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Pa. criticized over gas drilling pollution tests

Associated Press Modified: November 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm •  Published: November 2, 2012

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A state representative says the way Pennsylvania reports possible water pollution related to natural gas drilling is seriously flawed.

Depositions in a lawsuit show that the Department of Environmental Protection isn't releasing all water test results to homeowners during investigations of possible contamination from Marcellus Shale gas drilling, Rep. Jesse White said.

White, D-Allegheny, said the testimony of DEP staff in a lawsuit brought by Washington County homeowners revealed that the agency conducts water tests for 24 metals that can be related to gas drilling but the report given to homeowners shows only eight of them.

"This isn't a technicality, and it isn't something which can be ignored," White said. "We are talking about people's health, safety and welfare."

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said on Friday that the agency has been using the guidelines in question since 1991 and that they lead to sound determinations of when contamination from oil or gas drilling occurs. The water is also tested for pH, alkalinity, hardness, conductivity, total dissolved solids, total suspended solids, chloride and sulfate, he said.

"That the lab is capable of doing additional analysis for a particular investigation doesn't mean that our analysis was inadequate or incomplete," Sunday said.

Former DEP secretary John Hanger said that while the policy may have been developed in good faith years ago, it should be changed "immediately" to provide people with all the test information possible on water contamination, whether it's related to drilling or not.

Hanger said not releasing all the test results is a "mistake," adding that he isn't sure whether the policy was any different when he led the agency in 2009 and 2010.

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