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30-Month Report Finds Pennsylvania Dept. Environmental Protection Fracking Complaint Investigations Are “Cooked” & Shredded

30-Month Report Finds Pennsylvania Dept. Environmental Protection Fracking Complaint Investigations Are “Cooked” & Shredded

Public Herald Journalists Publish Largest Record of Fracking Complaint Cases in Pennsylvania History

After a 30-month analysis, investigative journalists Joshua Pribanic and Melissa Troutman have uncovered
9 ways that officials at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have kept drinking water
contamination across Pennsylvania “off the books” since fracking began in 2004.
Troutman and Pribanic are the co-founders of the investigative news nonprofit Public Herald and
produced the fracking documentary Triple Divide (2013) which featured their initial investigations of water
contamination related to oil and gas operations.
Public Herald’s latest analysis of 200 DEP investigations in five key townships found that the Department
“grossly mishandled” a significant percentage of its water contamination cases between 2009 and 2012.
Troutman and Pribanic refer to these mishandled cases as “cooked,” meaning there’s reason to believe
that DEP’s determination can be challenged and possibly reversed.
“We’ve uncovered patterns used by DEP to dismiss water contamination related to fracking operations that
would otherwise be reasonably considered pollution,” said Pribanic. “In Delmar Township , Tioga County, a single inspector “cooked” 9 of 27 cases, a likely 33% increase in the total number of polluted water
supplies. Basically, DEP’s current total for water contamination cases related to fracking, which they say is
260, is false; it’s understated; it’s cooked.”
Public Herald has obtained and released 2,309 records of DEP complaint investigations in an online,
open-source project called #fileroom ( PublicFiles.org ), where interactive maps are searchable by county
and township and all files can be viewed, printed and shared. The majority of the records, 1275, are
complaints about drinking water, while the remaining 1034 cases are considered general complaints but
can also be water related.
Washington County recorded the highest number of complaints at 667 cases, while Bradford County had
the second highest of 520 on file with 398 cases being drinking water investigations.

 

Map of 667 PADEP fracking complaint investigations for Washington County. © Public Herald

Map of 667 PADEP fracking complaint investigations for Washington County. © Public Herald

 

 

 

 

 

 


According to the journalists, it tooks years of negotiating with DEP officials to gain access to water
contamination complaints — including staff working under the current administration.
“We initially asked for these files in 2011, but complaints were ‘confidential’, “ explained Troutman. “When
I asked again in 2012, an attorney from DEP’s Southwest Regional Office told me that Deputy Secretary
Scott Perry didn’t want the number of complaints to ‘cause alarm.‘ Now, we know why. In Washington
County alone, there are 667 complaint investigations on record from 2004 to the spring of 2015.“
Pribanic and Troutman finally gained access to the files using persistence, threatening a lawsuit, and by
refusing to leave one DEP regional office until a director agreed to meet with them. “Until now, these
records have never seen the light of day,” Pribanic emphasized.
Around month twenty-eight of this investigation Public Herald received a paper from a veteran DEP
employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, with everything blacked out except one paragraph. It read
“DEP retention policy.” In a paragraph about “Complaints,” the document revealed that the Department
should only hold complaint records for five years – “then shred.” Public Herald was told only records which could be considered “useful” would be kept on file and turned into microfilm. “Useful” meant those listed in DEP’s 260 positive determinations, leaving thousands of investigations to be discarded.
Public Herald’s investigative report includes one water contamination case wherein DEP changed a 2014
determination after environmental attorney Nick Kennedy of Mountain Watershed Association directly
challenged the Department’s conclusions by pointing out its flawed investigation.
“We know fracking operations contaminate water; it’s a matter of where and when,” said Troutman.
“Without this data, there’s no way for the public to know where and to what extent the Department is
failing to address contamination. #fileroom finally creates a map so citizens, scientists, health
professionals and journalists know where to look.”
By visiting #fileroom, residents can click their county or township and search their home address to find
water contamination complaints nearby. Records for 17 counties across the shale extraction zone in
Pennsylvania are available now. Public Herald continues to collect complaint records and plans to release
data for all counties with fracking in early 2016.
The “cooked” report is Part 2 of the INVISIBLE HAND series and can be viewed at http://PublicHerald.org .
Part 1 can be read at http://PublicHerald.org/invisible-hand/ .
Public Herald offers paid training in its #fileroom project so citizens can access and contribute their own
records to help create transparency and aggregate records concerning fracking. Visit http://PublicFiles.org
for more information or email Joshua Pribanic, who initiated the project, at joshua@publicherald.org.
PHOTOGRAPHY for this report: https://www.flickr.com/gp/29184238@N06/4L02Ja (i.e #fileroom photos, images of county maps, impacted residents, complainants)

[could not copy map]

Source: Public Herald

BY: Melissa Troutman, Executive Director @PublicHerald, ( 724) 3880464,
melissa@publicherald.org
Joshua Pribanic, EditorinChief @PublicHerald, (419) 2028503,
joshua@publicherald.org

LINK: http://publicherald.org/public-herald-30-month-report-finds-dep-fracking-complaint-investigations-are-cooked/

 

 

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