Can Pennsylvania residents rely on their Department of Environmental Protection to give them accurate and complete assessments of their drinking water when they believe that it has been contaminated by hydrofracking?  Not so much, according to depositions of two department employees read into court records as a part of a civil case that has been lodged by homeowners against gas drilling companies.

One of the employees deposed was Taru Upadhyay, the division director of DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories.  She said that water test result reports that omitted some of the findings from lab tests were routinely made available to homeowners, depriving them of all of the information that the lab had found in their tests.  This omitting of information was done at the direction of the division of Oil and Gas, she says in the court records.  As per Post-Gazzette report:

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.

From a press release from the office of State Representative Jesse White on the topic:

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.

There is no reason that the results of these tests should have been suppressed, as these metals could help a homeowner to establish that nearby mining activity had allowed elements typically found only at the deep Marcellus layer to be introduced into the water table.  Indeed, that is why the lawyers for residents deposed the DEP employees– Washington County residents were suing Range Resources and 12 of its subcontractors for ruining their well water.

State Representative White is calling for both state and federal investigations.

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.

 

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