Pa. DEP chided at hearing on drilling

Witness after witness criticized the state agency, which chose not to present its side of the story

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Anger and frustration and jugs of orange-brown tap water were on display at a state House committee hearing in Washington County on Tuesday, where rural property owners and environmental advocates said the state Department of Environmental Protection is failing to enforce Marcellus Shale gas regulations and seriously damaging the environment and their health.

Christopher Lauff of Mount Pleasant, Washington County, and others testifying before the House Democratic Policy Committee said the DEP's has used incomplete and misleading air and water test results, protected the gas drilling industry and exposed them to a sickening array of chemicals from nearby drilling sites.

Mr. Lauff, an analytical chemist and biologist, testified that DEP told him his water was OK to drink, and air pollution complaints went unaddressed. But testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found several water contaminants linked to nearby well drilling, and independent air tests found a variety of volatile organic compounds and carcinogens, including benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene.

"The DEP should not be the gas industry's friend and protector," said Mr. Lauff, who, along with his family, has tested positive for several of the chemical compounds. "DEP needs to be accountable for its actions and inactions."

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, requested the hearing and recently introduced legislation that would require the DEP to fully disclose water testing results requested by landowners who suspect their drinking water wells have been contaminated by Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations.

Mr. White introduced HB 268 after DEP workers revealed that the department's lab reports incomplete water test results to homeowners and uses the reports to dismiss the homeowners' complaints. The testing comments, including those of a DEP Bureau of Laboratories director, are part of sworn depositions filed in November in a civil case in Washington County Common Pleas Court.

The DEP was invited to present testimony at the two-and-a-half-hour hearing but declined. And no one from the department attended, an absence noted by one speaker after another who blistered the department for lack of responsiveness to their complaints, failure to provide complete water test results and lack of transparency in permitting Marcellus Shale gas operations.

The department did issue a written statement during the hearing that said: "DEP's attention is focused on our core mission of protecting the environment, not wasting time on political theater. When our staff and the Secretary are invited to legislative hearings and other meetings that are productive and professional, and are arranged to further the discussion on critical issues, we are willing to attend. As Rep. White is aware, we have communicated with him at length on this issue, including through two letters in November."

But Mr. White said the DEP statement was insulting and the department hasn't answered questions he posed to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer.

"And clearly the DEP hasn't answered the questions of all the people who testified here today," he said. "What was shown is a real lack of respect for the people of Pennsylvania."

mobilehome - state - marcellusshale - environment - neigh_washington

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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