The Cannonsburg, PA law firm of Smith Butz, in connection with litigation it is conducting with regard to alleged water contamination caused by natural gas drilling activities in Washington County, is claiming that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is systematically and deliberately ignoring test results that could provide valuable information with regard to such contamination.
In a letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, the firm bases its charge on a deposition taken in September from DEP Bureau of Laboratories Technical Director Taru Upadhyay. In the course of the deposition, it was revealed that the lab typically tests for a long list of metals in keeping with EPA standard methods, but only a fraction of the results are delivered to the client—in the context of the deposition, the Marcellus Shale Drilling, Oil & Gas Management department of the DEP.
The limitation is due to the use of certain standard codes in making testing requests to the lab, including 942, 943 and 946, that specify only a restricted list of substances. Code 942, for instance, limits the reporting to only 8 out of 24 metals for which test results are available on a standard basis. In effect, the DEP Marcellus Shale drilling office is apparently asking not to be shown certain test results. In turn, any individual filing a complaint regarding water contamination is barred from seeing those results, and indeed has no way of knowing that such data is even available.
It is not clear from the documents whether it was Marcellus Shale Drilling, Oil & Gas Management that developed the codes in question, or whether the same codes are used by other DEP departments.
In its letter to Krancer, Smith Butz maintains that the results screened out pertain to substances known to be hazardous and associated with Marcellus Shale drilling. Included in code 942 results are barium, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium and strontium. Excluded are results for silver, aluminum, beryllium, cadium, cobalt, chromium, copper, nickel, silicon, lithium, molybdenum, tin, titanium, vandium, zinc and boron.
The law firm also wrote a letter to State Rep. Jesse White (D-Allegheny/Beaver/Washington). White is calling on the U.S. Attorney’s Office and any other appropriate law enforcement agency to pursue an investigation of the DEP to investigate the matter, as well as 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.
A press release from the office of Rep. White can be viewed here: http://www.pahouse.com/PR/046110112.asp
The letter from Smith Butz to Krancer can be viewed here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/111821139/Krancer-Letter
A copy of the actual deposition can be viewed here:http://www.scribd.com/doc/111821978/Taru-Upadhyay-Depo