Monday, November 5, 2012

Special Comment: PA DEP Should Release All Results For Any Substance Tested

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's water testing practices are news once more.; Hot words are flying back and forth between DEP and the gas industry on one side and drilling critics on the other.

Here is the rest of the story.

When the PA DEP takes a water sample, it conducts routinely tests on 24 substances but does not report the results of all 24 substances tested to the homeowner.  Instead, depending on the reason why the test is being done, DEP releases the results for a subset of the 24 substances that is relevant to the purpose of the investigation.

In the case of investigating claims that gas drilling caused water contamination, the DEP reports the results for 8 substances, including chloride and potassium, that are markers for drilling contamination.  The results for 16 other substances that were tested too are not reported.

Spokespeople for the DEP and the gas industry have charged that those challenging the Department's testing practices are opposed to gas drilling, voted against Act 13 and should therefore not be taken seriously. For their part, some drilling critics have charged the possible existence of a criminal conspiracy to deceive homeowners about test results. Neither verbal barrage is illuminating.

Instead of turning up the heat and engaging in another round of battle, all involved should resolve the legitimate issues raised.

At this time, releasing all results for all substances tested makes sense, whether or not a result for a particular substance is relevant to determining whether gas drilling did or did not cause contamination. I, therefore, recommend:

1. Prospectively change the policy and report, with appropriate explanation, the results for all 24 substances, no matter the reason for the sampling;
2. Retroactively release all results for past testing if the Department has that information; and
3. Do another test if the Department no longer has the information and the homeowner wants the results for all 24 substances tested.

This course is not combative or dramatic--another reason to do it.


  1. Thank you for being a rational voice in this John. I agree with you wholeheartedly that DEP should change its policy on this and release all of the testing data. However, I also think that the accusations, especially those made by Rep Jesse White in the New York Times are ridiculous, unfounded, and intentionally deceitful.

    Folks should know that while this is a policy that has room for improvement, it is NOT, in any way whatsoever, a malicious act specifically meant to cover up evidence of gas drilling contamination as the Representative callously asserts.


  2. Everybody would do well to focus on the issue and turn the heat down on motivations. The policy was not intended to deceive people. The policy, nonetheless, should be changed. And that would be a good thing.

  3. Considering how intelligent the folks at DEP are, it's difficult for this anti- to believe it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to conceal potentially controversial information from homeowners. But thank you for recommending a positive course of action, and for requesting an “appropriate explanation.” I’m sure there are many on both sides wanting to know who were the masterminds behind “Suite Code 942” - what were they trying to accomplish? Liz R.

    1. Sorry for the slow response. I am not sure what has happened since I left. I suspect the reason for reporting only the particular markers/signals important for different types of investigations was one of efficiency and targeting. But that rationale or any other is not important. Just release all the results.

  4. Has the current DEP departed from a policy you had in place?

    1. I am also interested in this question. Secretary Krancer indicated in a letter to Rep. White that this type of practice (only releasing the relevant water results) has been used since 1991. Under your leadership, Mr. Hanger, did the DEP release the entire water test results?

      source --