Energy. Environment. Economy.

DEP publishes details on 248 cases of water damage from gas development

Ray Kemble of Dimock, displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pa. displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo.

For the first time, Pennsylvania environmental regulators are publicly releasing documents about cases when natural gas operations have damaged private water supplies.

A list of 248 incidents is now available on the Department of Environmental Protection’s website with links to the letters sent to homeowners when the agency determined their water well was impacted by gas development.

The DEP provided an early copy of the list to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in July, which showed 209 cases. The updated tally is the result of a more thorough search of paper records in regional offices, said spokesman Eric Shirk.

“As we do get more information, we will keep this list updated,” he said.

DEP says incidents on the decline

Homeowners’ names and addresses have been redacted, but the list shows wells were contaminated or produced less water in spots across the Marcellus Shale since late 2007. It includes impacts from both conventional and unconventional operations.

A majority of the incidents occurred in the Northwest and eastern regions of Pennsylvania. The state’s most-drilled county, Bradford, saw 52 incidents of degraded water supplies – more than any other county.

According to the DEP, these cases have been on the decline since a peak in 2010, and are a small number compared to the 20,000 wells that have been drilled in Pennsylvania over the last six years.

“In perspective, the percentages are good,” Shirk said.

So far in 2014, the DEP has issued 11 determination letters, most recently as August 4 in Springfield Township, Bradford County. Shirk said the agency’s goal is to make sure there are no future incidents.

“I think 200 or so contamination cases is pretty alarming numbers especially when you consider industry runs around saying they’ve not contaminated any water well supplies,” said Steve Hvozdovich with Clean Water Action Pennsylvania.

The oil and gas industry has long held that their operations – specifically the process of hydraulic fracturing – do not negatively impact water supplies.

In a statement, Marcellus Shale Coalition president Dave Spigelmyer said the documents released by DEP reflect Pennsylvania’s ”long-standing water-related challenges.”

Pennsylvania is one of two states that does not have standards for private water wells. Cases of methane gas migrating into aquifers have existed long before the shale boom, but faulty well casing can speed up the process.

“Our industry works closely and tirelessly with regulators and others to ensure that we protect our environment, striving for zero incidents,” Spigelmyer said.

“They’re playing catch-up”

Environmental groups are welcoming the release of the determination letters, but remain critical of the DEP for not providing consistent details to the public.

Hvozdovich points out that information contained in each letter varies and it is not clear whether the homeowners were satisfied by DEP’s efforts to correct the problems or work with companies to replace damaged water supplies.

The release of these documents follows a report by the state’s auditor general criticizing the DEP for mishandling complaints about water quality and drilling, including poor record-keeping.

“They’re playing catch-up as fast as they can because I think frankly they’re red-faced about it,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Act 13, Pennsylvania’s two-year-old oil and gas law, requires the department to to post an online list of “confirmed cases of subterranean water supply contamination that result from hydraulic fracturing.”

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the agency has been following the letter of the law, but not “the spirit of the law.”

Shirk said the list is part of an ongoing effort to increase transparency and respond to requests from the public and the media.

“It’s not a secret the DEP has been a paper-based agency and these records have been housed in the regions where the issues were occurring,” Shirk said. “But we took the steps to manually scan in all these files and make a central repository on the Web that everybody can take a look at.”


  • Brian Oram

    Look forward to reviewing – we are always looking for pre and post baseline data (certified) for the citizens database –

    • Victoria Switzer

      yes look at some of the letters Brian-read the chemicals that are in people’s water, then try to figure out how to continue to say the gas industry has not ruined people’s water

      • Brian Oram

        I have never bad this statement “the gas industry has not ruined people’s water”- all my presentations are fact based and show the common routes of impact natural, pre-existing, other industry, natural gas development, and other private wells. This is one reason we started the Citizens Database of pre-drill and post-drill data to track change – – Sorry you are mistaken and wrong on my statements and past work.

        • Maggie Henry

          Thinking of a certain video with you, another hydro geologist and one other guy. It was definitely pro industry. Wish I had the link handy.

          • Brian Oram

            I was in that video – but the section related to private wells and the need for private well construction and looking at the differences in private well construction and Marcellus Shale Well Production- you are thinking about the other sections of the video – NOT My Section. I strongly support any effort to educate private well owners on the need for proper well construction, implement programs to review water quality data for free, and hopefully a program to fix private wells that baseline conditions indicate they have a problem – keep in mind this may be 50% of private wells in PA and none of these pre-existing problems has any thing to do with Marcellus – problem predates Natural Gas Development. This does not mean that a problem can not be created during the process. In all my face to face presentations – I clearly describe all pathways and routes. Video

  • Maggie Henry

    This is just the tip of the iceberg and how dare the industry do a bait and switch now! Incidence on the decline…who cares if your well is the next one contaminated by the industry? I have lived in terror of this for the last 4 years…waking up and having only contaminated water for livestock or irrigation…why should any farmer, living in an agricultural area, have to deal with this? No one has the right to poison the community!

  • JimBarth

    20,000 wells have been drilled in PA over the past 6 years? How many of those are high volume, slick water, multistage hydraulically frac’ed and laterally drilled into the shale? How many of those have been frac’ed, period? How many of those are in production? I have not seen a figure posted anywhere of 20,000 unconventional wells drilled, vertically, or, horizontally into shale, since 2004 in PA, let alone in the past six years. What’s up with that number? Kate, is that all wells drilled, conventional included? Are you sure it isn’t a figure for wells permitted to be drilled? Please inform me. Thanks.

    • kcolaneri

      Hi Jim,
      According to records on the DEP’s website, there have been about 20,000 wells drilled in Pennsylvania since December 2007, the date of the first determination letter on the list I wrote about above. That figure includes about 12,000 shallow, conventional wells and 7,200 unconventional wells.

      You can check out the data by clicking here: Then, click on “Wells Drilled by County.”

      • JimBarth

        Thank you Kate, that’s what I thought. I focus on the unconventional wells, and thought it would be of interest to clarify the 20,000 number. Again, thanks for doing that.

  • Victoria Switzer

    the percentages are good if you are not one of them! I ask how many folks are not on the list because they are afraid to go public and because they get water delivered if they are good disciples!!!! If PA is willing to trade their drinking water for gas then they are off to a great start.

    • Maggie Henry

      I’m not willing to have Pa trade my drinking water for anything. Paid thousands to drill my well and my husband’s family have paid taxes for 100 years on this farm. I’ve been here for 35 of them…no one has the right to do what the gas industry is. Poisoning people for money. Wish I believed in hell so I could picture all of them burning in it!

  • woodauger

    this report deals with Pennsylvania subsurface freshwater only. The waste-water is being injected somewhere to be rid of it – probably Ohio.

  • Victoria Switzer

    take the number of wells drilled in each county and the number of the know “changed” or “tainted”(God forbid we say contaminated). What is the percentage????

  • Maggie Henry

    Actually, I want to go on record as saying/accusing DEP of knowing about even more cases of water contamination and simply trying to cover up the truth to protect the industry. They can’t live up to environmental protection so they have to protect something, even if it is cya or worse, the industry! Please don’t anyone feel the need to tell me about all the good people who work for DEP…good people don’t turn a blind’s eye to this, they blow whistles on it!

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