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A Clash in Pennsylvania Over Fracking and Water Tests

Feb 5, 2013
(Green)

 Politics

A war of words has broken out between environmentalists and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection over the cancellation of a meeting on the state’s testing of water from water wells near natural-gas drilling sites.

A fracking site in Pennsylvania.Getty ImagesA fracking site in Pennsylvania.

A meeting of 25 environmentally themed groups, the department’s oil and gas division and the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Laboratories had been set for Jan. 24 after the disclosure last November last year that department scientists had omitted data on some toxic metals found in water taken from a site in southwestern Pennsylvania.

On Jan. 22, the department informed the groups that the meeting was being deferred until an unspecified date, according to Iris Marie Bloom, director of Protecting Our Waters, a group based in Philadelphia that had planned to take part.

On Tuesday, the environmental groups issued a statement urging the Department of Environmental Quality to be more transparent about its testing procedures. “The D.E.P. seems more interested in protecting its own information than protecting the environment,” Nadia Steinzor of the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, one of the groups that was due to meet DEP officials, was quoted as saying.

A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, Kevin Sunday, said the agency put off the meeting because it objected to a statement issued by one of the environmental groups, Marcellus Shale Protest, that it planned a “takedown” of Michael Krancer, the department’s secretary, at a public meeting in Harrisburg, Pa.

“That language and that reference is unacceptable in the forum of civil public discourse and dialogue,” Mr. Sunday wrote in an e-mail. “We are working with the remainder of the invitees to reschedule the meeting.”

Mr. Sunday said that Mr. Krancer had been “very transparent” on the subject of water testing and oil and gas investigations in recent months.

Concern that the department had reported only partial results from water tests surfaced after Taru Upadhyay, technical director of the Bureau of Laboratories, testified last September in a legal deposition that her office had reported on the presence of only eight of 24 metals it tested for in one set of water samples.

The samples were taken from a water well owned by a resident who is suing the gas driller Range Resources and more than a dozen of its contractors, asserting that their activities had contaminated his water with the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

The resident, Loren Kiskadden, and six other plaintiffs who live near a Range gas site in Washington County, Pa. say they have suffered from nausea, breathing difficulties, bone pain and other health complaints because of their exposure to fracking chemicals.

Among the metals detected but not reported in Mr. Kiskadden’s water were copper, nickel, zinc and titanium, all of which may be hazardous to human health, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Ms. Upadhyay said she had omitted some metals from her test report because they had not been requested by the Department of Environmental Protection’s oil and gas division. In early November, Mr. Sunday said that some metals were excluded from the test report because officials wanted to see only those deemed relevant to determining whether drinking water was being contaminated by gas drilling and production in the Marcellus Shale.

In the e-mailed statement on Tuesday, the environmental groups asked the agency to explain why landowners are not routinely provided with quality-control measures and to clarify when and how certain testing protocols are used.

They also called on the department to specify its criteria for determining whether water contamination was caused by natural gas development.