WILKES-BARRE — Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hanger was on Public Square on Thursday to demand the state Department of Environmental Protection reopen an investigation into water wells near Montrose that some maintain have been contaminated by nearby natural-gas drilling.
DEP announced in April that WPX Energy operations in Susquehanna County did not cause three residential water wells in Franklin Forks Village to be contaminated with methane, barium and other contaminants.
Hanger, who served as DEP secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, believes WPX was too close to the investigation. He said DEP should reopen the investigation and make the findings public.
Hanger steered around whether WPX caused the contamination, though he noted the WPX report documents concerns with imperfect cement gas well casings that were dismissed. Instead, he attacked the integrity of the department’s final determination.
“This is a case that DEP has actually relied on WPX to do major parts of the investigation,” Hanger said, referring to a report submitted by WPX to the department. “I don’t think this is how investigations ought to be done. Very frankly, I believe these investigations ought to be handled fully independently by the Department of Environmental Protection.”
Department spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said the WPX report was not weighed in the department’s final determination; rather it was submitted as a matter of protocol.
WPX had supplied its own report upon the department’s request.
“In any investigation, you get all sides of the story,” Connolly said. “Our conclusion, our final decision was based on our own investigation.”
As a matter of privacy, the department’s reports might not be released to the public, Connolly said. The reports contain personal information protected for the land owners.
“If the land owners choose to release it, we can’t stop them,” Connolly said.
Hanger had indicated Saturday on his blog that a department official, whom he did not name, told him the investigation would be reopened; however, Connolly said that information is false and the department stands behind its 16-month probe.
Department scientists found that ground water in Franklin Forks, an area prone to flooding, historically has contained naturally occurring methane, and a spring about a mile from the three affected homes produces water similar to that found in the water wells. The spring water historically has also contained methane. Methane, which is relatively non-toxic, can asphyxiate at high levels and is extremely flammable.
“The determination of Franklin Forks was driven by one thing, the facts of the case,” Connolly said. “Unfortunately, Mr. Hanger has to hold a press conference to undermine the integrity of dedicated professionals whom he once led.”
“He’s running for governor and obviously, he needs a platform,” Connolly said.
Hanger also encouraged newly appointed department Secretary Chris Abruzzo to consider installing a Citizens Drilling Complaint Office to lead investigations into claims that gas drilling has caused harm.