Friday, November 2, 2012

Marcellus Shale water-quality testing practices White calls on state, federal authorities for investigation of DEP

White calls on state, federal authorities for investigation of DEP over deceptive Marcellus Shale water-quality testing practices
Testimony by DEP lab chief reveals possibility of intentionally undisclosed public health risks from Marcellus Shale gas drilling

HARRISBURG, Nov. 1 – State Rep. Jesse White, D-Allegheny/Beaver/Washington, today called for state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for alleged misconduct and fraud revealed by sworn testimony given by a high-ranking DEP official.

White said he received a letter and corresponding documents highlighting the sworn testimony of DEP Bureau of Laboratories Technical Director Taru Upadhyay, who was deposed in a lawsuit alleging nearby natural gas drilling operations contaminated drinking water supplies in Washington County, causing serious health issues. In the deposition, Upadhyay said that the DEP was clearly aware of water impacts from Marcellus Shale drilling, but no notices of violation were filed – a violation of the state’s Oil & Gas Act.

Of more critical concern to Pennsylvania residents, according to White, was that the deposition revealed that the DEP developed a specialized computer-code system to manipulate the test results for residents whose water was tested by the DEP over concerns of adverse effects from gas drilling operations.

According to the transcripts, which have been filed as exhibits in a related lawsuit in Washington County Court of Common Pleas (Haney et al. v. Range Resources et al., Case No. 2012-3534), the DEP lab would conduct water tests using an EPA-approved standard, but the DEP employee who requested the testing would use a specially designed ‘Suite Code’ which limits the information coming back from the DEP lab to the DEP field office, and ultimately to the property owner.

The code in question, Suite Code 942, was used to test for water contamination associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities, yet specifically screens out results for substances known to be hazardous and associated with Marcellus Shale drilling. Similar codes, Suite Code 943 and 946, are also used by the DEP in similar circumstances; both of these codes omit the presence or levels of drilling-related compounds.

As a result, if Suite Code 942 is applied, the report generated for the homeowner by DEP only includes eight of the 24 metals actually tested for: Barium, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Magnesium, Manganese, Sodium and Strontium. The homeowner would not be given results for: Silver, Aluminum, Beryllium, Cadium, Cobalt, Chromium, Copper, Nickel, Silicon, Lithium, Molybdenum, Tin, Titanium, Vandium, Zinc and Boron.

“This is beyond outrageous. Anyone who relied on the DEP for the truth about whether their water has been impacted by drilling activities has apparently been intentionally deprived of critical health and safety information by their own government,” White said. “There is no excuse whatsoever to justify the DEP conducting the water tests and only releasing partial information to residents, especially when the information withheld could easily be the source of the problem. This goes beyond incompetence; this is unlawful and reprehensible activity by the DEP. If these allegations are true, there needs to be a thorough and objective investigation to determine if someone belongs in a jail cell.”

White continued: “I am not releasing this information to hurt Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania, but to help ensure the reality matches the rhetoric. 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. Like most of us, I want the Marcellus Shale industry to succeed by doing things the right way, so it is crucial to find out what exactly the DEP was up to. If the system is indeed rigged, we must do everything in our power to root out corruption and restore public confidence in our ability to have an honest conversation with one another about developing a responsible energy policy for Pennsylvania.”

Due to the strong possibility of unlawful conduct, White is calling on the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Environmental Protection Agency, state Attorney General Linda Kelly and any other appropriate law enforcement agency to pursue an investigation of the DEP to discover the scope and depth of this scheme to withhold important information from Pennsylvanians. White is also sending a letter to the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NJ-NELAP), to investigate whether the DEP’s conduct and practices violated the accreditation standards for the DEP laboratories. If accreditation standards were violated, White is requesting the DEP’s accreditation be stripped, rendering the agency unable to conduct and certify its own tests.

White said he is sending a letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer seeking a summary of how many constituents in his legislative district, which includes communities with high levels of Marcellus Shale drilling activity, had DEP tests done using Suite Codes 942, 943 or 946. White also intends to make a blanket request on behalf of his constituents that DEP release the full testing data directly to the individual property owners in question.

Any Pennsylvania resident who received water quality test results from the DEP should look for the number 942, 943 or 946 as a ‘Suite Code’ or ‘Standard Analysis’. White encouraged anyone with questions to contact his district office at 724-746-3677 for more information and noted that the property owner should be entitled to the complete testing results from DEP.

“This isn’t a technicality, and it isn’t something which can be ignored,” White said. “We are talking about people’s health, safety and welfare. The sworn testimony from inside the DEP about a scheme to withhold vital information about potential water contamination is truly alarming. An investigation is necessary to answer these serious allegations.”

The letter sent to Rep. White alerting him of these issues can be found at:

The deposition of TaruUpadhyay, technical director of PA DEP Laboratory can be found at:  (this is a must read- it is rather long - but well worth reading)

1. This is one reason we support and encourage other Private Well Owners to Contribute and Participate in the Citizens Groundwater and Surfacewater Database.
2. Get a Copy of the new Booklet on PA Groundwater Quality.

3. After getting your data from a Gas Company, PADEP or a Laboratory -  Have a professional review your water testing results.  Some assistance is free.  We have conducted talks for lake associations, community groups, royalty owner groups, and have assisted 1000s of private wells on this issue. Consider visiting our webportal at or -

Currently we are doing a well by well review of the Dimock, PA data and we added to our Website some Case Studies.

