*UPDATE* Jesse White: The State Representative Who Cried Wolf

UPDATE (11/3/2012, 8:45pm ET): Independent experts are now confirming that DEP’s testing procedures are standard protocol, and clearly not an example of regulators “withholding data” to skew their findings. A story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review cites David Yoxtheimer, a hydrogeologist at Penn State University, as saying DEP is following “standard industry procedure” for testing water supplies for particular contaminants. Jerry Parr, executive director of the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, adds that DEP’s methods are comparable to what occurs in other states, including Ohio and Michigan. And Radisav D. Vidic, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Pittsburgh, notes that if DEP’s tests don’t find certain chemicals (barium, strontium and calcium), then it’s unlikely oil and gas development is to blame.

Rep. White, however, claims that it doesn’t matter who is at fault, maintaining that DEP is actually hiding information deliberately. “If they did the test, and they know you have elevated levels of chemicals, what possible reasons would they have for not telling you this?” White asked. “They know, and that’s the crux of all of this.”

So, either outside experts and other state regulators are working in cahoots with DEP in some sort of grand conspiracy, or Rep. White’s haste to malign responsible natural gas development has met the brick wall known as the truth once again.

Original post, November 3, 2012

State Representative Jesse White released a press release yesterday making accusations against the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in regard to water sampling in Washington County.  White and the plaintiff’s attorneys say DEP committed a “criminal” act by only screening for eight of 24 metals as part of a  investigation into water contamination.  The reality: Pennsylvania does the same thing as every other state – those other metals have nothing to do with oil and gas.

State Representative Jesse White had a conversation with Mike Knapp of Knapp Acquisitions on Twitter this past July, and when asked about his first hand experiences with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that have contributed to his negative opinion of the agency, he made this statement:

Jesse White:  Some are in litigation and some are being investigated, and if I start naming specifics, it’s going to end up on Energy In Depth in an hour as me ‘making wild accusations’.

It seems Representative White’s conscience might have been speaking to him, or, at the very least, he had an inkling he might be making some wild accusations someday and now he has.  White released this press release yesterday claiming DEP acted “criminally” by not testing for constituents not relevant to natural gas development. The reality is Pennsylvania’s DEP has acted no different than any other state, and White, an outspoken critic of the natural gas industry and DEP, seems to have fired first and asked questions later.

White is claiming DEP unlawfully omitted test results to landowners who had filed grievances regarding potential contamination from natural gas development because DEP’s report “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.”

DEP spokesperson, Kevin Sunday, explained why the agency only tests for certain constituents in his response:

“If you’re looking at runoff from a mine site, that is different from looking at runoff from a landfill, and different from contamination due to hydraulic fracturing,” he said.  “These are a Marcellus shale specific list of parameters that are most indicative to that contamination.”  Using the same suite, the report would not include results for silver, aluminum, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, nickel, silicon, lithium, molybdenum, tin, titanium, vandium, zinc and boron.  Sunday also said that in order to deduce contamination brought on by Marcellus drilling, there are a plethora of other tests done.  “We have a full set of analysis that we run and gives us a very clear indication whether there was any contamination from drilling,” he said.  This analysis includes a pre-drilling baseline water test, testing for volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbons, an examination of the geology, the distance to any drilling operations, and whatever other site-specific factors there may be, he said.  Suite 943 and 946 also include additional testing parameters. (Beaver County Times, 11/2/12)

Was it too much to ask that White research the basic facts before leveling his accusations?  Apparently.  A little investigation using the Frac Focus gateway to state regulations would have quickly revealed other states, with long histories of oil and natural gas development, follow similar practices as Pennsylvania when testing for potential fluid migration or contamination and test for the same things.  They follow the lead of the National Groundwater Association (NGWA) and the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) which have developed this brochure for landowners discussing recommended steps for testing water both before and after natural gas development.  Notice the list of constituents for which they suggest testing and their acknowledgement this can differ from state to state based on several factors:

Step 2: The following list from NGWA and GWPC is a general overview of the basic constituents that should be considered for water quality analysis before oil and gas operations begin. (Please note that you should check with the appropriate state agency to see if it has a specific list of suggested chemical, physical, or organic constituents to test for in your area.)

  • Major ions: alkalinity, calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and sulfate
  • Minor and trace elements: arsenic, barium, boron, bromide, chromium, iron, manganese, selenium, and uranium
  • Water quality parameters: pH, specific conductance, total dissolved solids (TDS), and turbidity
  • Organic chemicals: benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene (BTEX); diesel range organics (DRO); dissolved methane; gasoline range organics (GRO); total petroleum hydrocarbons or oil and grease (HEM).

