Testimony: Obsolete tests tainted shale analysis

State regulators did not consider available water chemistry test results and had limited knowledge of past spills and leaks at Range Resources’ Yeager Farm shale gas development site in Washington County before deciding the operation did not contaminate the nearby private water supply of Loren Kiskadden, according to testimony last week in the ongoing case before the state Environmental Hearing Board in Pittsburgh.

A state Department of Environmental Protection geologist also testified that a hydro-geological report he wrote in response to Mr. Kiskadden’s contamination complaint contained an unattributed conclusion by Range Resources’ that an analysis of Mr. Kiskadden’s water, “does not indicate contamination by gas well drilling.”

The DEP geologist, Michael Morgart, sent that report to his superiors in the department’s Bureau of Oil and Gas in August 2011, the month before it determined there was no impact from the Marcellus Shale gas development to Mr. Kiskadden’s water well in rural Amwell Township.

Friday, Mr. Morgart, testified that he was unaware of many of the spills and leaks in 2011, during his hydro-geologic investigation, and a hydro-geological link between the Kiskadden water well, located 2,800 feet down gradient from Range’s drill site and leaky 13.5 million gallon impoundment and drill cuttings pit, was “unexpected.”

That conclusion differed from his sworn deposition testimony, and he later testified that such a connection was “possible but not probable.”

He also testified he wrote two different reports on water flow around the Yeager drill site, but denied the second was changed by a DEP supervisor to weaken the hydro-geological link between the site and Mr. Kiskadden’s well.

The hearing on Mr. Kiskadden’s appeal of that DEP determination is the first in the state to challenge a department ruling that a private water well was not contaminated by Marcellus Shale gas development and has been going on for two weeks with two more scheduled.

The DEP’s own witnesses in the Kiskadden appeal testified on cross examination that the department used an old laboratory testing menu — the 942 standard analysis code from 1991 — that didn’t report all of the contaminants in the Kiskadden well. A new one developed in 2010 analyzes more chemicals and metals and was created especially for testing potential water impacts from Marcellus Shale gas development.

On Wednesday, in questioning by DEP attorney Richard Watling, Taru Upadhyay, director of the DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories, testified that her lab followed all regulations and accepted practices in analyzing water samples from Mr. Kiskadden’s kitchen faucet in June and August 2011 and January 2012, providing results for contaminants requested by the department’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Management.

But under cross-examination by Kendra Smith, an attorney representing Mr. Kiskadden, Ms. Upadhyay admitted that the lab’s chemical “data package” for water samples was much more detailed and extensive than that requested by and reported to the oil and gas bureau, and contained results for a variety of man-made chemicals and 24 metals, including some that are associated with shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Those additional chemical analyses were not requested by the Bureau of Oil and Gas for the review of Mr. Kiskadden’s water faucet sample tests. If they had been, Ms. Upadhyay testified, they were available and could have been provided.

Byron Miller, a DEP water quality specialist who visited Range’s Yeager drill pad and impoundment many times since 2011 and took water samples from Mr. Kiskadden’s kitchen faucet, said he wasn’t told about the new more detailed and expansive water testing codes and continued to use older codes.

On June 5, 2011, Mr. Miller wrote in a report generated after his first visit and water test that the Kiskadden property was not contaminated by the Yeager drilling operations, but admitted on cross-examination he never looked at any pre-drilling water test results that could have shown changes in the water quality, and was unaware at that time that Range was bringing drilling mud from other well sites to the Yeager pad for processing and storage.

Mr. Miller also testified that there were multiple leaks and spills at the Yeager drill site. Those included:

• On March 25, 2010 a drilling mud and cutting pit on the Yeager well pad leaked into the ground, contaminated two springs on the Yeager farm and required the eventual excavation of 2,135 tons of contaminated soil and cuttings — the waste rock mud, and fluids from the drilling process. Mr. Miller said he didn’t know how much material leaked from the pit. The contaminated springs continue to flow onto the ground and into small streams that drain in the direcion of Mr. Kiskadden’s property in the narrow agricultural valley 4 1/2 years later.

• In April 2010, the impoundment began leaking when a hole was mistakenly left in the double liner as it was filling and on April 20, a truck carrying residual drill cuttings dumped its load into the impoundment.

via Testimony: Obsolete tests tainted shale analysis.