Tuesday, November 6, 2012

PA Marcellus News Digest11/5/12

PA Marcellus News Digest
November 5, 2012

SPECIAL ONLINE PETITION: Investigate PA DEP for fraudulent frack water contamination reports
Michael Morrill
We call on US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for misconduct and fraud related to withholding information about drilling contaminants in our water.


New Date Set for Open House, Public Hearing about New Equipment Installation at Fayette County Compressor Station
DEP Newsroom
Nov 5
PITTSBURGH -- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has rescheduled an open house and public hearing for Tuesday, Nov. 13, about a permit application from Laurel Mountain Midstream LLC for the construction and operation of new equipment at its Shamrock Compressor Station in German Township, Fayette County. The hearing was originally scheduled for Oct. 30, but was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy.


Pre-drilling methane levels measured in Damascus Twp. air
Laura Legere
Nov 5
A Wayne County anti-drilling group has commissioned what it calls a first-of-its-kind survey of ground-level methane concentrations in Damascus Twp. in order to record baseline conditions before natural gas drilling begins.

Special Comment: PA DEP Should Release All Results For Any Substance Tested
John Hanger's Facts of The Day
Nov 5
[...]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.

New energy interests donate to campaigns in Pa. races
GOP candidates for AG, treasurer get largest contributions
Erich Schwartzel
Nov 3
The latest cycle of campaign contributions in Pennsylvania state races included donations from new energy interests -- either those drilling in the state or those trying to stop it -- as well as two of the largest contributions from energy company political action groups yet, according to a Post-Gazette analysis of contribution filings.

State DEP says it follows industry standards in testing for water contamination
Pitt Trib
Timothy Puko
Nov 3
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection follows industry standards in testing for water contamination, but it could help landowners by sharing more test results, water experts said on Friday.

Pa. criticized over gas drilling pollution tests
Kevin Begos, AP
Nov 2
PITTSBURGH — A state representative says the way Pennsylvania reports possible water pollution related to natural gas drilling is seriously flawed.

Small town in Centre County to vote on local environmental bill of rights
Jessica VanderKolk / McClatchy Newspapers
Nov 5
A referendum related to environmental rights set for a vote in Centre County's Ferguson Township, to the immediate southwest of State College, has triggered some controversy between the township and the provision's supporters.

Charts: The Frackers' Well-Oiled Political Machine
How the domestic drilling frenzy fills campaign coffers and kills off accountability.
Mother Jones
Gavin Aronsen
Nov/Dec 2012 issue
This spring, five out of seven political ads in swing states like Ohio and Florida were about energy, according to Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group. That's because, as reported by the New York Times, the fossil fuel industry and its allies had dropped more than $153 million on political ads as of September. That included $37 million spent by the American Petroleum Institute, the nation's most powerful oil and gas lobby. Its "I'm an energy voter" ads say America should "produce more energy here, like oil and natural gas." By contrast, clean-energy advocates had spent a piddling $41 million on campaign advertising.

Pennsylvania Report Left Out Data on Poisons in Water Near Gas Site
NY Times
Jon Hurdle
Nov 2
PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania officials reported incomplete test results that omitted data on some toxic metals that were found in drinking water taken from a private well near a natural gas drilling site, according to legal documents released this week.

Water contamination report system 'makes no sense,' former enviro chief says
E&E News
Ellen M. Gilmer
Nov 5
(full text below)
Critics are slamming Pennsylvania environmental regulators for giving homeowners water inspection reports that leave out results for a slew of potentially harmful contaminants.

When analyzing water that homeowners suspect may be tainted by nearby Marcellus Shale drilling operations, state officials order a testing suite to screen for compounds that are markers of contamination. The methods used to test for those markers incidentally detect other metals. At issue in Pennsylvania is a testing suite that screens for eight common indicators of drilling contamination and 16 other compounds.

The Department of Environmental Protection's policy is to request a lab report on only those eight drilling contamination markers, leaving out the other 16 compounds that are less likely to be linked to the natural gas industry but are still potentially dangerous. That limited report is then given to homeowners and used by DEP officials to make determinations about whether a water supply is tainted.

John Hanger, who headed DEP under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, told EnergyWire last week that the agency needed to immediately revise the practice and be fully transparent with the data.

"The policy as described makes no sense and should be changed immediately. All results for any test should be provided to the homeowners," he said. "There's a lot to be lost by not just simply releasing that information and explaining it."

The drilling contamination markers that DEP discloses are barium, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium and strontium -- common drilling contamination indicators industrywide.

DEP defended its practices, saying that if screening for the eight markers showed nothing of concern, the presence of any other metals would not be an indication of drilling contamination.

"You would hard pressed to make a case that drilling activities contributed to contamination in a case where all of these constituents are at non-detect or background but that some other isolated metal or constituent is at an elevated level, e.g., tin or nickel," spokesman Kevin Sunday wrote in an email.

As DEP does not regulate private water supplies, Sunday said the agency feels justified in focusing on the drilling contamination markers.

Hanger said he doubted DEP's omissions were an attempt to protect the oil and gas industry from contamination charges, as some others have asserted. But, he said, it is the agency's responsibility to warn homeowners about all contaminants -- drilling-related or not.

"I doubt very much whether the information would materially determine whether or not gas drilling caused or didn't cause a problem," he said. "But that's beside the point. The point is the state has information about contaminants in water, and they should just release all items."

Among the contaminants not disclosed to homeowners are titanium, aluminum, silicon, lithium, molybdenum and 11 other metals. One study commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Coalition lists many of these metals as appearing in shale gas water samples, but at very low levels compared to municipal wastewater levels, for example.

The fallout

The policy came to light in depositions given for a civil suit regarding contamination charges in Washington County.

Taru Upadhyay, technical director for DEP's Bureau of Laboratories, told attorneys that the lab customarily responds to agency requests by testing for a broader group of contaminants and then reporting the results for the requested compounds.

The story broke last week in local newspapers, and state Rep. Jesse White (D) accused DEP of misconduct and fraud and called for a formal investigation.

"The Marcellus boom was built on the assumption that the DEP was competent and capable of balancing the positive impacts of the industry with its job of keeping residents safe and secure, but we now know that simply isn't the case," White said in a statement.

White represents part of western Pennsylvania that includes townships currently embroiled in a legal challenge against the state; the townships argue that the state has overstepped its bounds in pre-empting local zoning regulations of Marcellus operations via the state's new oil and gas law, Act 13. White did not respond to requests for comment.

Critics of the legislator say his accusations are "blatant fearmongering."

"The implication that this is some sort of Watergate ... in order to hide oil and gas contamination -- I don't see any facts that support that," said Mike Knapp, of local natural gas company MDS Energy Ltd. "We see on a daily basis just how closely DEP is watching."

Knapp said the 16 metals left out of results were omitted because they were irrelevant, not because DEP had any "nefarious" agenda -- though at this point, he added, it might serve the agency well to release all the data to ease public concern.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition also dismissed White's assertions, calling them politically motivated and "flashy." Further, the industry group said in a release, the DEP lab has been lauded by the Association of Public Health Laboratories for its management and efficiency.

Knapp said he believed drilling critics were grasping at straws to smear the industry and its regulators. "It's interesting that it's the same players that seem to be popping up in these cases," he said.

The depositions were taken by the firm Smith Butz, which is representing homeowners in a case against Range Resources and DEP. The firm is also involved in the Act 13 challenge.

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