Did you see anything missing from this list?  White’s suggestions of silver, aluminum, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, nickel, silicon, lithium, molybdenum, tin, titanium, vandium, and zinc, none of which have anything to do with natural gas operations, don’t make the GWPC and NGWA list and for good reason.  They aren’t used by the industry and, therefore, don’t matter, unless one is trying to score political points with an anti-gas constituency.  Other major oil and gas producing states have taken the same position.

Oil and gas development has been taking place in Colorado, for example, for well over a century.  What do its regulations say? Well, on page 19 of Colorado’s regulations one will find this:

C. Sample analysis. Ground water samples shall be analyzed for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and API RP-45 constituents, or other parameters appropriate for evaluating the impact. The analytical parameters shall be selected based on site-specific conditions and process knowledge and shall be agreed to and approved by the Director.

API RP-45 constituents include items such as chloride, calcium, magnesium, iron, sulfate, sodium and barium. Again, the testing parameters do not come close to the laundry list of constituents White has claimed the DEP unlawfully omitted.

So, national third party organizations established to protect groundwater aren’t suggesting anything close to what White proposes and neither is Colorado.  What about right next door (literally for Washington County) in Ohio?

Ohio references a set of “Best Management Practices for Pre-drilling Water Sampling” within their regulations. Those practices include testing for the following:

 

That’s a far cry from the list of 24 constituents White claims DEP is criminally negligent not to test.

If any state was to come close to matching White’s list, New York, which will have the most stringent regulations in the country, would have to get the honors, right?  Nope.  In fact, their list is pretty short when held up next to White’s.

 

We could do this all day, moving from state to state, but the reader will get the point.  DEP’s laboratory was peer reviewed by the Association of Public Health Laboratories, an independent, non-profit organization that reviews public laboratories and makes recommendations to improve organizational structure and scientific practices.  The Association found DEP’s lab to be “well-managed, efficient and highly functional” and also tested within the parameters necessary to determine if the oil and gas industry should be held responsible for water quality issues.

DEP stands by their lab, employees, and protocols, and after reviewing the regulations and protocols for water sampling across the country, we do too.  It looks like Representative White maybe should have held his tongue a little longer and conducted a bit more fact checking if he wanted to avoid being on our blog for crying wolf and making a mountain out of a molehill.  And, yes, Jesse, you did make “wild accusations.”

Comments

  1. Steve Todd says:

    “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is already made up”
    The technology already exists for the treatment of frac water and the need also exists for the gas and oil recovery. We need to quit attacking each side and work together for both. When gas gets to the European prices;it won’t be why;but make it happen. Get the lower prices. The other end;if we see actual verifiable proof of contaminated water sources; it too will have to be dealt with. We have to have potable water fit for human consumption. Nothing wrong with error on the side of caution as long as it is realistic.

    • Dear Mr. Todd–the claim that technology exists to treat frack waste is false. A deep injection well is NOT a waster water treatment method. The dumping of frack “cake” at land fills is NOT a treatment method. The “recycling” for more fracking is NOT a treatment method. The facts are that produced water–going in/coming back up (what DOES come back up, that is) is contaminated beyond reclamation, and that is not whimsey. That is fact.

      To argue that we need to work together on this issue is nothing but propaganda from the gas industry. They have NO intention whatsoever of “working together.’ The evidence–the abuse of eminent domain laws, forced pooling, Act 13, the cauterizing of the permit process for compressor stations, EZ-Frack–and now THIS–the deliberate omission of vital information.

      Moreover, this notion that natural gas is going to remain cheap is flatly false on evidence so obvious that it’s hard to believe ANYONE buys it. The minute those export lines are ready to get the gas out to the global market–and the explicit intention of BIg Extraction all along–that myth will be exploded. here’s the deal: get us all bought into the “cheap” promise; get big manufacturers and the military to convert to natural gas. Then, get the gas to the global market–and watch the price rise. Once we’ve made the conversion, they’ll have us by our testicular fortitude. How am I so sure? THAT is THE story of the extraction industry, and THAT is the only way they’re going to make the sort of money they HAVE to given how outrageously over-leveraged they already are.

