Monday, March 7, 2011

DEP Radioactive Material Test Results Show Water Safe & NY Times 2/27 Article Deliberately False

The Department of Environmental Protection issued today a press release announcing that test results for radioactive material in streams in 7 counties and all samples "showed levels at or below the normal naturally occurring background levels of radioactivity."

Secretary Krancer is quoted as saying "Here are the facts: all samples were at or below background levels of radioactivity; and all samples showed levels below the federal drinking water standard for Radium 226 and 228." 

For the press release go to:

The monitoring took place in November and December with in-stream monitors in Washington County, Greene County, Indiana County, Venango County, Beaver County, Tioga County, and Lycoming County.

These are welcome test results and more testing is being done by the Pennsylvania American Water Company and the Pittsburgh Sewer and Water Authority.

These results also are another blow to credibility of the New York Times February 27th story that was deliberately false.  The story had a fictional narrative of lax regulation and oversight of gas drilling in Pennsylvania.  It also gratuitously frightened Pennsylvanians by suggesting that their water was contaminated with radioactive materials and unsafe. 

Currently about 70% of drilling wastewater is partially treated and recycled and reused and not discharged to rivers and streams.  The amount of recycling is increasing. 

In August 2010, Pennsylvania completed a rulemaking that ended the decades long practice of allowing unlimited amounts of drilling wastewater to be discharged without treatment for Total Dissolved Solids.  The new, stronger rule required all new or expanded treatment plants that discharge drilling wastewater to treat it at the pipe to the Safe Drinking Water Act standard of 500mg/liter. The rule also created a watershed standard to insure that the cumulative loading of TDS from any or all sources could not cause waters to have TDS concentrations about the Safe Drinking Water Standard.

The August rule conditionally allowed the historic, existing plants to continue operating without treatment for TDS only if they did not expand or did not cause the receiving waters to have TDS levels above 75% of the Safe Drinking Water standard.


  1. Nice job, John. Sadly, there will be no retraction from NYT, but most of us west of the Delaware River recognize them for the joke that they are.

  2. Is one of the test sites, on the Monongahela, upstream from two of the plants discharging large amounts of partially treated waste into the river?

    Are winter samples representative?

  3. Hi Mr Hanger

    Did the DEP take samples in ALL the rivers where there is discharge of drilling wastewater.

    That detail is absent from the press release.

    Jean-Hugues Roy
    CBC reporter, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

  4. J H Roy:

    I don't know for sure but probably not every site. The sites where sampling was done and monitoring is in place are at locations where the old plants that operated prior to the August 2010 exist. These sites are certainly the ones where if a problem existed it would be present. The Pennsylvania American Water Company and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority are also doing testing of the water they actually supply to their customers. See earlier posting on the topic.

  5. Is this quote from the NYT accurate:
    “We’re burning the furniture to heat the house,” said John H. Quigley, who left last month as secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “In shifting away from coal and toward natural gas, we’re trying for cleaner air, but we’re producing massive amounts of toxic wastewater with salts and naturally occurring radioactive materials, and it’s not clear we have a plan for properly handling this waste.”

  6. The quote attributed to me about "burning the furniture to heat the house" was something that I have said numerous times over the 2 years that I was Secretary of DCNR. I said that in various interviews and speeches about leasing state forest land to balance the state budget. I did not say that to the reporter in the context of the New York Times article, and I explained what I meant to the reporter.

    The second quote is accurate but incomplete and lacks context. I told the reporter that John Hanger and his staff did heroic work in putting into place the regulations and staffing that John describes in detail on this blog. I told the reporter that if PA remained on the regulatory trajectory that was started in the Rendell Administration, that I was confident that we would have a complete regulatory approach to Marcellus drilling. Further regulatory work, testing, and monitoring are all needed.

    I told the reporter that with the pace and scale of drilling and the regulatory stance that the Corbett Administration has taken, it is not clear that we will have a complete, comprehensive plan going forward.

  7. John, there is much accusation that the testing was done upstream of certain treatment sites and was not an accurate representation of possible radioactive contamination levels.

    It seems there should be more and thoroughly transparent testing (places, times, tester etc), ie perhaps third party testing is necessary. DEP is being seen as too close to the industry at this time. I hope what you are saying is true, but after BP, and now the 1000's of citations against gas drillers AND the lack of a drilling tax in PA, how can we trust this fossil fuel industry?

  8. The testing that will be 100% definitive is the testing of the drinking water. Pennsylvania American Water Company is doing testing in the area as is Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. I have been urging since February 27th when I was the first to call for testing of the drinking water and still urge all drinking water systems to do so. The drinking water tests are definitive. No need to argue. No need to trust the drilling industry. Test the drinking water.

    The in-stream tests are also important. I would encourage DEP to release full information about the testing locations to this point.

  9. From the DEP Press Release:

    "Krancer explained that the water tested is the raw water in the river before it enters public water suppliers’ intakes where the water receives further treatment."

    In other words, they did test river water upstream of the water treatment facilities, where frackwater is treated and mixed in with river water, then fed to the public.

    Looking forward to the Pa American and Pitt W&S Authority testing.