By Matt Miller | email@example.com
Published here on April 16, 2015
An environmental group can’t have access to raw data collected during a state probe into potential exposure to radioactivity from Marcellus Shale gas and oil drilling operations, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled Friday.
The ruling overturns a decision by the state Office of Open Records that ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to turn over that data to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
However, Judge Anne E. Covey wrote in the state court opinion that the information gathered by DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection starting in 2013 is exempt from public disclosure as part of a “noncriminal investigation.”
The Open Records Office had concluded that the information was part of a study, not an investigation, and should be open to the public.
DEP collected the information, and is still collecting it, under a mandate to evaluate “potential radiation exposure to workers, the public and the environment resulting from certain materials generated by gas and oil exploration and production activities,” Covey noted in her opinion.
DEP, which appealed the Open Records Office ruling to the state court, has collected samples from more than 100 drilling facilities across the state. So far, the examination has generated more than 57,000 pages of records, the court ruling states.
Covey noted that DEP is to use the information to determine whether to recommend regulations or legislation to safeguard public health and the environment. DEP officials said the raw data is still being evaluated and once that is done the agency has pledged to release a detailed report that will be available to the public, the judge wrote.
She cited the agency’s argument that a “premature” public release of the still “unvalidated and preliminary” data could lead to the circulation of erroneous or misleading conclusions regarding health risks.
“We hold that DEP met its burden of proving…that the data is exempt from disclosure and therefore is not a public record,” Covey wrote.