Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection: Keystone Cops of Contamination
June 21, 2013
On Tuesday, I travelled to Harrisburg, PA to attend a rally co-sponsored by a number of our friends at Clean Water Action, Delaware Riverkeeper, Berks Gas Truth, Gas Truth of Central PA, PennEnvironment, and Sierra Club PA. Organizers hosted the rally to bring attention to continued lack of resolution of water contamination cases across the state that may well be linked to gas drilling.
Underscoring the need for more information is the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) recent statement that it has documented twenty-five cases of water contamination of private water supplies from natural gas development. But a records request by the Times-Tribune revealed the actual number of cases at 161. And of course, with inadequate oversight and enforcement of the gas industry, it could be higher. Time will tell.
Josh Fox, director of the documentary Gasland, livened the crowd with a rousing speech sharply criticizing DEP and reminding Pennsylvanians that elections in the fall of 2014 will shape the future of drilling in the state. Fox also screened his recent project, Gasland II, as part of a statewide tour of fracking sites and visits with families adversely affected by drilling.
This rally came on the heels of a huge victory led by our friends Karen Feridun from Berks Gas Truth and Monroe County delegate Susan Lyons. They convinced the Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee to adopt a resolution calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The vote, 115-81, calls for a moratorium until fracking is proven safe. Politically speaking, gaining the official imprimatur of the state’s Democratic party signals a major policy shift drawing a clear contrast with the Administration of Republican Governor Tom Corbett.
Speaking of the Corbett Administration, they seem to have fewer and fewer members. Just last week, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources Richard Allan abruptly resigned. Secretary Allan’s resignation comes right on the heels of a letter PA Sierra Club and a dozen additional organizations sent to Governor Corbett complaining about the department’s handling of potential natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest in Lycoming County. Allan’s departure makes six cabinet secretaries in the last eight months including former DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, whose intemperate messaging drew universal criticism across the conservation community.
In the wake of the Krancer resignation, DEP did announce they plan to provide a tour of its water-quality testing lab in the Harrisburg area to several environmental groups including Earthworks. This long-awaited meeting comes after many letters and actions raised concerns that surfaced last fall over DEP's water testing and reporting policies. The information and assistance that homeowners received about the links between their water problems and gas drilling clearly has fallen short. Rally speakers Craig Stevens and Ray Kemble, who experienced this first hand, made the issue all the more evident. If anyone will take the gig, Governor Corbett should appoint a DEP Secretary who will tell us how much contamination has actually occurred and provide justice to those communities. Pennsylvanians deserve no less.