      Lastly, there is no getting right a process that permanently contaminates billions of gallons of water when only 3% of the planets water is fresh water and when we have already contaminated it so badly. W

      What “we have to work together” really means is “Trust us.The companies that contribute to climate change, species extinction, grotesque human rights abuses here and abroad, deforestation, acid rain, acid mine run-off, desertification.”

      Seriously–what a ludicrous notion.

      • Tom Shepstone says:

        The only thing ludicrous, Wendy, are the unfounded assertions you make.

    • this is one of those times where I wish this site had a “thumbs up” selection for a great post

  2. Mike Knapp of MDS–Snyder Bros. Drilling tries to defend the PA-DEP against the report that DEP “has been withholding information about water contamination related to natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations, according to the sworn testimony of a DEP employee,” all the while attacking Rep. Jesse White for demanding an investigation.

    Mr. Knapp:

    “DEP is right on the money with this. When investigating someone’s accusation of gas drilling contamination, their protocol is to go and determine if, in fact, that’s the case.

    It’s not necessary to test for all of those other heavy metals. This analogy is somewhat crude, but imagine a scientist/regulator trying to determine if a house is on fire. They could test for the presence of carbon monoxide in the air. They could monitor oxygen levels. They could take readings on the convection of the air around the house. All of those things could be used to support a determination of whether a house is on fire.

    Do we really need to do that? Of course not. There’s massive orange flames, searing heat, and billowing smoke to tell us that the house is on fire. Sodium, calcium, strontium, and magnesium are the flames, heat, and smoke. If someone called the fire department and they came out and said “nope, the house is not on fire” because of the lack of the flames, heat, and smoke, would we be saying they are suppressing evidence if they don’t test the air for carbon monoxide? Of course not.

    That being said, some of those metals have associated health issues. If DEP is obtaining results on those metals as a byproduct of its search for other metals and they see something of note, common sense would say that the landowner should be informed. Apparently right now they only look at those specific results that they ordered. I’d suggest that would be a wonderful loophole that Rep White, in his capacity as a legislator, could work to close. But it could certainly be done without the baseless, misleading, politically-motivated accusations which are very conveniently released just days before the election.

    Rep White has been bragging on his facebook page for the last month that he’s got a “smoking gun” that’s going to blow the lid off of the DEP, which just so happens to be right around the time this deposition was given to the law firm. The firm which also represents the municipalities in Rep White’s district challenging Act 13. Coincidence?”

    Wendy Lynne Lee:

    “Let me dissect this point by point, Mr. Knapp, so that there’s no confusion about how utterly absurd is your defense of the deeply corrupted and demonstrably corporatized DEP, and so that I can use you–as you have invited–as an example of just how corrupted in your industry.

    1. It is manifestly false that DEP follows their own protocol. As is clear in case after case, DEP does not “go and determine” unless forced by sheer volume of phone call to do so. When Dean marshall and I filmed and photographed what was obviously a bentonite spill–and reported as such–in Loyalsock Creek, DEP not only dragged their feet for days on any investigation, they followed MIchael Krancer’s–EXECUTIVE and LAWYER for EXELON and master craftsman of EZ-FRACK–insistence that nothing be done and that families potentially swimming only a mile down stream at World’s End State Park not be notified of the potential hazard. Moreover, when I reported the possibility of asbestos exposure for both remaining residents and demolition crews at Riverdale in June of this past year, DEP performed the most cursory of investigations, dragged their feet for weeks, did nothing other than “advise” the demolition company–Alan K. Myers–of asbestos removal protocol, and when the DEP representative, Andrea Ryder, did finally return my phone call in late July, her response to the possibility of asbestos violations during demolitions was that the DEP saw these like “seat belt violations,” that the DEP had excellent relations with oil and gas developers in Pennsylvania, and that the DEP’s primary mission wasn’t to penalize, but to educate. She encouraged me to see the possibility of asbestos exposure as no harm, no foul, that is, since the cursory DEP inspection didn’t find evidence of friable asbestos, and since even if they had DEP knows the industry will find a way to blame the exposure on the resident’s dismantling of their mobile homes during the FORCEABLE evictions by Aqua America/PVR, well, what can DEP do? Moreover, while she insisted that Alan K. Myers was informed that demolition must stop while the inspections were carried out, it did NOT. I continued to photo-document this FACT. DEP did NOTHING.

