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DEP responds to water testing allegations

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Posted: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 7:54 pm

HARRISBURG -- The state DEP is denying allegations that it does not fully test residential drinking water for contamination from commercial oil and gas drilling operations.

DEP Secretary Michael Krancer Tuesday refuted reports that the DEP had developed certain test result codes in order to “manipulate data.”

Last week, State Rep. Jesse White, D-46, Cecil Township, disclosed deposition testimony that the DEP, its analysis of residential drinking water, is not reporting all the chemicals discovered in test results because the department does not consider the substances related to wastewater from gas drilling. White cited the Sept. 26 deposition of the DEP Bureau of Laboratories technical director, Taru Upadhyay, in the Environmental Board Hearing case of a group of Washington County residents against Range Resources.

Loren Kiskadden of Amwell, one of the homeowners, claimed that the DEP’s report regarding his water contamination complaint was inaccurate and incomplete. According to Upadhyay’s deposition, Kiskadden’s water was found to contain zinc, nickel, cobalt, molybdenum, titanium and boron. These results, however, were not included in his water contamination report.

Upadhyay said the lab also found acetone, chloroform and T-butyl alcohol in Kiskadden’s water, the latter of which is known to be used in fracking fluid. The DEP has said these findings were from lab error and ruled that Kiskadden’s water was not contaminated as a result of nearby fracking, which was occurring 3,000 feet from his home.

Upadhyay said in her deposition that the DEP used computer codes called suite codes that intentionally left out a portion of test results for residents concerned their water had been contaminated by nearby drilling. The suite codes were listed as 942, 943 and 946.

In a letter to White Tuesday, Krancer defended the DEP's practice: “The code used to report tested parameters for an investigation of potential impact to a water supply from oil and gas operations was first developed in 1991 and has been used consistently and successfully for decades."

Using these suite codes, the DEP in one case tested for 24 contaminants but listed only eight of those in the report given to a resident who requested the analysis. Those substances were barium, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium and strontium.

The same report did not include results for silver, aluminum, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, nickel, silicon, lithium, molybdenum, tin, titanium, vandium, zinc and boron because, Krancer wrote, the levels of these additional metals were “extremely low” in this particular case.

“None exceeded a primary or secondary Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for drinking water,” he wrote. “Silica, one of the additional parameters mentioned, is one of the most common compounds found in our natural environment. Therefore, finding silica – particularly at these low levels – doesn’t inform DEP about whether a water supply is adversely affected by oil and gas related activities.”

Krancer wrote that Suite Code 942, which was developed in 1991, tests for the following: pH, chloride, alkalinity, calcium, hardness, manganese, conductivity, magnesium, iron, total dissolved solids, barium, sodium, potassium and strontium.

“The DEP’s Oil and Gas program personnel have determined the relevant parameters to detect contamination from oil and gas related activities,” he wrote. “The analysis suites reflect this effort and were revised in 2010, (SAC 946,) well after Marcellus unconventional drilling began.”

Also in the Washington County case, the deposition of DEP water quality specialist John Carson revealed that he was not aware that using the suite codes allowed the lab to report back to him only a portion of the water contamination results.

The DEP did not answer specific questions regarding how Suite Code 942 is different than Suite Code 946. DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday on Tuesday said only, “as discussed in (Krancer's) letter, SAC 942 was revised in 2010 in developing SAC 946.”

White, however, said Tuesday that Suite Code 942 reports results for eight metals, while Suite Code 946 reports results for 11 metals. White also said that Kiskadden’s water was tested twice – once in 2011 and once in 2012 – both using the older code, Suite Code 942.

Krancer's letter also made no mention of the 2009 study, “Sampling and Analysis of Water Streams Associated with the Development of Marcellus Shale Gas,” which links these unreported metals with fracking.

The study, prepared by the industry-funded Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Gas Technology Institute, with input by the DEP, sampled water at 19 locations, both before and after fracking.

The study found aluminum, boron, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, lithium, molybdenum, nickel, tin, titanium, thallium and zinc in the flowback water after fracking. In a previous interview, Sunday would not confirm that the unreported metals were unrelated to Marcellus drilling, or fracking.

The study's author, Thomas Hayes of the Gas Technology Institute, said Tuesday that these metals cannot be definitely connected with fracking.

“They’re at such low levels that it’s hard to say what aspect of the drilling operation they arose from actually,” he said. “When you have metals as low as what the report shows, these are not problematic metals. There’s a certain unease of people with their water, in view of new industrial activities that are occurring around them.”

Heavy metals detected in water could come from a number of industrial sources, especially considering Pennsylvania’s heavily industrial history, Hayes said, and these new industrial activities – such as fracking, even that occurring just 3,000 feet from someone’s residence – are “most probably not related to what they are detecting in their water. ”

In his letter, Krancer didn’t address testing method 200.7. The DEP Bureau of Laboratories is accredited by the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program. According to a letter from attorney Kendra Smith of Smith Butz, LLC, a lawyer in the Washington County case, that accreditation requires the DEP to use testing method 200.7, which stipulates a test for all 24 metals.

“Our staff are professionals and know what to look for to determine the cause of possible water contamination,” Krancer wrote in the letter.

But White is not convinced.

“(The DEP) needs to be addressing these questions, not attacking those who are asking them,” he said. “They can’t answer our specific issues. At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to --they’re not giving everybody all their test results. There’s really no excuse for that.”

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