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Pa. Couple Appealing State's Fracking Contamination Ruling

Jun 5, 2013

A Pennsylvania couple is appealing a decision by that state’s environmental regulatory agency after it determined their drinking water was not contaminated by nearby hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling.

In its appeal, the couple says the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) determination that their water had not been contaminated was arbitrary and capricious. In an update from the couple’s legal representation, the national law firm of Parker Waichman LLP, state testing used little or no scientific data to back its final results.

A statement released by the firm details points of the appeal. The couple believes the state’s DEP testing was flawed from the outset. The official determination released by the DEP did not include the name of the person who collected the samples that were allegedly taken. Also, the state does not indicate how many samples were taken, where they were taken from, and how they were stored and transported.

The state also does not reveal what tests it conducted to reach its final decision in this case. In the test results, the DEP only provides results for a limited number of contaminants and does not publish whether it tested for others or why certain contaminants were omitted from testing or reporting. The state fails to reveal the levels of contamination found prior to testing in the local public water supply, according to the firm’s update on the appeal.

The wells in question, known as DePue Wells, were drilled, owned, and operated by WPX Appalachia LLC and WPX Energy Inc.

In its appeal to the Commonwealth Environmental Hearing Board, Parker Waichman wants the DEP ordered to “investigate and determine whether (the couple’s) water supply was impacted by the gas well drilling, or fracking.” This clearly indicates the couple believes the initial state testing was flawed and lacked any sound scientific evidence.

Previously we’ve reported about the dangers of fracking drilling, especially in Pennsylvania, which sits atop the massive Marcellus shale bed. Fracking drillers have converged upon Pennsylvania largely because of its lax environmental regulations against drilling for natural gas reserves in the shale bed.

Fracking drilling poses several threats not only to the environment but also public health, as evidenced by this case. Critics of the process blame fracking drilling for contaminating groundwater in areas where the process is conducted. During fracking drilling, hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, and a mix of hundreds of chemicals usher a drill through an underground horizontal well until it reaches the shale bed. The rock is blasted apart, releasing the fuel reserves. In this case, it’s natural gas.

The fracking process is believed to cause the chemicals used and toxins generated during the drilling to leak into the groundwater, both through the fissures created during fracking and through poorly constructed wells. Eventually, these toxins could reach private drinking water wells.

Pennsylvania’s DEP has, in the past, determined that fracking has contaminated water supplies, according to our previous accounts. A recent investigation by the (Scranton, Pa.) Times-Tribune newspaper revealed that records indicated that the DEP had determined that localized fracking operations had contaminated the water supplies of 161 properties, including homes, churches, and local businesses.

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