    2. Your analogy to a house fire is manifestly absurd. When a house is on fire, you can SEE it. When your water is contaminated, you may very well have no obvious evidence–at LEAST of the specific contaminant. THAT IS PRECISELY WHY YOU NEED TO DO THE TESTING. When firefighters go into a burning ouse, they aren’t there to TEST for anything. They’re there to put out the fire. NO one has to determine whether a house is on fire; we indeed DO have to determine by testing whether there are heavy metals in water. It is patently clear what DEP is up to: concealing evidence of the presence of heavy FRACKING metals and chemicals in water samples. Combined with recent decisions to make Kracer and Perry the determinants with respect to letters to homeowners about possible contamination of wells, combined with ACT 13′s gag order on physicians, combined with the cauterizing of public hearings on smaller compressor station permit hearings, combined with EZ-Frack, combined with the suspicious resignations of anyone who might prove to be a whistleblower, what’s clear is that the Corbett administration–a fully corporatized annex of the oils and gas industry–is making sure that every avenue of resistance to the industrialization of PA is closed.

    3. It’s irrelevant whether DEP’s deliberate omissions are relevant to the municipalities challenging Act 13. The facts are the facts. And they paint a VERY dark picture of a VERY corrupted DEP– DEPARTMENT OF (BIG) ENERGY PROTECTION.”

    http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2012/11/02/dep-employee-says-agency-withholds-water-contamination-information-from-residents/

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      Stay tuned, Wendy, as there is more to come.

      • Dean Marshall says:

        The Industry, (which stands to profit in the Billions of $’s) has maintained that no cases of groundwater or well water have Ever been contaminated by “Fracking”. This has been proven to be false in incidfents occuring in every State where Drilling for Shale Gas is being done. The Industry employs Media Consultants, PR Firms, and “Cheerleaders” like Tom Shepstone, and Nicole Jacobs,and spends Millions in Ads in every Media outlet to convince the Public of this ludicrous notion that Billions of Gallons of water with Millions of Gallons of added Toxic Chemicals can be transported, Mixed, Pressurized and Injected into Thousands of feet of Well Bore, retrieved, stored, transported again and processed, stored and re-used to Frack or Re-injected into deep disposal wells with absolutely no dsnger of fouling any other water source. soil, or air! Yes Tom….STAY TUNED! The people are not gullible sheep and will Never stop Protesting and Scrutinizing every aspect of your Dirty, dangerous, and Deceptive Dis-information campaign! More to come indeed!

        • Tom Shepstone says:

          So, where’s your proof, Dean. You say it’s false – where’s your proof.

        • Bill says:

          Yes Dean – please cite published data from a credible source such as the EPA, a state DEC/DEP or some other reputable source. Wild accusations of contamination with no backup data do not make your point. Nor do conspiracy theories that claim that the data is suppressed. If you want to namecall, the anti-drillling groups such as the Park foundation create FUD through specious claims such as yours and others, then use the New York Times to spread it, all without any real journalistic fact checking.

  3. Bill says:

    Where does the madness end? It feels like a perpetual game of “whack-a-mole”; whenever one story is proven false another pops up and spreads all over again. And sadly, at least in NY there are few politicians who have the spine to take a stand for landowner rights (Tom Libous being one of the few). We were at dinner last evening with a couple who is convinced that Craig Stevens is the trutlteller, Wehn asked for factual documentation that backs his claims they claim there is a conspiracy to hush things up, and some secret agreement that prevents government agencies from telling the “truth”.. Guess they never heard of Occam’s Razor.. We’ve got Dan Lamb spouting blatant lies about gtoundwater contamination, Tarik “Court Jester to Matt Ryan” claiming that he is responsible for great things in Binghamton (like double digit tax increases, and being the laughingstock for his tanker to Dimock boondoggle).. The list goes on.

  4. Al Sever says:

    Wendy brings up Bentonite pollution of the Loyalsock. Bentonite is a type of clay used in directional drilling. It is NOT toxic and if you “Google” Bentonite, you will find that it is sold in Health food stores as an “edible clay”. A day following her disaster on the Loyalsock, the Williamsport Sun Gazette had a picture praising the construction work on the Slabtown bridge on Rt 973 over the Loyalsock. pullk up ythat picture and look at the plume of suspended solids. As the Ex Soils and waterways chief in the NCRO of DEP, I can assure you that clay in a flowing waterway is generally dissapated with no adverse affects in a short amount of time.

