DEP employee says agency withholds water contamination information from Pa. residents

    The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection 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.

    Taru Upadhyay, director of the DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories, testified that although the DEP’s laboratory tests for a full range of heavy metals, the lab does not report all of the test results back to the field office, or the resident. The heavy metals left out of one particular report back to a resident of Washington County included cobalt, silicon, tin, titanium, zinc, boron, silicon, aluminum, copper, nickel, lithium, and molybdenum.

    The deposition relates to a case filed in Washington County, Kiskadden v. DEP, and was taken by attorney Kendra Smith back in September. Smith wrote to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer on Thursday, informing him the DEP’s Oil and Gas Division has procedures in place that purposely remove from lab reports water contaminants for certain heavy metals.

    “Testimony of Ms. Tara Upadhyay was quite alarming. As the Technical Director of PA DEP Bureau of Laboratories she revealed what can only be characterized as a deliberate procedure by the PA DEP Oil & Gas Division and the PA DEP Bureau of Laboratories to withhold critical water testing results.”

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    Upadhyay also testified that the DEP’s lab uses EPA approved protocols. In her letter to Secretary Krancer, Kendra Smith says the metals found in her client’s water tests, but not reported to her client, are also heavy metals associated with oil and gas flowback and produced water, also called frack water. Smith points to a study conducted with the input of the DEP, which lists aluminum, boron, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, lithium, molybdenum, nickel, strontium, thallium, tin, titanium and zinc as heavy metals found in flowback water from oil and gas drilling operations. Smith goes on to list documented health impacts of these heavy metals.

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this morning that State Rep. Jesse Smith, a Democrat from Washington County, has called for a criminal investigation of DEP, citing mismanagement and fraud.

    “Someone in law enforcement, be it the criminal unit of the EPA, the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Attorney General’s office,” Rep. Smith told StateImpact Pennsylvania, “needs to go in there, seize the computers and let’s see what’s really going on.”

    Pennsylvania’s Office of Attorney General does have an environmental division, but it doesn’t initiate an investigation without the participation and consent of the DEP. The AG could also investigate if requested by a county District Attorney. If the EPA were to get involved, they would work with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the area where the water contamination occurred, which in this case would be the western Pennsylvania division.

    Within the last two years, the DEP has received at least 128 complaints from Washington County residents related to water contamination the residents believed was related to shale gas drilling. DEP investigations concluded that no impact was found in 58 of those cases. Twenty-seven investigations did reveal water impacts from drilling, and two of those were addressed through enforcement. DEP says 25 were resolved between the resident and the driller. As of the end of August, 43 DEP investigations in Washington County continued.

    Attempts to reach Taru Upadhyay at home were not successful. DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the DEP “fully stand behind” the results of their water contamination investigations.

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