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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Records Show Misconduct Inside Drinking Water Investigations

Public Herald

The investigative news team at Public Herald has discovered 177 cases of misconduct committed by officials within the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) related to water contamination cases related to oil and gas operations.

Due to missing data, this number is not comprehensive and more investigation is required.

“In 2011, we first noticed DEP mishandling water pollution cases,” said Editor-in-chief Joshua Pribanic. “Since then, we’ve collected over 9,440 of DEP’s investigations and analyzed about 1,000 of them. But many records are missing key data, such as water samples and inspector notes, so it’s impossible to know how often DEP has really engaged in misconduct.”

Since 2004, when the controversial process known as “fracking” began in Pennsylvania, over 4,100 drinking water complaints related to oil and gas operations have been reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Public Herald reported in January that these complaints have increased alongside the rise of fracking. However, DEP claims that over 93% of these water complaints are not related to oil and gas activity.

“This seemed suspicious, given what we already knew about how some of these cases are handled,” said Pribanic.

In their report, the team has characterized three types of official misconduct related to Section 3218 of Pennsylvania’s Act 13 – malfeasance (breaking the law), misfeasance (wrongful actions) and negligence (careless behavior). Cases of misconduct are available for public review in an online spreadsheet that includes the names of the DEP inspectors and supervisors responsible for each case.

Examples of malfeasance identified by Public Herald include:

DEP inspector fails to investigate

DEP inspector finds evidence of water impacts but makes a non-impact determination

DEP orders an oil and gas operator to restore or replace a residents water supply, but fails to issue a positive determination, leaving the case “off the books”

Cases of misfeasance include:

DEP fails to conduct comprehensive water sampling

DEP inspectors refuse to sample water and make non-impact determinations for complaints based on the fact that residents live outside a 1,000 - 2,500 foot ‘zone of presumption’

DEP does not provide sufficient evidence for their non-impact determinations

Public Herald also describes negligence on the part of DEP in the report, mainly with regard to transparency.

“DEP does not list all positive determinations on their website,” said data journalist Sierra Shamer. “For example, we’ve found 49 cases of water contamination related to oil and gas activities that were confirmed by DEP but not disclosed in their online list of total water supply impacts.”

“According to the Department, 284 private water supplies have been impacted by oil and gas operations,” said Executive Director Melissa Troutman. “This number is false and misleads the public about the true costs related to fracking in Pennsylvania – people are losing their water, and state officials are issuing new permits to polluters as if it’s not happening.”

The team plans to deliver their report to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro for review.

Shapiro’s Director of Communications, Joe Grace, wrote to Public Herald in an email that, “By law, the Office of Attorney General has authority to investigate state officials or employees for criminal conduct affecting the performance of their public duties, whether the matter involves the environment or any other issue.”


Anonymous said...

Where there's a lot of money at stake--there's room for corruption.

Anonymous said...

Finally some truth comes to Light! Will these facts change anything or will the
Promise of more hundreds of thousands of dollars continue to cover up the findings of well contamination.. If this practice of drilling is going to continue, clean house where necessary and clean up the people responsible or his money hungry process..The pipe lines in progress of happening is going to take gas from PA to NY state, where fracking is banned, our prices for natural gas at the consumer level will continue to rise and NY consumers will continue to get cheaper gas without risk. Money is the cause, money to people all involved in this process and all of them lying aboutique it!

Anonymous said...

Their sins will always be found out...
Money becomes the root of all evil, it becomes an idol....greed to many....

Anonymous said...

At the same time, the Public Herald has also been proven to include incorrect or incomplete information. By no means should anyone have to suffer with problems relating to their water supply. There is no excuse for it, but it is only speculation that information missing is proof of misconduct. The EPA and DEP have had to struggle to keep up with the oil and gas industry, and it is possible that omission of information is accidental, not fact that they are guilty of misconduct as is alleged. By no means are they being defended. What is also misleading is that fracking started in 2004. Fracking has been taking place in Pennsylvania for over 40 years. Are there 40 years of studies available to determine the true percentage of water problems? Probably not. This all began because someone tried to take pictures of a drill site after dark, and were turned away. The Public Herald is a self-proclaiming organization who can raise a red flag, but by no means are they "the authority" or "the law". Everyone should be concerned about our environment, but before we shut down gas production, please stop, take a look around you. Are you using any electricity at the moment? If so, thank natural gas. Is your home being heated? There is a possibility that it is also being provided by natural gas. Are there any plastics in your home. Those items may have been provided by oil. We are against gas and oil, we are against windmills, but we aren't ready for solar yet. What do you propose we use in the meantime? How do you get from point A to point B? In a vehicle? Powered by what? Made out of what? I live in an area of the county where the STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA DOT contaminated the ground and water wells in the borough of Coudersport. Want to know what happened to them? Nothing. The ground was contaminated by the tannery. Want to know what happened to them? Nothing. I applaud the efforts of all who are trying to make our world a safer, cleaner place, but baby steps. PLEASE.

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of the DEP but they can't keep up with all the people filing claims and trying to get in on a law suit for some free money and a free ride. Its like the 'boy who cried wolf', after a while (or a few hundred false claims), the DEP workers start to say enough is enough. They become skeptical and rightly so. These environmental liberal cry babies need to be ignored if not arrested . What a bunch of bums.

Anonymous said...

Greed Darlin.....first thought is too sue.......agree with you 100% 4:48 pm......