Tuesday, June 7, 2011

No Wonder Good People Think Their Water Is Poisoned With Radiation

"Do You Want Radiation in Your Water?," asked the main banner outside the Capitol today in Harrisburg where people gathered from around Pennsylvania came to express their concern about or outright opposition to gas drilling.  The gathering drew substantial press coverage.

Comprehensive testing for radionuclides and other contaminants have been done by the Pennsylvania American Water Company, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, 14 drinking water suppliers, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.  All this testing has been done from November 2010 to today.

All the testing shows all water meets the Safe Drinking Water Act levels with just background levels of radionuclides.

Moreover as of June 2nd, Secretary Krancer stated that ZERO drilling wastewater is being discharged into Pennsylvania's rivers and streams.  As a result, the gas industry is putting less wastewater into streams today than before the first Marcellus well was drilled in 2005.

Good people don't know any of this good news that results from great work by regulators, industry, and environmental organizations.  And there is a reason. 

Good people have not had it reported to them at all or in a manner maximizing the odds that they will read it.  In fact the media essentially has reported the opposite to them in big, sensational stories.

And so good people believe that the gas industry is poisoning their water with radionuclides, chemicals, and total dissolved solids.  Why? 

Some are demagoguing these vital issues.  But the bigger problem is the press coverage.

The media consistently fails to cover at all or in the same way the news about radionuclide test results or achieving zero drilling water discharges as it covers initial sensational reports of possible problems. 

The possible problem is front page news.  The good news is not news at all apparently or so boring as to be relegated to small articles buried in the paper.

Would somebody in the Pennsylvania media beyond the Patriot News report on Secretary Krancer's statement that ZERO drilling wastewater is going into rivers and streams? 

Would even one paper make that news a front page, banner headline?  Good people deserve better.


  1. Concerned ScientistJune 7, 2011 at 2:00 PM

    I received this as a fundraising solicitation from a political group:

    "Do you like your tap water to be radioactive?

    Neither do I, but the big oil companies that are drilling for natural gas in New York are releasing millions of gallons of waste containing toxic chemicals and even radioactive materials into our drinking supply - at a level that is thousands of times higher than the legal limit, as reported in a recent New York Times article.

    It's happening through a dangerous extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" - in drilling wells all over the New York region. Fracking is not yet regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which means oil companies can pollute our water recklessly in their pursuit of profit.

    The one defense we have against big oil is a federal commission known as the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) that has been put in place to protect the integrity of the water in the Delaware River - and the health of the 15 million people who drink from its water supply every day.

    Together we can protect our communities from the disastrous side effects of corporate greed."

    This was followed by a request for donations.

    The factual errors in this are somewhat unbelievable. Do I even need to list them? It is really embarrassing. They probably raised a million dollars though.

  2. Concerned Scientist:

    Don Gilliland of the Patriot News would like to see the solicitation letter.

    His email is: dgilliland@patriot-news.com.

    What group sent it?

  3. There is a lot of messy, hyperbolic media coverage, to be sure, yet sunlight is the best antiseptic!

  4. I saw Krancer's announcement in a number of papers, and it was front page in the Indiana Gazette.

    I sent it around to concerned people in my region. People commented to me that it is indeed good news, but they also said that it's about fracking time. They were disappointed that DEP would allow fracking wastewater to get into PA waterways in the first place. People have said to me, that's great, but why are they two weeks late in the deadline, and why didn't DEP have the cajones to order them to stop discharging waste, rather than a polite suggestion? People have said to me that this is another example of PA's policy of drill (or mine) first, ask questions later. And that it was another example suggesting that DEP is horribly understaffed, which led to references to the generous campaign donations made from the MS industry to Corbett and the General Assembly.

    People have said to me that while they feel better that water tests have come back negative for radioactivity (I sent that out too), they're still concerned about the fracking process dragging up radioactive materials at all. They're concerned because DEP doesn't seem to have a comprehensive plan to track fracking wastewater. In my county here, it's evidenced by a company that was granted permission to drill into MS even though they could not provide any details of where the fracking wastewater would go. And just recently, this lack of a decent plan is evidenced by their suggestion to the MS Commission for cradle to grave tracking.

