Re: Cancellation of meeting on DEP Water Testing and Notices of Violations Procedures Related to Shale Gas Operations
Published: January 25, 2013
By: EARTHWORKS et al
Dear Secretary Krancer:
The undersigned organizations are extremely disappointed with the cancellation of the meeting scheduled for January 24, 2013 with representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Bureau of Laboratories on important public health issues. This decision was particularly unfortunate because the meeting was arranged at your suggestion and the date set well in advance (via email on December 12, 2012). In fact, we worked with your office for a month to develop a framework for a productive meeting. In preparation for the meeting, we have educated ourselves about DEP’s practices and deepened our knowledge on technical aspects of water quality testing and reporting.
In an email on January 22, 2013, Alisa Harris stated that DEP had “decided to reschedule the meeting.” We are optimistic that this means that DEP is still interested in engaging with all 12 of the original attendees that DEP agreed to meet with, and that your staff will move to reschedule the meeting as soon as possible.
As you know, the meeting was to focus on DEP’s current processes for water sampling and reporting and notices of water contamination related to oil and gas development. In a letter to Governor Corbett dated November 14, 2012, representatives of 26 organizations (including all of the undersigned) expressed strong concerns about these procedures, including that they lack transparency; result in the withholding of vital data from affected households and the public; force residents to potentially undergo prolonged exposure to contaminants that can impact health; and delay action necessary to correct pollution of drinking water supplies.
These points were based on recent court depositions and media stories indicating that the water test reports provided to homeowners contain results for fewer parameters than DEP’s labs actually analyze. Subsequent review of water tests indicate that the parameters tested for are likely insufficient given emerging knowledge on contaminants that can be related to shale gas development. The November 14 letter also called on DEP to take action to correct procedures that yield incomplete or inaccurate water sample data from private water supplies, and to immediately disclose to residents who have had their water wells sampled the full results of the tests. In addition, we requested reversal of the recently adopted DEP policy that requires administrators to approve any notices of violation before they are issued, as this could compromise full and timely reporting of water quality problems to the public.
Following receipt of this letter, you responded with a letter, dated November 21, 2012, offering to have DEP staff meet with representatives of the signatory organizations. You indicated that such a meeting would be an opportunity for “open and substantive discussion” focusing on “information sharing.” This was precisely the spirit in which we accepted the offer to meet, as we have been and remain eager to engage with the DEP in a transparent and professional manner regarding issues of shared concern.
In light of this goal (and as requested by Alisa Harris while arranging the meeting), our organizations developed a list of key questions and document requests for submission to DEP prior to the meeting. The information we seek is necessary to carry out our work to support communities and protect health and water and air quality in the face of gas development. Even more importantly, many Pennsylvania residents eagerly await this information, to which they have a right. They rely on the DEP, as a public agency, to provide a thorough and timely response to their water quality concerns.