DEP: Protecting the Energy Producers

fracksylvaniaThe Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection has picked a few other names for the acronym DEP.  These include:

  • Don’t Expect Protection
  • Department of Energy Producers
  • Department of Energy Production
  • Do Expect Pollution

It’s obvious from these alternative acronyms; the part about ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION produces little confidence from people living in and around the drilling areas of Pennsylvania.   These drilling areas also have their share of nicknames:

  • Sacrifice Zones
  • Mordor
  • Fracksylvania


In Drill-Baby-Drill, a documentary by Lech Kowalski, is how one village in Poland fought off a gas driller. It was pointed out this small village educated itself about gas drilling by researching what was going on in Pennsylvania.

A reader, from one of the northeast counties of Pennsylvania, said “We are a sideshow.   Out of state people come to our area, they see the flares, they see the compressors, they breath the air, see the water, and then go running home as fast as they can to try to stop the same thing happening to their own communities.”


In 2012, just a couple months after the passage of ACT 13, (also known as the Gasser Gift Act), the same Pennsylvanian Legislature which has lovingly embraced drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales,  enacted a moratorium in counties beneath the South Newark Basin until a study of drilling impact is completed.  The now “NO-FRACK ZONE” include: parts of Montgomery county, Bucks, Chester and Berks counties.

The moratorium’s chief backer, Sen. Charles McIlhinney (R., Bucks), says it was necessary in light of a new scientific study on the potential natural gas locked in the so-called South Newark Basin, which underlies parts of Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Berks Counties. “We need to find out where it is and how much is there before drilling,” McIlhinney said.

McIlhinney voted for Act 13.

(We would like to note, Lt. Governor Jim Cawley, former DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, CEO of Aqua America Nicolas Debenedictus, CEO of Penn-Virginia Resourcs (PRV) William Shea , among other “important” people  live and/or have headquarters in the NO Frack Zone.)

To be clear about the No Frack Zone moratorium, it states “until a drilling impact study is completed”.   The moratorium could last up to 6 years or until 2018, which ever comes first.   Coincidently, 2018 is also a gubernatorial election year.

Important to note, with the enactment of the NO FRACK ZONES, Pennsylvania sort of, kind of, recognizes there might be a problem with this whole natural gas development thing.


DEP’s lack of advocacy to protect the environment is reminiscent of a variation of the “WHERE’S WALDO” game.

Anyone living in the sacrifice zones, Mordor, or Fracksylvania knows DEP actually protecting the environment has become a fairy tale.  Former DEP Secretary Krancer  had stated in August 2012  At the end of the day, my job is to get gas done.

Krancer left as DEP Secretary in April 2013, he is now back as his old firm of Blank Rome, protecting  and lobbying for the energy industry.  Krancer is the 5th DEP Secretary to go to work for interests connected to the Oil & gas industry since DEP was created.  Other notables now working for oil&gas interests include Former Governor Tom Ridge and Former Governor Ed Rendell, plus a host of former staffers from these administrations.


Laura Legere, staff writer for the Times-Tribune, wrote an article entitled “Sunday Times review of DEP drilling records reveals water damage, murky testing methods (part 1 of 2)”.   The article reveals the DEP has determined at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses have had water supplies damaged by oil and gas development between 2008 and 2012.   (Click here for an interactive map)

The Damascus Citizens for Sustainability has obtained copies of DEP determination letters which all clearly state: “The Department investigation indicates that gas well drilling has impacted your water supply.”

The 161 number may seem low, its all in the counting, and Legere explains it as:

 While the records compiled by the newspaper offer a more complete tally of the number of affected properties than was previously available, the count is not exhaustive:

– DEP tracks oil and gas-related disruptions to water supplies based on broad incidents, each of which might affect one or many water supplies, making comparisons between the totals difficult. A case of gas migrating into Dimock Twp. drinking water, for example, is considered one incident by DEP even though the state determined it affected 18 water wells used by 19 families. DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said the agency compiles “some information” on the number of affected water wells and springs, but DEP’s statistics on impacted water supplies differ from the numbers documented in the letters and orders released to The Sunday Times. Between 2010 and 2012, DEP counted 103 impacted water supplies – six more than were documented for those years in the records released to the newspaper.

– DEP repeatedly argued in court filings during the open records case that it does not count how many determination letters it issues, track where they are kept in its files or maintain its records in a way that would allow a comprehensive search for the letters, so there is no way to assess the completeness of the released documents.

– Before a 2011 regulatory update, solutions worked out privately between homeowners and drillers were not required to be reported to the department. The Sunday Times requested the notices of potential water contamination that now have to be passed on to DEP by drilling companies that receive them from residents, but the request was denied by DEP and the state’s Office of Open Records because the documents are considered part of protected investigations.

– The conclusions described in the determination letters are seldom absolute because substances read as signals of drilling-related contamination are also routine signs of other man-made or natural influences.

It is important to note, the Sunday Times requested access to DEP records in late 2011, and it took a ruling from the state appeals court (late 2012) to force DEP to release the documents.   DEP’s excuse for not releasing documents was “they are hard to find”.    Not much of a confidence booster that all requested documents have been released, nor to their completeness.

How many homes are impacted?  We still really don’t know.  How many homes are receiving water supplies from the natural gas industry?  We don’t know.   Between lack of tracking by DEP and non-disclosure gag clauses, the real number is still a mystery.    Unconfirmed rumors have mentioned there are over 400 homes in Hickory, PA area receiving water from one natural gas drilling corporation.

When one homeowner contacts DEP to report “bad water”, DEP will send out an inspector to investigate and take a water sample……eventually.    The inspector does not check, investigate or contact any neighboring property owners to see if they may have the same problem, despite the fact these neighbors may be obtaining their own water from the same source.

Further complicating the count is the use of Suite Codes by DEP.


It is important to note, the Sunday Times requested access to DEP records in late 2011, and it took a ruling from the state appeals court (late 2012) to force DEP to release the documents.   DEP’s excuse for not releasing documents was “they are hard to find”.    Not much of a confidence booster that all requested documents have been released, nor to their completeness.


After the aforementioned article appeared, DEP, the industry and their front groups are scrambling for their talking points.  They have pulled an oldie but goodie out of their backsides.

The water were already contaminated, we know this because there are no regulations in Pennsylvania for water well construction.  Partially true, there are no water well construction regulations or standards in Pennsylvania, however does that mean the every private water well in Pennsylvania is contaminated?  Is DEP going to test every private water well in Pennsylvania to show they are already contaminated?

According to DEP, it is recommended homeowners test their water within 1 YEAR prior to gas drilling.   ONE YEAR.    PA – DEP Recommended Basic Oil & Gas Pre-Drill Parameters gives a list of parameters for testing.

Water tests, depending on the level of testing requested, may range from $300 for a basic test up to $1,000 for a broader spectrum of contamination.    Some natural gas drillers will perform a Pre-Drill water test, assuring the property owner that these tests will provide some protection in the unlikely event that something should happen.

Between the DEP and natural gas driller assurances, the vast majority of homeowners are under the impression the pre-drill test gives them protection and legal standing when/if their water goes bad after drilling begins.

This is not true.   The documentary, Triple Divide, revealed that according to DEP one water test is insufficient.   DEP and the natural gas drillers maintain, one test is only a snapshot of water conditions for that particular day and do not reflect long term water quality.  DEP further stated water testing should be done at least 4 times a year.

When DEP was questioned why they do not recommend water testing to be done 4 times a year on their website, the answer was, it would cost homeowners too much and they won’t do it.    In essence the DEP recommended 1 water test 1 year before drilling is useless.  The 1 pre-drill test by a natural gas corporation is useless.


In 2008, a Cabot Oil&Gas well blewout.  Approximately 19 properties were effected and water wells were contaminated.  The then DEP Secretary John Hanger stated “DEP testing since April has shown as many as 18 affected supplies.”  Cabot Oil & Gas continues to deny responsibility.

