Journalists discuss water contamination

by Rachel Sapienza, originally posted on May 6, 2016


Two journalists are examining the quality of the state’s water protection practices.

“Our public officials are not acknowledging the truth when it comes to water contamination,” said Joshua Pribanic to an audience of 50 at Westminster College on Tuesday evening.

Pribanic and Melissa Troutman are investigative journalists for Public Herald, a nonprofit group based in Pittsburgh. Together the two have published a number of articles on the dangers of water contamination caused by fracking in Pennsylvania.

The event was hosted by the Alarm Program, an environmental education student group at Westminster that serves Mercer and Lawrence counties.

On their last national tour in 2013, Troutman and Pribanic promoted their first documentary, “Triple Divide,” which claims the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection lacked proper enforcement of fracking sites.

Now, Troutman and Pribanic are presenting their second film, “Invisible Hand,” a continuation of the story which centers on water contamination complaints and the role of local-level officials and governments’ relationship with the natural gas industry. Troutman and Pribanic’s 30-month investigation was released in September 2015 and accuses the DEP of having mishandled water contamination cases across the state between 2009 and 2012.

In their first public appearance for the film, the two journalists presented nine ways in which they believe state officials are keeping reports of water contamination from reaching the public. Troutman and Pribanic claim the department’s 260 complaint reports are misleading. Other complaints, according to the journalists, have been dismissed and destroyed.

Troutman questioned the DEP’s record retention.

“The DEP has thousands of records on other issues dating back to the ‘90s, ‘80s, the ‘70s. They’re saved, microfilmed,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you (the DEP) have the complaint data aggregated? We were the first to aggregate all of it.”

Public Herald has created a searchable database, #fileroom at

With their documentary, Troutman and Pribanic allege that the Environmental Protection Agency and DEP have put the state of Pennsylvania in a gravely dangerous position. The film tells 15 accounts of Pennsylvania home and farm owners who have had their water contamination complaints paid off or worse, completely ignored.

Pribanic compared these stories and happenings to those of Flint, Michigan. He believes a similar water crisis could occur in Pennsylvania.

“We just don’t have the same type of story,” he said, “it’s a different animal,” Pribanic explained that in Flint, the issue was contained to a centralized population. The total land area makes crusading for regulation of the shale extraction industry difficult.

“Pennsylvania deals with a very decentralized population. This happens to one family here, another there, and we’re seeing it rise,” he said.

“We’ve talked to so many people over the years who have been impacted,” Troutman said. “It’s important that we keep talking about this and asking people to ask these questions. There’s real people on the other side of these complaint stories.”

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