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Pa. environmental regulators take measured approach to private water supply complaints

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Pa. environmental regulators take measured approach to private water supply complaints

Jun 14, 2024 | 5:26 pm ET
By Rich Lord PublicSource
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Pa. environmental regulators take measured approach to private water supply complaints
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(Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t regulate private water supplies the way it does with public water utilities, the agency wrote Friday in a response to questions posed by PublicSource.

As a result, a DEP spokesperson wrote, the agency doesn’t typically determine the quality or safety of an individual’s private water supply, nor does it usually investigate the cause of a person’s complaint about their well.

DEP can, however, collect and evaluate data “to determine whether or not a causal relationship exists” between a water quality complaint and oil and gas activity.

In the case of the Lumber Pad frack out in New Freeport, the agency investigated, and did not identify a rapid worsening of water quality, according to the spokesperson. DEP provided PublicSource with partially redacted copies of letters to 13 water complainants, and in 11 of those cases the agency wrote that it “cannot conclude” that the water supply was adversely impacted by the incident. For the remaining two, which were spring water systems, the agency determined they were not impacted by oil and gas activity. The agency continues to investigate 10 additional complaints.

DEP outlined its general process for handling complaints of water problems when there’s a potential tie to oil and gas activity. The agency:

  • Looks at any baseline information on water quality prior to the oil and gas activity
  • Sends geologists to visually inspect the property, water supply and well site
  • Where a release or spill of fracking fluids may be involved, tests for “constituents of concern” known to be associated with those fluids
  • If warranted, conducts more testing, notably including reviews for other substances used in oil and gas extraction and for chemicals that naturally occur in the given area
  • Sends the water user a detailed determination letter, plus a fact sheet meant to help people to understand the data.

If it determines that oil and gas activity affected water quality, the DEP and the drilling operator continue to investigate and sample, with an eye to understanding the extent of the impact.

On its website, DEP offers guidance to water supply owners to regularly test their private water supply https://www.dep.pa.gov/Citizens/My-Water/PrivateWells/Pages/default.aspx.

Rich Lord is the managing editor at PublicSource and can be reached at [email protected].

This article first appeared on PublicSource and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Pa. environmental regulators take measured approach to private water supply complaints