Source: Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA), October 20, 2015
Posted on: http://www.advisen.com
When it comes to lab test results, you can’t find something you’re not looking for. The state Department of Environmental Protection uses a lab code system specifically designed to test water around oil and gas drilling sites that ensures certain contaminants that might be in residents’ drinking water will never be reported.
Because of the way the testing system is set up, contaminants such as arsenic, lead and sodium never appear in some lab reports, despite being found in water tested near Marcellus Shale sites across Pennsylvania.
Using these so-called “suite codes” is akin to Major League Baseball ordering drug tests, leaving steroids out of the results, and then saying there is no evidence of steroid use in baseball.
DEP lab director Taru Upadhyay in a 2012 court deposition said her lab tested for a full range of metals associated with the oil and gas industry, but did not report all of the results – even though providing the full results wouldn’t cost the DEP any extra time or money.
In some cases, 24 metals were detected, but only eight were reported because the department’s oil and gas division had not requested them, she said.
Pennsylvania residents never knew that their water contained copper, nickel, titanium and zinc, which the federal Environmental Protection Agency says are associated with the oil and gas drilling activities and might cause health problems.
For water quality tests near oil and gas drilling, the department today most often uses three suite codes: 942, 944 and 946.
Suite code 942, which was developed in 1991 for conventional drilling, is used when testing surface water.
Suite code 946 was developed in 2010 in response to unconventional drilling – or Marcellus Shale drilling – and has been used since 2011 for groundwater testing.
And suite code 944 was created in 2008 to test fracking wastewater and wastewater treatment related to Marcellus Shale operations. It tests for the most substances of any suite code and is used the least, accounting for 19 of the 7, 233 tests conducted from 2008 through 2014.
“It was not designed to assist with investigating whether oil and gas drilling operations impacted private water supplies,” DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman said in an email.
Suite code 944 was created on Oct. 28, 2008, to survey wastewater and wastewater treatment related to Marcellus Shale operations. It analyzed the fluid that entered and was discharged from wastewater treatment facilities, she said. Marcellus Shale drilling impacted water supplies 25 times between Jan. 1, 2009, and April 12, 2013, according to state documents.
Environmentalists say that number would be a lot higher if DEP reported all results without the use of suite codes.
The Kiskadden case
Suite codes serve to purposely eliminate parameters that are analyzed for and detected by the DEP laboratory, but not reported to the department’s oil and gas division, an attorney said.
What’s more, a water quality inspector in the oil and gas division said during an October trial before the Environmental Hearing Board that he was not aware the 946 code was developed in 2010.
John Carson started at the DEP in 1994 and worked in the Williamsport area for 16 years as an air quality specialist. In February 2011, he transferred to the department’s office in southwestern Pennsylvania where he began working as a water quality specialist.
He testified that he had the least experience in DEP’s oil and gas division, and was the investigator assigned to inspect potential water contamination cases.
The job would require Carson to collect water samples and send them to a lab for testing.
One of his first tasks was to inspect water at the Range Resources’ Yeager impoundment in summer 2011. The subject was at the center of a complaint by Loren Kiskadden, a Washington County resident who lives near the impoundment, which he claimed was contaminating his well water.
While another DEP inspector, Bryon Miller, collected water at Kiskadden’s residence, Carson collected fluid at the Yeager impoundment. Those samples were sent to the lab with suite code 942, which looks at the fewest parameters.
Carson testified he had little training and was unaware of all the constituents that were held at the Yeager impoundment and did not have a complete list of all the substances that may have leaked. After the lab ran the tests with the 942 suite code, DEP determined Kiskadden’s water was not impacted by oil and gas drilling – even though other tests showed contaminants in his water were also found at the nearby leaking oil and gas site.
Kiskadden appealed to the state Environmental Hearing Board and lost this summer after the board there upheld DEP’s initial ruling.
That case is now on appeal to Commonwealth Court.
