t inform DEP about Whether a Water supply is adversely affected by oil and gas related activities.
[toggle title=” Read the full letter here (courtesy State Impact PA):” height=”auto”]
DEP employee says agency withholds water contamination information from residents.
November 2, 2012 | 4:20 PM / By Susan Phillips / Scott Detrow / StateImpactPA
DEP Secretary Mike Krancer and Energy Executive Pat Henderson during the final Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission meeting.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been withholding information about water contamination related to natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations, according to the sworn testimony of a DEP employee.
Read the full deposition at the bottom link of this post State Impact / NPR.
Taru Upadhyay, director of the DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories, testified that although the DEP’s laboratory tests for a full range of heavy metals, the lab does not report all of the test results back to the field office, or the resident. The heavy metals left out of one particular report back to a resident of Washington County included cobalt, silicon, tin, titanium, zinc, boron, silicon, aluminum, copper, nickel, lithium, and molybdenum.
The deposition relates to a case filed in Washington County, Kiskadden v. DEP, and was taken by attorney Kendra Smith back in September. Smith wrote to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer on Thursday, informing him the DEP’s Oil and Gas Division has procedures in place that purposely remove from lab reports water contaminants for certain heavy metals.
[toggle title=” Testimony of Ms. Taru Upadhyay was quite alarming.” height=”auto”]
“Testimony of Ms. Taru Upadhyay was quite alarming. As the Technical Director of PA DEP Bureau of Laboratories she revealed what can only be characterized as a deliberate procedure by the PA DEP Oil & Gas Division and the PA DEP Bureau of Laboratories to withhold critical water testing results.”
Upadhyay also testified that the DEP’s lab uses EPA approved protocols. In her letter to Secretary Krancer, Kendra Smith says the metals found in her client’s water tests, but not reported to her client, are also heavy metals associated with oil and gas flowback and produced water, also called frack water. Smith points to a study conducted with the input of the DEP, which lists aluminum, boron, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, lithium, molybdenum, nickel, strontium, thallium, tin, titanium and zinc as heavy metals found in flowback water from oil and gas drilling operations. Smith goes on to list documented health impacts of these heavy metals.
Kevin Sunday, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, would not answer questions over the phone, but instead sent a written statement to StateImpact.
“It is clear to any fair minded person that this letter, which we received only yesterday 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. These deposition transcripts haven’t even been reviewed for accuracy in transcription by the witnesses yet, which is standard practice.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this morning that State Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Washington County, has called for a criminal investigation of DEP, citing mismanagement and fraud.
“Someone in law enforcement, be it the criminal unit of the EPA, the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Attorney General’s office,” Rep. White told StateImpact Pennsylvania, “needs to go in there, seize the computers and let’s see what’s really going on.”
Pennsylvania’s Office of Attorney General does have an environmental division, but it doesn’t initiate an investigation without the participation and consent of the DEP. The AG could also investigate if requested by a county District Attorney. If the EPA were to get involved, they would work with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the area where the water contamination occurred, which in this case would be the western Pennsylvania division.
Within the last two years, the DEP has received at least 128 complaints from Washington County residents related to water contamination the residents believed was related to shale gas drilling. DEP investigations concluded that no impact was found in 58 of those cases. Twenty-seven investigations did reveal water impacts from drilling, and two of those were addressed through enforcement. DEP says 25 were resolved between the resident and the driller. As of the end of August, 43 DEP investigations in Washington County continued.
Former DEP secretary John Hanger tells The Associated Press that while the policy may have been developed in good faith years ago, it should be changed “immediately” to provide people with all the test information possible on water contamination, whether it’s related to drilling or not.
Attempts to reach Taru Upadhyay at home were not successful.
Read Taru Upadhyay’s deposition at State Impact / NPR: