Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene Depasquale gave an interview to the Scranton Times-Tribune last week in which he was asked about the ongoing audit of the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s handling of water quality issues related to Marcellus Shale drilling. His response to the question was “The only thing I could say is, it’s a good thing we’re doing the audit.”
Eugene Depasquale and I were both elected to the State House in 2006 and our offices were across the hall from one another in the Capitol for several years. I believe Eugene is an honest public servant and a good person, and I consider him a friend. I have no doubt that his audit of DEP will be objective and accurate, even though the Corbett administration has recently slashed budgets for investigators, limiting manpower and resources.
To refresh everyone’s memory, the basis of the audit is the DEP’s use of “Suite Codes” to limit the amount of information given to people about what DEP found in their water. This scheme was uncovered through the sworn testimony of DEP lab chief Taru Upadhyay in a deposition taken last year and detailed in the New York Times.
Based on that testimony, here’s what was apparently happening. You have concerns about your water because you live near drilling operations, so you call DEP to check it out. The DEP inspector comes to your house, takes a sample, marks it with a “Suite Code” and sends it off to the lab for testing. The lab tests over thirty different chemicals and substances as required by federal law, the results of which are stored in the DEP lab computer. So far so good, right?
But when it’s time to generate the report based on the test results, that “Suite Code” tells the computer to only give back results for a handful of the things DEP tested for, not all of them. So the DEP inspector gets a report out of the computer that is purposely incomplete, but you don’t know that because you’d have no way to know.
And when the inspector shows up with that report, they can be technically correct when they say, “According to the report I received from the lab, there is no evidence of any contamination.” But what they know, and you don’t, is that they purposely told the computer to leave out results of dozens of chemicals known to be found in frac water and flowback water. Many of them are known or suspected carcinogens, which means they can cause cancer. The results are sitting in the DEP computers, but you had no way of knowing you got less than the complete results.
The DEP has not denied this practice, but they haven’t explained it either. We also learned that they developed a “Suite Code” specifically designed to provide proper results for drilling-related water quality concerns; unfortunately (but not surprisingly) it has never been used by DEP. Furthermore, you would think the Marcellus Shale Coalition would be with us on this. If they don’t believe drilling operations impact the water, wouldn’t they want all the facts out there to help prove their point? The facts should be allowed to speak for themselves, plain and simple.
I have provided the Auditor General and his staff information about many problems occurring here in the 46th District I represent, and will continue to do what I can to shed light on these inexcusable practices by the DEP.
People are entitled to the truth about what is in water they drink. Is that a debate we even need to be having? Aren’t some things so obvious they should go without saying? What possible reason is there for the DEP, under the direction of Governor Corbett, to withhold information from residents about something this important?
The DEP is clearly taking their marching orders from the Corbett Administration to stonewall anyone who asks the tough questions. It’s great to say we should all work together on every issue all the time, but there comes a point when you have to realize the other side has no intention of doing so under any circumstances whatsoever. On an issue as important as letting parents and grandparents know whether their drinking water could put their children or grandchildren at risk of cancer, I decided that standing up for what’s right and demanding accountability is more important than pandering for the sake of politics.