DEP Leaving Out Data on Hazardous Metals in Water Testing Near Local Gas Drilling Sites

'I simply do not trust them to do the right thing for the people I represent, and I’m not willing to give the DEP the benefit of the doubt when the health and safety of my constituents may be at risk,' state Rep. Jesse White said.

Last week, I was copied on a letter sent by a local attorney to Michael Krancer, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The letter contained some very explosive information that is extremely relevant to our region when it comes to Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

The facts in the letter are based on two depositions given under oath by two DEP employees, Bureau of Laboratories Technical Director Taru Upadhyay and Water Quality Specialist John Carson, in a lawsuit filed against the DEP and a natural gas drilling company by a Washington County resident over potential contamination of his well water from drilling activities. 

The DEP employees testified they were aware of impacts on the resident’s water supply from drilling operations, but failed to file notices of any violations, which is a violation of the PA Oil and Gas Act.

But far more troubling was testimony about water quality testing results being screened and withheld from property owners by DEP using a computer code. Here’s how it works.

When a DEP field inspector comes to your property to test your water, he or she fills a sample container with water and then fills out a sample sheet, both of which are sent to the DEP laboratory. The field inspector is instructed to fill in what is known as a ‘Suite Code’ of 942 on the sample sheet. This is a really important code, as you will see.

The Federal EPA requires the DEP follow certain scientific standards in its testing—in this case, they use a standard known as 200.7. This means when the DEP tests for heavy metals in water, they must test for the presence and levels of 24 metals: Barium, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Magnesium, Manganese, Sodium and Strontium, Silver, Aluminum, Beryllium, Cadium, Cobalt, Chromium, Copper, Nickel, Silicon, Lithium, Molybdenum, Tin, Titanium, Vandium, Zinc and Boron.

Some of these metals are known carcinogens and others are suspected carcinogens, which means their presence at certain levels can have very serious health risks. According to a 2009 study done in conjunction with the DEP on behalf of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry-funded advocacy group, many of those 24 metals have been found in flowback and produced water from drilling operations.

So when the DEP lab receives the water sample and the sample sheet, it tests for all 24 metals in the water. But—and this is the really important part—when the lab generates the report of the results, the ‘Suite Code 942’ entered into the computer triggers a filter which means the DEP field inspector only gets results for eight of the 24 metals tested for, because that’s all he told the lab he wanted to see. So even if your water tested off the charts for the other 16 metals, you would never know about it.

This raises two important questions. If the field inspector purposely chose not to see all the information generated from the lab, how can DEP possibly write a report stating whether your water has been impacted and is safe for you and your family to drink?

And what reason could the DEP have for withholding full results from both you and their own inspector? The DEP’s responses have been lame and evasive at best; they shouldn’t care whether the problems came from drilling or not—if they know your water is unsafe because they have the testing data in a lab somewhere, they must tell you. There is simply no legitimate excuse to withhold this information from homeowners.

Upon receiving this information, I released it to the public because I know many of my constituents have received water reports from the DEP with ‘Suite Code 942’ applied. Based on my own experiences with the DEP’s refusal to release testing data from Cornerstone Care health clinic a few months back, I simply do not trust them to do the right thing for the people I represent, and I’m not willing to give the DEP the benefit of the doubt when the health and safety of my constituents may be at risk. I called for an independent investigation of DEP by law enforcement to get to the bottom of the situation.

The story exploded in the press, being picked up by the New York Times, the Associated Press and news outlets all over the state. Predictably, I was attacked by the natural gas industry for my statements. Hateful and untrue things about me were being churned out on the Internet from industry-funded attack groups faster than I could read them.

Although predictable, the attacks were odd for one reason: Shouldn’t the natural gas industry want the DEP to be honest and open inits  practices? Doesn’t the long-term future of the energy industry in the region, and the jobs that come with it, depend on the public trust in the DEP to do its job? If a company is doing everything right, why wouldn’t they want the people to know all the facts? And how are drilling company public relations people qualified to comment on internal procedures at the DEP?

This story is far from over; in fact, I believe it’s just getting started. I am committed to the safe, responsible and accountable development of Marcellus Shale, which requires honesty and transparency from both the industry and the DEP.

If we really want to build a new energy economy ‘the right way’, we should be willing to accept nothing less than full accountability from all parties involved.

After all we’ve gone through, I’d hate to see the ‘golden goose’ killed due to its own shortsightedness.

If you or anyone you know has received water-testing results from the DEP and want to know whether a Suite Code like 942, 943 or 946 was used to limit your results, please call my office at 724-746-3677.