Read Hanger’s 2010 Letter to Cabot Oil & gas.

Excerpts: hanger-cabot 1hanger-cabotNOTE THE LAST SENTENCE:  Additionally, the gas wells in many cases are less than a thousand feet from the homes where, by law, it is presumed gas drilling caused any pollution of water wells that may result.

Per Act 13:

  • Increased setbacks from natural gas wells:
  • By 250% from buildings and wells to 500 feet
  • By 500% from public drinking water sources to 1,000 feet
  • By 300% from springs or other bodies of water to 300 feet
  • Prohibited within 300 feet of any wetland that is at least one acre

Rebuttable presumption for contamination of public and private water supplies substantially increased from 1,000 feet for 6 months to 2,500 feet for 12 months.

Although the new law increases setbacks from water wells, buildings, streams, and wetlands, and generally prohibits well sites in floodplains, it also allows DEP to waive such setbacks, such as Section 3215 (a) and (b) and 3215(f).

Where did these setback numbers come from?

Following the release of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission’s report and seven months before the passage of Act 12, the Marcellus Shale Coalition sent out an op-ed to media outlets:   Marcellus Shale commission recommendations a road map to getting it right | July 29, 2011| by Kathryn Z. Klaber

Offering additional protection to the state’s water supply, the commission recommends increasing the minimum setback distance from 200 feet to 500 feet from private water wells and 1,000 feet for public water supplies. It’s a common sense proposal we support.


In December of 2010, Hanger threw Dimock under the bus and made a deal with Cabot.   His excuse was the incoming administration of Tom Corbett would do it anyways.  Hanger announced his intentions to run in the 2014 governor’s race.


Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “”Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The DEP has a variation of this – “Testing the same water over and over again UNTIL you get a different result.”

Between 2008 and 2012, numerous water tests were performed by universities, DEP, EPA, Cabot Oil&Gas, and the impacted homeowners.   All showing high methane levels and other contaminates associated with natural gas drilling.   These tests were taken at different times and seasons of the year.

So now we have a bigger picture, and not just a 1 snapshot test.  There should be sufficient testing results to show the connection.

Taking into consideration the DEP and natural gas drillers have said multiple tests were needed over a period of time to give a big picture of water qualtity – then why in the summer of 2012 – based solely on the results of ONE water test performed by Cabot Oil & Gas, did DEP allow Cabot to resume drilling and declare Dimock water safe?

Yes, you read that right.  DEP discounted all previous test results, (their own included), and declared Dimock water was safe, based on a snapshot test by the driller.

Scott Ely, whose house is near the Ely 1H well, is continuing with a lawsuit against Cabot alleging damage to his family’s health and property. Several of his neighbors have signed settlement agreements in the suit.

“My methane level hasn’t changed,” he said, adding that the pH of his water keeps rising and is now “close to Drano.”

With regards to the EPA’s testing read:  Observations on Selected US EPA Summaries of Well Water Analysis from Dimock, Pennsylvania, 2012. by Ronald E. Bishop, Ph.D., CHO

In summary, the decision of the US EPA to certify these six wells in Dimock, PA as“safe” was, in this reviewer’s opinion, extremely premature and without foundation.

Former DEP Secretary Krancer has never been to Dimock, it is unknown if he has ever been to any town in the sacrifice zones, sat on a porch and had a glass of water from the now “safe” wells.    He lives safely in the NO FRACK ZONE.

Tell me again, how many tests are really needed to let the gas drillers off the hook? One, two, three or a hundred?  How many tests will be preformed on the 161 homes the DEP has determined that gas drilling has impacted their water until the DEP find ONE snapshot test to the contrary?

© 2013 by Dory Hippauf

To understand the messaging mess from the energy industry, please click here to watch my presentation THE MESSAGE: WHAT THE NATURAL GAS INDUSTRY IS NOT SAYING


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