    That's of course a great idea - so great, in fact, that it's shocking to me that it hasn't already happened.

    Newspapers could take some blame, but they print what people are concerned about. Right now, they're concerned that DEP is acting from a completely reactive position, rather than being proactive.

    They're concerned because hydro-fracking is rife with dangers, and just because we haven't seen radioactive wastewater, there's no trust that DEP will have the capacity to make sure it doesn't happen (DEP's budget is reportedly been cut to 1994 levels? House budget cuts an additional $2million?)

    They're concerned because our elected officials (and you) continue to puppet the industry's line that there have been no "proven" instances of contamination of waterways or wells from fracking. That line goes against what we read in the press, here's a sample:

    http://www.indianagazette.com/b_news/article_c486f96b-2da9-5195-89e4-dd4eacca2a7b.html http://theintelligencer.net/page/content.detail/id/554811/Maryland-Sues-Chesapeake.html?nav=515

    I have a serious question here, are all of those press reports lies? Aren't those reason for concern? Based on DEP's track record so far shouldn't we be expecting the media to be watching this industry like a hawk?

    I'm also concerned that environmental groups in the state are not speaking with one voice about this - neither PennFuture, nor CELDF were part of yesterday's lobby day.

    John Hangar, your blog has been helpful in pointing out places where there should be greater concern. I'm particularly concerned about the lack of attention to the cumulative effects of fracking. And living less than 10 miles from the Homer City Power Plant I also understand that there is no shortage of environmental atrocities happening in our state that need attention.

    But, good people deserve a DEP that can walk and chew gum at the same time. Good people deserve a DEP that can address old environmental damage, as well as protect our health and environment from new threats. Maybe press coverage wouldn't be flush with bad news if we were overwhelmed by good news from DEP.

  5. G.Smith:

    Great comment. I agree with your opposition to the DEP budget cut proposed by Governor Corbett and then made even deeper in the House Republican budget.

    DEP is running on fumes after now 3 years of major cuts to the state funding portion of its budget. To make matters worse at least 3 major fee increase packages that I had authorized to pay for things like air permitting and inspections have been stopped as part of the no tax/no fee ideology.

    The public wants environmental cops on the beat looking at sewer plants, landfills and so on. The combination of state general fund cuts and stopping the fee package coming on top of two previous years of cuts is not responsible. The state is also going to end this fiscal year on June 30 with about a $600 million surplus. Restoring the DEP general fund budget to $145 million and moving forward with the fee packages would protect the environment, public health and safety.

  6. Concerned ScientistJune 9, 2011 at 2:36 PM

    G. Smith,

    Couldn't get your first link to work

    the second link:


    This article is about the Cabot problem in Dimock, PA. It was a methane migration problem not a wastewater problem. Cabot behaved poorly, but this is not an example wastewater being dumped into rivers. Totally unrelated to fracking.


    Ditto here - this is a methane migration problem, not related to fracking or wastewater.


    This story is about wastewater being dumped in the Monongahela. It does sound like it could be a problem. this is the sort of discharge that supposedly no longer occurs in PA. It does not mention whether this caused a problem of any kind. Sometimes the amount put in is so small that it gets diluted to the point that it is not a danger. That may or may not have been the case here.

    This last article


    is about methane migration. This does not occur as a result of fracking. It happens when there are problems with well construction and cement. Tougher regulations and new types of cement should help to reduce the number of incidents of methane migration. This is a legitimate issue but occurs with all types of drilling (vertical wells, water wells, geothermal wells, any kind of well). There is a lot of gas in some areas that is just beneath the water table that in isolated cases works its way up behind the casing and gets in people's water wells. It is not related to fracking nor is it coming directly from the Marcellus. Many of the people in these areas already have methane in their water naturally.

    Less informed journalists commonly link methane migration to fracking. They do a great disservice to their readers. They have not talked to the right people to get educated and have made an incorrect assumption.

    That said, everything possible should be done to reduce incidents of methane migration.