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Review of DEP drilling records reveals water damage to at least 161 PA homes, farms, businesses; murky testing methods

May 19, 2013
Photo: NBC News reports our energy future may be swamped in fracking wastewater: up one more reason to ditch fracking for REAL clean energy: renewables and conservation!

Photo: NBC News reports our energy future may be swamped in fracking wastewater.

Today, Laura Legere of the Times Tribune has published the first in an important two-part series on water contamination from Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania.  The series is based on data the Times had to go to court to wrestle from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, starting in 2011.  PA DEP repeatedly argued in court that it doesn’t doesn’t keep gas drilling-related water contamination records in an organized way, and should not be required to provide this vital information to the public. Due to DEP’s record-keeping problems, Legere points out, “there is no way to assess the completeness of the released documents.”

The article begins:

State environmental regulators determined that oil and gas development damaged the water supplies for at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses between 2008 and the fall of 2012, according to a cache of nearly 1,000 letters and enforcement orders written by Department of Environmental Protection officials and obtained by The Sunday Times.

The determination letters are sent to water supply owners who ask state inspectors to investigate whether oil and gas drilling activities have polluted or diminished the flow of water to their wells.

The article is detailed; explores the water-testing scandal PA DEP continues to be embroiled in; and does a good job with some complexities of gas drilling causing spikes in barium, strontium, total dissolved solids (tds) and other substances.  Legere’s investigative research confirms that the total number of “officially counted” impacted water wells and springs is much higher than PA DEP has revealed to the public, and shows how and why the actual number of fracking water contamination incidents could easily be much higher than the official story.  

With over 320 Pennsylvanians already on the “List of the Harmed,” while PA DEP has denied any connection between gas drilling and impacted water in 77% of the complaints they receive, we believe the official story is significantly understated. With the well casing failure rate going up (to 8.9% in 2012 from 6.2% in 2010) in Pennsylvania, methane migration — just one form of contamination — is clearly becoming even more widespread.  

Fracturing mechanics expert Anthony Ingraffea gets the last word:

Anthony Ingraffea, Ph.D., an engineering professor at Cornell University and a vocal critic of the oil and gas industry he once worked for, said that when DEP says it cannot find a connection between water well contamination and nearby gas activity it does not mean there is no link.

“If DEP sent me a letter that said, ‘We can find no connection,’ my natural question as a scientist would be, ‘How did you look?'” he said.

He was concerned by DEP’s practice of counting cases without counting individually impacted water supplies, which he said “makes their statistics look better.”

“It doesn’t help answer the question, which is how many individual families’ private drinking water wells have been contaminated by oil and gas activities,” he said. “No one knows the answer. Who should know the answer? DEP.”

Read the full article here: “Sunday Times review of DEP drilling records reveals water damage, murky testing methods.” 

  1. May 19, 2013 11:39 am

    Outstanding summary report, Iris, invaluable. This is a real keeper.

  2. May 19, 2013 11:46 am

    Transparency is lacking for the DEP and State Government and EPA. All documents they have need to be online and open to the public review; and not hidden in endless files. Put it all online and we, citizens , won’t have to do a file review or Right to Know and bother the agencies, except when we file suit.

  3. May 19, 2013 12:12 pm

    Thanks POW, and to Laura Legere for this great report.

    I made a derivative map from the Fractracker map, with an overlay showing various river basins.

  4. May 19, 2013 1:42 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on this, I just read the full article. It is absolutely mind boggling that DEP would state, ” we do not know” and “we don’t keep tract of that”, let alone some of the other garbage they tossed out there. Wonder if the DEP lawyers who were forced to say that in a court of law are embarressed?

  5. May 19, 2013 7:03 pm

    Pennsylvania deserves greater sunshine!
    “Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition organized a public forum ‘Gas Drilling Records in Pennsylvania’ in Pittsburgh on May 9th, 2013. Media attorney Gayle Sproul, Associated Press correspondent Kevin Begos, PennFuture president and former PA DEP regional director George Jugovic and citizen activist Robert Donnan share their encounters with PA DEP.”
    Jugovic refers to Corbet and his adminisitration as “secretive.” Here’s the forum in its entirety form independent journalist Kirsi Jansa:

  6. May 19, 2013 7:04 pm

    yikes! sorry engelder face popped up – ugh!

  7. May 19, 2013 7:12 pm

    I also apologize that the entire forum won’t link successfully, but even this clip is well worth watching. Engelder’s disingenuous talk of how difficult it is for DEP to keep track of all the records is only the last few seconds.

  8. Lauren Rogers permalink
    May 20, 2013 9:51 pm

    Who in the EPA was behind blocking/stalling FOI records to PN?

  9. jonik permalink
    May 21, 2013 5:13 pm

    A question for a lawyer, perhaps:
    Doesn’t this DEP inaction violate any of the Job Duties of the DEP or staff? If not, what exactly are tax payers paying the department to do?
    Can’t irresponsible staff be charged with Theft of Tax Dollars for accepting pay while NOT doing their contractual jobs?

  10. June 18, 2013 5:34 pm

    It doesn’t surprise me that any of this goes on. This whole thing is getting out of hand at every turn it seems and it’s always for the worse!


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