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.