The Department of Environmental Protection's March 4 letter ("DEP's Staff Is Professional and Thorough") avoids the real issue at hand: How can the agency improve its policies to better protect water quality and health?
We have no doubt that many DEP employees are skilled, thorough and committed. But current gas development has environmental impacts on a scale never before seen in the commonwealth, many of which may not even be fully known.
Given this reality, it is logical to ask whether DEP's practices and resources are sufficient -- particularly since the agency's budget is now only 40 percent of what it was 10 years ago. And even with increases in penalties and inspectors, DEP can't seem to keep up -- 86 percent of oil and gas wells went uninspected in 2011 and violations by operators continue to rise faster than enforcement actions.
For the past two years, DEP has consistently tested for only about half of the 45 contaminants it could in response to suspected contamination of residential water wells -- leaving off dangerous pollutants including selenium, arsenic, mercury and chromium. In addition, recent DEP testimony points to at least one case where a water contamination data report to homeowners was incomplete.
Since last November, our and other organizations have been on a quest for answers from DEP about its protocols and procedures. To date, we are in communication with DEP but have not received answers, either in person or in writing. Simply hearing that DEP "make[s] decisions based on facts and data gathered and verified using approved methodologies" is not enough for residents across the state seeking information related to their health.
We hope Secretary Michael Krancer and DEP can recognize that greater transparency would boost the department's credibility. We look forward to him bringing the agency's professionalism to bear for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians.
Clean Water Action
The letter was submitted on behalf of 12 environmental organizations belonging to the Campaign for Clean Water (www.pacleanwatercampaign.org).