In November 2012, it was revealed that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was only giving the public partial data for water quality tests conducted near Marcellus Shale drilling sites.
The DEP uses something called a ‘suite code’—a three-digit number that tells the computer what information to pull out of the computers at the DEP laboratory and pass on to DEP Field Agents who write the reports to tell you whether your water is impacted or contaminated.
Through depositions of DEP officials, we learned that Suite Code 942 was being used, which only gives results for eight of the 24 metals the DEP must test for. Several scathing letters written to me from DEP Sec. Michael Krancer, who Gov. Tom Corbett appointed, implied that DEP wasn’t hiding anything and the suite codes had been updated to disclose more information. He also went on to berate me and question my motivation in seeking this information, while conveniently failing to answer any of my very legitimate questions.
But in the two rambling responses from Secretary Krancer failed to mention is the existence of Suite Code 944, titled “Marcellus Inorganic Survey.” As compared to Suite Code 942, which gives results for eight substances, and Suite Code 946, which gives results for 16 substances, Suite Code 944 gives test results for 45 different substances. Suite Code 942 was developed back in 1991, 13 years before the first Marcellus Shale well was drilled, yet has been used the most by DEP. Interestingly, Suite Code 944 was developed in 2008 but has never once been used by DEP.
Even though I had specifically asked Secretary Krancer on multiple occasions, none of this information was provided to me by the DEP; a reporter obtained it through the Open Records Law. In plain English, the DEP developed the right test to use for water quality near drilling sites but never used it and never told anyone about it, but somehow they feel they shouldn’t have to explain any of this to the public.
This should be simple; people are entitled to all the facts about what’s in the water they drink. No ifs, ands or buts. There is no legitimate excuse the DEP can give for withholding the information. It’s not a cost issue. The testing is all being done at DEP laboratories, and the full tests are being run on every sample; they’re just not giving the results for everything they find.
The Corbett Administration has adopted a policy of deciding what we deserve to know, and they apparently feel you don’t deserve to know if there are cancer-causing toxic chemicals in your water. It may sound harsh, but it’s simply the truth.
The combative response by DEP, coupled with its unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of Suite Code 944, much less actually ever use it, makes it almost impossible for an objective person to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Someone made a conscious choice to use the codes that gave people less information than they needed, and the taxpayers deserve some real answers. Last week I appeared on KDKA Radio to discuss this issue, and the DEP spokesman refused to go on the air at the same time as me. Instead, he waited until I was done and simply lied through his teeth in an attempt to spin the situation. The lying needs to stop. The spin needs to stop. The cute word games need to stop. I want no more than the people deserve, which is the full and unfiltered truth.
Some people will interpret this position as being ‘anti-drilling,’ which is ridiculous. You would think the natural gas industry would be the first one demanding full disclosure, especially if it truly believes its operations had no impact on the water. This has nothing at all with being for or against drilling—it’s all about demanding real accountability and transparency from the government agencies charged with protecting the people of Pennsylvania.
Last week I introduced legislation to directly address this issue. House Bill 268 would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to disclose the full and complete testing results, including raw data and documentation, of any environmental tests conducted by the department on a landowner’s or leaseholder’s property in Pennsylvania. DEP would have to make the information available at no cost and within five business days of receiving a written request from the landowner or leaseholder, or face civil penalties of up to $1,500 if the department fails to make the information available.
This is reasonable legislation to ensure people are getting all the facts, not just the ones hand-picked by the Corbett Administration. I will be fighting like hell to get this legislation passed in Harrisburg, but I already know that given the political climate in the state capitol, it will be an uphill battle. The sad reality is most of the legislators from around the state (and some right around here) don’t want to rock the political boat enough to get you the truth you deserve about the water you drink.
It’s beyond frustrating.
I will also be hosting a House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in the Washington County Commissioners’ Meeting Room at Courthouse Square. The hearing will focus on DEP and its environmental testing practices. I encourage you to attend, and if you have had an experience with DEP, I would ask you to consider telling your story by testifying. You can make arrangements by calling my office at 724-746-3677.
I also invited the DEP to attend the hearing and answer some questions. It would be a great opportunity to demonstrate a real commitment to giving us the answers we deserve. Will they show up? I guess we’ll have to wait until Feb. 19, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.