Wednesday, February 29, 2012

PA DEP Must Remove Cloud Over Its Drinking Water Tests Are Sound

An Associated Press story about possible impacts of gas drilling on ten water wells in Butler county, Pennsylvania that ran in papers around the country on Friday, February 24, including in the Washington Post, creates a cloud over the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's water testing. The cloud must be removed, because doubt about the quality of DEP water testing would make impossible the already difficult task of handling water contamination complaints.

The AP story states: "DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said on Friday that the low chemical concentrations were not a health risk, and he suggested that the contamination may have come from the agency's laboratory or from abandoned vehicles on or near the property. But Sunday didn't answer why the DEP failed to do follow-up tests if it suspected its own testing process was contaminated." See the following link:

The foregoing, quoted two sentences and specifically the statement that the DEP laboratory might have caused water contamination that have now appeared around Pennsylvania and the nation must be addressed by DEP.  Perhaps the story misrepresents what the DEP spokesperson said or the DEP spokesperson misspoke, an easy thing to do.   Or the AP story could accurately convey what Mr. Sunday said and he meant what he said.

In either case, to remove the doubt sowed about the quality of its vital water testing process, DEP should do another round of testing at the water wells in Butler county and address directly the Friday February 24 comments made about the quality of its earlier water tests and its laboratory's procedures.  Does DEP have reasons to think that its test was compromised? What were those reasons if they do?  Or were the comments inadvertent and mistaken?

At this point, to restore and protect public confidence, those questions need to be answered and combined with another round of DEP water testing at the Butler county sites that are now the focus of a major public controversy.  See following link for another story about the case:

Whenever a water contamination complaint is received DEP is on the regulatory hot spot. The Butler county case is certainly an example of the difficult issues that DEP must resolve. Its ability to credibly address these complaints is vital to public confidence, and that indispensable credibility rests on the quality of its water testing processes and DEP transparency.


  1. Don't Expect Protection...failed casing and cement is still happening and gas "drilling" continues to impact drinking water...and this is only the beginning. I gave up on DEP when I realized it's main purpose was to promote the gas industry. Ironically, when we first signed leases we were assured DEP would be tough on the industry. The locals all claimed DEP rode them hard regarding quarries and timbering, wetland and stream protection....if only that had been true. So sad...

  2. Strong enforcement of gas drilling rules is vital. Also strong leases are vital and nobody should sign a lease without full legal review.

    As to Cabot in Dimock, they have been fined more than $1.3 million from 2009 to 2010. They were denied permits for months; they were forbidden to drill in a zone for years; they were ordered to plug wells and repair others at the cost of tens of millions in direct costs and lost revenues; they were required to establish individual escrow accounts for 18 families totaling $4.1 million to compensate them for methane pollution; they were required to deliver water for years; they were required to offer methane treatment systems. Those are the facts up to January 2011. Moreover DEP doubled its oil and gas staff from 2008 to 2010. Moreover Pa issued 1200 violations to the industry in 2010 and 1100 in 2011, the most of any state by a great deal. I also agree that DEP should continue to hire staff. Strong regulation and enforcement is vital.

  3. John, the water pipeline from Montrose still isn't built. The EPA won't deliver water forever. Now that you're out of the political swamp, I hope you can still stand by your promise you made to the residents and at the very least advocate for the water pipeline. I think that would be a good start of reparations. On your watch, drilling permits sailed through the DEP and I know for a fact basic endangered species surveys by PA surveyors were NOT done on every site, instead relying on gas-industry funded surveys. Simple things like deer fencing and closed containment were NOT installed to protect deer and waterfowl that are key assets to rural PA's tourism economy. Dumping in municipal treatment plants ill-equipped to handle well brine did NOT stop until Gov. Corbett asked them to.

    I hope you find it within yourself to start helping us fight this industry. Of all people, you know what's going on the most.

  4. When I became secretary in 2008, we rewrote all gas regulations for the first time in decades. Five regulatory packages were passed: 1. Water witdrawal and water plan requirement in 2008; 2. Drilling Water disposal and TDS rule in August 2010, ending decades of allowing the industry to discharge with no treatment drilling wastewater and establishing for all watersheds that TDS levels must be kept at 75% or lower of the Safe Drinking Water Act level for TDS; 3. Complete rewrite of drilling design, construction, and materials rule. This rule included mandatory disclosure of chemicals. 4. A 150 foot buffer rule for all high quality streams from all development; 5. Raising the fee for drilling permits from a ridiculous $100 to as much as $10,0000, raising about $10 million per year. All that money was invested in more than doubling the oil and gas staff and opening new offices in Williamsport and Scranton. Hiring was done in 2009 and 2010. More hiring should be still done. And the enforcement staff issued 1200 violations in 2010, the most in the country by a huge amount, according to the UT study. Finally, the water line was dead with the results of the 2010 election and when all local officials and important Republican state senators opposed it. As a result, I was able to win $4.1 million in payments to 18 families, in individual escrow accounts, averaging $201,000.