Thomas Shepstone January 05, 2013 at 01:12 AM
Hey, Prouder American (or should I call you Jesse?). I suggest you take a closer look at the source of those radioactive claims you're making. Check out these links: http://eidmarcellus.org/marcellus-shale/marcellus-shale-radon-anti-expert-more-radioactive-than-ever/11633/ http://eidmarcellus.org/marcellus-shale/radon-rhetoric-of-anti-expert-on-natural-gas-rejected/11289/ http://eidmarcellus.org/marcellus-shale/the-resnikoff-study-recycled-radioactive-rhetoric/8170/ http://eidmarcellus.org/blog/the-ten-degree-of-truth/1564/
Thomas Shepstone January 05, 2013 at 10:38 AM
Well, glad to know that. You'll be pleased to note Promised Land is underperforming: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1016837-promised_land/ Also, see this great piece: http://wnep.com/2013/01/04/the-promised-land/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
Donald Roessler January 05, 2013 at 04:36 PM
Sounds like Prouder American better go see the doctor. I think they have a bad case of "SHALESHOCK".
Donald Roessler January 06, 2013 at 07:27 PM
I'm not Mr. Shepstone so everyone knows. See the article below. A lot of the people from Cecil know who I am because they eat my vegetables in the summer. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/10/photogalleries/101022-energy-gas-faces-shale-pictures/
Donald Roessler January 07, 2013 at 03:48 AM
I don't care if anyone buys my stuff anymore or not because I'm getting big $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ from the gas. Plus if they're that scared they won't buy anymore milk or meat at the grocery store or visit the farmer's markets anymore either.
Donald Roessler January 07, 2013 at 05:17 AM
Everything is fine because Range Resources NEVER POLLUTED MY FARM OR THE FARMS THAT SURROUND THE WELLSITE NEXT TO US !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And you would be amazed at what is found in the grocery store that came from farms near well sites and some of it is local.
Donald Roessler January 07, 2013 at 05:27 AM
AND RANGE RESOURCES HASN'T POLLUTED ANY OF THE FARMS THAT MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY OWN IN THIS AREA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And that's a fact Jack !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thomas Shepstone January 07, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Sounds like Prouder American, who is afraid to identify himself or herself, has it in for Range, just like Jesse. Why is Range even a part of this discussion, Prouder American?
Prouder American January 07, 2013 at 02:05 PM
Interesting question, Mr. Shepstone. Here's another one- why are YOU part of this discussion? If the point of the article is the DEP's failure to disclose information, and industry says there's nothing to hide, then why did you get involved and make this about something else? To simplify, let me ask you point blank: do you, Thomas Shepstone of Energy in Depth, believe the DEP should provide landowners with all data from water testing done on their property with no exceptions or screening whatsoever?
Thomas Shepstone January 07, 2013 at 02:14 PM
You sure sound like Jesse, "Prouder American." If you're not him, you must be his butler or maid. As for you're question, I think DEP did exactly the correct thing, supplying the information that was relevant and leaving out extraneous data no one had requested and that could be misused by folks like yourself. Why are you afraid to identify yourself, Prouder American? How about answering that for me?
Mike Knapp January 07, 2013 at 03:27 PM
Who are the DEP? A body of professional scientists and specialists whose exact job it is to define what is extraneous and what is not in matters such as this. If you want DEP to test for other contaminants, we should be having the discussion over whether or not PA should have the right to regulate private water wells, like the other 49 states do. Until then, they are doing their job exactly as the current laws instruct them to.
Tom Shepstone January 07, 2013 at 03:42 PM
Not if I didn't ask for it. Suppose it showed high iron, for example, that, although largely only an aesthetic concern, I would then have to disclose to potential buyers. I'd be pretty angry with DEP for sticking its nose where it doesn't belong. Why do you keep avoiding my challenge to identify yourself? What are you hiding?
Prouder American January 07, 2013 at 04:29 PM
I guess Mr. Shepstone couldn't handle it himself, so they called in Mike Knapp. Doesn't it seem bizarre that you two are arguing on behalf of the agency you regulate? The DEP is a puppet of the industry, and posts from people like you two simply confirm it.
Erin Conners January 07, 2013 at 04:58 PM
I am clearly identified (more legitimately than you are) and asked you a very honest question above that you have neglected. In addition to that question the "Energy in Depth" website has presented an article that lists the chemicals that some of the top outside organizations list as those that should be tested for. the article then lists everything that the DEP tests for except for chromium...The article simply states that the DEP is following the guidelines of even the outside activist environmentalist groups while failing to even mention the absence of chromium. You will have to excuse me not finding the Energy in Depth article at this moment, but as you read this site on a regular basis perhaps you are familiar with the article I am referring to. It has been shared by those in favor of drilling which is how I came upon it. I posted it along with commentary on quite a few of these Patch drilling articles and have yet to get a response. Consider it supplementary information for the time being.