‘Epitome of irresponsibility’
There’s no logical reason for DEP to deny itself and unsuspecting homeowners critical information when making a determination as to whether their drinking water has been contaminated by a leak or spill from nearby drilling operations, said John Smith, a lawyer at Smith Butz LLC in Washington County.
“The fact that DEP uses less than all available and pertinent test results that remain behind in the DEP laboratory is the epitome of irresponsibility. The fact the practice continues unchecked today defies belief,” he said.
DEP defends its decision to use suite codes, as the agency looks for things “they’d find in massive quantities during a spill, not every little thing that might be found,” said Scott Perry, deputy secretary of the Office of Oil and Gas Management.
Policy Secretary John Hanger also defended the use of suite codes.
Hanger, who formerly served as DEP secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, said state regulators have used the standard analysis codes for decades.
“I’m absolutely convinced that those standard testing procedures were adopted without any nefarious or conspiratorial purpose to conceal information from the public or to skew results,” he said.
Michael Krancer, the man who insisted on knowing everything about his agency, said he was the wrong person to ask about suite codes and did not decide which ones to use.
Krancer, who was Gov. Tom Corbett’s pick to lead the DEP, maintains news about the department’s use of suite codes “was the product of plaintiff’s lawyers trying to try their case in court using out-of-context statements by a chemist under oath in a deposition.”
During his two years with the agency, he looked to the technical expertise of the lab personnel and oil and gas staff” to do the investigations in a manner that [was] aimed at getting the right result.”
Upadhyay said she, as DEP lab director, had no input in investigations. Lab personnel followed orders and reported the results requested by the DEP oil and gas division.
“Now, if things need to change, and I’m just saying if, that’s why we have the experts there. And, frankly, that’s why we have other people like the advisory boards. This is certainly not some sort of secret process. It’s a process that’s open to a lot of transparency,” she said.
HOW STRINGENT IS WATER QUALITY TESTING?
Suite code 944 tests for 45 contaminants in water, but it has rarely been used. Suite code 942 tests for 14 contaminants, and suite code 946 checks for 22 chemicals. The number of times the different tests were used:
THE CHEMICALS SOUGHT IN TESTING 942: Calcium, total; Sodium, total; Chloride, total; Sulfate by Ion Chromatograph; Barium, total; Iron, total; Manganese, total; Strontium, total 944: Color, Platinum-Cobalt; Biochemical Oxygen Demand 5-Day; Chemical Oxygen Demand; pH, Lab (Electrometric); Total Suspended Solids; Oil and Grease Method 1664 (Hexane); Ammonia, total as Nitrogen; Kjeldahl Nitrogen, total as nitrogen; Nitrate & Nitrite, total as nitrogen; Phosphorus, total as P; Carbon, total, organic; Weak acid dissociable cyanide; Cyanide-distilled, total; Sulfide, total; Hardness, total (calculated); Calcium, total; Magnesium, total; Sulfate, total; Fluoride, total; Arsenic, total; Barium, total; Beryllium, total; Boron, total; Cadmium, total; Chromium, hexavalent; Chromium, total; Cobalt, total; Copper, total; Iron, total; Iron, dissolved; Lead, total; Manganese, total; Thallium, total; Molybdenum, total; Silver, total; Zinc, total; Antimony, total; Tin, total; Aluminum, total; Selenium, total; Titanium, total; Phenols, total distilled; Total Dissolved Solids @180C by USGS-I-1750; Mercury, total 946: Oil and Grease Method 1664 (Hexane); Calcium, total; Magnesium, total; Sodium, total; Chloride, total; Arsenic, total; Barium, total; Cadmium, total; Copper, total; Iron, total; Lead, total; Manganese, total; Nickel, total; Silver, total; Strontium, total; Zinc, total; Aluminum, total; Lithium, total; Methylene Blue Active Substance; Total Dissolved Solids @180C by USGS-I-1750