A Pennsylvania lawmaker is calling for federal and state authorities to investigate the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), alleging that it committed fraud and misconduct when it tested water supplies suspected of being tainted by natural gas drilling.
Rep. Jesse White (D-Cecil) said the testimony of DEP Bureau of Laboratories Technical Director Taru Upadhyay being used in a lawsuit against a Marcellus Shale operator showed that the department was aware how water supplies could be adversely affected by drilling, but it failed to issue notices of violation.
“This is beyond outrageous,” White said. “Anyone who relied on the DEP for the truth about whether their water has been impacted by drilling activities has apparently been intentionally deprived of critical health and safety information by their own government.”
DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday flatly denied accusations that the agency did anything wrong.
Upadhyay testified before the state Environmental Hearing Board for the case Kiskadden v. DEP (Docket No. 2-11-149-R) on Sept. 26. According to documents from the hearing, Upadhyay was deposed for several hours by plaintiff’s attorney Kendra Smith.
In a letter to White and DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, Smith called Upadhyay’s testimony “quite alarming,” adding that the director “revealed what can only be characterized as a deliberate procedure by the [DEP’s Oil & Gas Division and the Bureau of Laboratories] to withhold critical water testing results.”
At issue was the apparent failure of state regulators to report to the plaintiffs in the Kiskadden case the results of tests for 16 metals (aluminum, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lithium, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, silver, tin, titanium, vanadium and zinc) in water sampling. The plaintiffs were told of the results of tests for eight metals: Barium, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium, Sodium and Strontium.
“It is clear to any fair-minded person that [Smith’s] letter…is an effort by a plaintiffs’ attorney to mislead and manipulate news coverage in an effort to litigate his cases in the press instead of the courtroom,” the DEP spokeman said. “This lawyer misrepresents the deposition transcripts by selective quotation and the lawyer either misunderstands how a laboratory functions or is intentionally misrepresenting how one does.
“Our laboratory has the capability of analyzing many, many compounds. Not all of these analyses are necessary for an investigation into whether oil and gas impacted a water supply. Our investigators request certain compounds be screened for in an analysis, in particular, those associated with oil and gas activities. The results of such an analysis are subject to quality control and quality assurance. That the lab is capable of doing additional analysis for a particular investigation doesn’t mean that our analysis was inadequate or incomplete.”
Upadhyay’s testimony has since been filed as evidence in a separate case in Washington County Common Pleas Court, Haney et al. v. Range Resources et al. (Case No. 2012-3534). In that matter, several families near Range’s Yeager site in Amwell Township allege that Range Resources Appalachia LLC and two independent water testing labs conspired to hide evidence of drinking water contamination (see Shale Daily, May 31).
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