4. All data should be released to Homeowners - but the data needs to be explained.  You can not release data without a proper understanding of the data and an explaination. Need Help - Visit the Water Research Center -

5. The laboratory should not explain the data or the results- this could take and would, in my opinion, take them out of their role as in unbiased party.  The results should be explained by PADEP Officials, Other Educators, or Professionals. Private wells owners can always seek advice from professionals and we have conducted many outreach programs to help explain the results of baseline testing, help homeowners take action, and take the necessary  actions to confirm and fix a problem.  If this is part of a lawsuit - then the legal counsel should seek the advice of a professional.   If this is a homeowner - they could contact a local licensed professional or PSU provides outreach in this area or contact us.  This was one reason we created the education guide.

6. Laboratory could consider reporting detects for other parameters as tentatively identified (TICs), but I am not sure the homeowners would understand.  The laboratory can only report certified data that the laboratory procedures have been "certified to identify", "results and methods have been confirmed by the QC/QA program, and the results checked for accuracy.  This process does not change or adjust the data, but is an internal process to make sure the data is correct, accurate, and repeatable and not potentially related to a lab accident or error that resulted in a high than actual or lower than present result.  The laboratory testing apparatus may see or potentially identify a compound, but if the spike and recovery testing and the method has not be optimized or certified for this parameter - it can not be reported as part of the certified data.   

Can it be reported ?    I would say yes - but it would have to be clearly identified as an un-certified result and/or a tentatively identified compound and the process would likely need to be documented and reviewed and approved by the certifying organization. This would probably require resampling and specific testing for these TICs.

This change may require a modification to the laboratories database, since most data is uploaded electronically, the database would need to let a user know this type of data is available and it would need to save this level of data as not being certified- this may not be a quick fix.

The problem with going down this direction is the potential for giving private well owners the wrong information or not properly explaining results.  The second issue is that for some parameters there are no formal water quality standards at the Federal Level or in Pennsylvania.  This is not the same throughout the country and some drinking water standards from state to state.  

7. Laboratories should consider reporting the results in standard units and citing the appropriate drinking water limit.  The primary concern is that private wells are not regulated by the federal or state government.  Therefore, this may not be appropriate, but the standards should be listed.   Our old booklet has this information, plus our new booklet has more inforamtion -a pdf version of the old booklet and a request for the new booklet can be found at

8. Also - this is one reason for the variability in the cost of baseline sampling.    A low cost baseline testing may not have a very rigorous team of professionals attempting to ensure the quality and integrity of the data.

9. In many cases, a PADEP sample is being checked to see if the results show impact from a specific activity.  Therefore, a fingerprinting method is used where you look for the target elements.  The TIC approach could help with better identifying other possible sources or requesting additional testing for a different set of parameters.

10. All certified data should be released to the private well owner.   This does not mean all data only the data that is certified - Unless the PADEP develops a process to detect and report TICs.

11. If this is part of a legal action - I strongly recommend that the homeowners and counsel seek the support of other professionals and their own certified laboratories and homeowner consider conducting their own baseline water testing

12. Overall the testimony was very good - I was a little concerned about the specific issues with the sample collection process and lack of training on the chemistry of flow back water.  It is important to note that chain of custody begins and ends with the laboratory  - the sampler is part of this process and sampling is not the beginning of the process.   The PADEP laboratory and/or a consultant should be training all the PADEP field staff.  We are conducting a Chain of Custody Course and Baseline Testing Course at Wilkes University on November 29, 2012

We are Conducting a Training Course for Samplers in March 2013 in Ohio

13. I think it is becoming clear there is a lot of spin on this issue in PA.  My finally thoughts:

a. Is PADEP fudging the data?  NO - The facility is a certified lab that is highly credible.
b. Is PADEP doing its best to explain the process and give confidence to the public?  I guess I would have to say NO - but this can be fixed.
c. Is PADEP providing adequate training to field staff about water quality parameters - From the testimony - I am going to say NO- but this can be fixed.

d. Is PADEP - a third party unbiased organization - I am going to have to say Yes and No- I think  laboratory is clearly unbiased, but the issue of third party is not clear.  The PADEP reviews the permit and gives out the permits, PADEP response to compliants, PADEP agents collect samples, PADEP lab provides data, and PADEP reviews data.  I think they are too involved in the process. 

I would suggest the following: When a homeowner compliants - a PADEP agent should responsed to the call- visit the site and compile information.  Then the PADEP - should hirer a third party professional to review the findings and pre-existing data, and then make a recommendation on what parameters to test.   The third party professional could then submit the samples via the chain of custody process to PADEP.  When the results area available, the third party professional would review, provide comments and suggestions, and the PADEP make final decision.   This way the PADEP will not get in the middle of these situations and could be considered truly a third party.  The cost for this approach to the program - would be covered through a recovery of costs associated with third party sampler and PADEP testing.

Just my thoughts

Brian Oram, Professional Geologist

We are conducting an education outreach program in Corry, PA (November 3, 2012) -
Program went very well - lots of great questions - Beautiful Area !

Schedule a Workshop or Education Program

An article on this topic
PADEP laboratory data natural gas


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