Appalachian Basin

*UPDATE* Water Regulators from Other States Confirm Pa. DEP Got It Right

NOTE: *** Cross-posted on

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 Rep. 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 issued 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 Rep. White (who claims on his personal website to be a member of MENSA) 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.

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