Donald Roessler January 07, 2013 at 05:12 PM
Mike, I like your website listed below. It took me a while to READ IT ALL. Now I know why you're involved in the arguement here. Keep up the good work !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! http://knappap.blogspot.com/
Amanda Gillooly January 07, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Just have to say it: Thanks for all the comments on this subject. I just ask that you guys continue to be civil. Thanks!!!
Donald Roessler January 07, 2013 at 05:23 PM
Erin, just for my own curiosity what is the big concern with chromium and drilling? I missed anything that has been said about it and I don't beleive I ever saw it in any list of frack chemicals that I read. It would be a factor in a case where a junkyard has polluted the water because of all the detiorating chrome parts found on automobiles.
Erin Conners January 07, 2013 at 05:25 PM
See above
Donald Roessler January 07, 2013 at 05:56 PM
It's a possibility that the ground in these ares of question already contained high levels of chromium-6 that may have been disturbed and released when they initially drilled through the aquifier. In that case it should clear up over time but I can't tell you how long it would take. This is why Range Resources provides temporary water for some people in our area when they drill.They make filtration systems for at home use that would remove these chemicals.
Mike Knapp January 07, 2013 at 06:09 PM
Well gee, you're saying there is a conspiracy between the gas industry and the DEP. We represent half of that equation. Not that we have to represent anyone to be able to deliver facts of the situation. Facts are facts, no matter who delivers them. Why don't you pay attention to them instead of carelessly dismissing them?
Mike Knapp January 07, 2013 at 06:10 PM
Thanks Donald!!!
Donald Roessler January 07, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Erin, the article listed below has a lot of interesting information about chromium-6 and how it is getting the water supply. It's not just a problem around areas where they are drilling for gas. There are a lot of other factors that is causing it. And it is apparently getting into public water supplies all around the country. I read another article about it that said somewhere out in Missouri it was given free to some of the farmers to use as fertilizer and it sickened a bunch of people. http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2010/12/30/chromium-6-found-in-tap-water-of-31-u-s-cities/
Donald Roessler January 07, 2013 at 07:45 PM
Erin, I came across this website listed below a while back. It is a way to protect yourself if you are concerned about your water. It is an inexpensive reverse osmosis system that will remove heavy metals from your drinking water right at your tap. It mounts under your kitchen sink. http://www.costco.com/.product.10040488.html?cm_sp=RichRelevance-_-itempageVerticalRight-_-CategorySiloedViewCP&cm_vc=itempageVerticalRight|CategorySiloedViewCP
Prouder American January 07, 2013 at 09:45 PM
It's simple- industry groups like Energy in Depth want to restrict the information available to the public while wanting us to just trust them that the stuff we aren't seeing is nothing to worry about. Just how stupid do you think people are?
Cecil Resident January 08, 2013 at 02:52 AM
But then there's this elected official, that is supposed to be working for his constituents, but uses the lack of knowledge of the general public as scare tactics to keep himself in the spotlight..... Jesse white is an attorney... Not a scientist or lab technician... What does he know about standard laboratory water analysis procedures? The employees of the 'industry' live here and raise their families here, too... But they'd be willing to go along with the DEP conspiracy and put themselves and their families in jeopardy? Ain't that simple...
Cecil Resident January 08, 2013 at 04:13 AM
So an attorney knows more about lab procedures than professional scientists or lab technicians.... Um..... not buying that one...not to mention the penn state hydrogeologist's unbiased opinion... Maybe you should have checked the ego at the door....wow
Cecil Resident January 08, 2013 at 04:21 AM
And, as a tax payer within your district, it bothers me...to no end... that you have nothing better to do than blog on this site ( no offense, Amanda)... How completely and totally unprofessional and ..... Pathetic...
Jesse White January 08, 2013 at 04:37 AM
As fun as this has all been to watch, I did want to jump in on one point "Cecil Resident" made. I don't think writing about things happening in my district is a waste of time at all, and I'm grateful to Patch and the other places my columns are published for the opportunity to reach out to my constituents.
Cecil Resident January 08, 2013 at 04:43 AM
"Just how stupid do you think people are?"
Bob Strong September 24, 2013 at 07:44 PM
That's certainly one way to deal with water testing. The way we did it in IL was certainly different. Hopefully they can get it figured out properly. http://www.arrolab.com/SERVICES/


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something