    As an ex DEP employee I can tell you that no lab samples for every possible contaminent–certain industries have parameters of concern and DEP would generally sample for those. Usually a more detailed analysis would be done for a proposed discharge and a lesser detailed analysis for a quick inspection, e.g. For an active Coal mine, Iron, & Manganese, would be sampled but for the initial start up samples would also be done for the 13 toxics assoiciated with Acid mine drainage such as Zinc

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      Very illuminating, Al.

    • Wendy Lynne Lee says:

      I NEVER claimed that bentonite was in itself toxic. However, bentonite DOES choke aquatic life in sufficient quantities, and spills should NOT happen in any case. here are the facts from YOUR own industry about bentonite:

      “Bentonite is non-toxic, but there are two specific effects of bentonite on aquatic life. Initially the suspended bentonite may inhibit respiration of fishes, although it is typically short-lived. Once the bentonite settles, however, long-term effects can result. Fir example, egg masses of fish could be covered by a layer of bentonite inhibiting the flow of dissolved oxygen to the egg masses. Secondly, benthonic invertebrates and/or the larval stages of pelagic organisms may be covered and suffocate due to fouled gills and/or lack of oxygen.” (http://www.slc.ca.gov/division_pages/DEPM/DEPM_Programs_and_Reports/ATT_Fiber_Optic/PDF/Appendices/Ap-I_HDD_Plan.pdf).

      These are FACTS. The spill in the Loyalsock was sufficient that it could be seen for several MILES. Moreover, to appeal to the DEP’s response to coal-mining as an example of a responsible agency is laughable. We will all be dealing with acid mine run-off for decades.

  5. Wendy Lynne Lee says:

    How can you guys not get this? The DEP is the discredited source. You can’t demand evidence or citation from the source whose credibility has been compromised. That’s like asking the industry to watchdog itself. Wait!!! That is what you’re after!!

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      You really don’t get it, Wendy. What is the point of sharing information that is irrelevant and doesn’t show water quality below safe drinking standards?

  6. Wendy Lynne Lee says:

    Read it and weep, gentlemen. There’s no way out of this mess for a corrupt DEP: Department of (BIG) Energy Protection:

    http://blog.shaleshockmedia.org/2012/11/05/eid-flyover-of-kiskadden-site-missed-the-super-mister/

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      There is no “super mister” Wendy and the fact you and Bill believe there is, provides about as much information as anyone needs about your credibility.

      • fred jones says:

        Possibly impoundment pits, 300-feet wide x 400-feet long, 15-feet deep, and can hold 15 million gallons of fluids with evaporation heads throughout the pit? There is a push to phase out these evaporation pits, with newer recycling tanks and tankers, but right now there are many as they were the industry standard on dealing with flow back and fresh water holding areas. The flow back would be eventually pumped out and transported to injection wells for final disposal. Seems to be some number out there on these pits somewhere. Tom? Do have that data?

        • fred jones says:

          I did find where Colorado will not allow open pit storage after 2014, unless the water is deemed safe enough to discharge into streams. What is the PA and NY take on this?

          • Tom Shepstone says:

            Not sure on PA. NY will be closed-loop only.

          • fred jones says:

            Will the closed loop be mandatory Tom?

          • Tom Shepstone says:

            Yes in NY

        • Tom Shepstone says:

          I don’t have that number but I assume the flowback can be recycled just as it is with new operations. Cabot has an excellent treatment system, for example, and other companies are doing the same thing. The treated water is then usable for new wells.

  7. Fred Peckham says:

    I guess there’s no hope Wendy, the DEP is in the tank with the gas industry and the only ones telling the truth are the small minority of anties with ancedotal infotmation and misguided politicians to make their claims valid!!!

    Wendy with your philospphy degree qualifies you as an expert in ng development doesn’t it. Guess all those scientists that actually have scientific backgrounds are no match for your intellectual prowness.

    If its not on shaleshockmedia.com it can’t be true.

    Oh brother, good luck with that!!!

  8. Al Sever says:

    Just found out that the property is/was a junk yard. Saw the picture on “Super Mister” site–local municipaility obviously does not enforce it’s floodplain ordinance as there is a lot of material in the floodway.

    But I would have definitely asked for more metals in water sample if I was a DEP inspector and aware it came from a well near a junk yard. EPA has a Development Document that addresses probable contaminents in/near junkyards and metals such as Moly would definitely be expected to be in their well as it is in a lot of lubricants. And yes, I am aware that the US EPA states that there are no problems with water contamination at junkyards in Pa as every junkyard in the state stores their waste material/vehicles on impervious concrete and no wastewater can leach into the ground.

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