Our opinion: Breeding suspicion

Recently, the state Department of Environmental Protection was forced – although its legal department kicked and screamed about it in court – to release nearly 1,000 letters and enforcement orders written by DEP officials to oil and gas developers between 2008 and the fall of 2012.

The Scranton Times-Tribune analyzed those letters – thank you – and found that about 17 percent of the investigations during that period determined that oil and gas activity disrupted water supplies either temporarily or seriously enough to require companies to replace the source.

If that percentage represents an indictment of the processes used or not is a judgement call we’re not willing to make here.

The records showed a spike in those types of complaints at about the time the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom kicked into high gear. It only makes sense that , generally, as any activity increases, the chance for problems or mistakes increases; ask any statistician or probalist.

As the processes for the peculiar type of drilling and extraction methods for Marcellus Shale production continued to be honed and the boom had settled somewhat, the records showed that after a plateau, the number of complaints and orders had started to fall – also fairly predictable.

Our concern with all of this – other than the fact that some people’s water supplies were affected, of course – is that the state agency, a cabinet agency, charged with protecting the environment and the public health, was so loathe to produce documents related to its mission. These records, we believe, are directly related to public health and their availability to the public should be an easy conclusion.

What was the DEP afraid of, that the public might find out it was doing its job, or that perhaps it wasn’t doing its job as well as it should?

The effect of all the secrecy, even perceived secrecy, begs suspicion and the natural tendency of people to try to establish a trail of policy or administrative manipulation. Some suspicious people might think that Gov. Corbett, a special friend to the oil and gas industry, might have contributed to the DEP’s obstinacy.