A long-running dispute over an Indiana County township’s attempt to ban fracking waste injection wells from within its borders has gone to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Warren-based PGE, formerly known as Pennsylvania General Energy, has applied for a permit to drill an injection well in Grant Township since 2013.
As part of its efforts to block PGE, supervisors at Grant Township passed a Home Rule Charter that included such a ban.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fought this effort.
In a press release issued this week, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund said the Commonwealth Court agreed with the DEP and struck down Grant Township’s charter adopted in 2015.
“In other words, the court decided that PGE’s constitutional ‘rights’ to subject the township to chemical and radiological exposure and groundwater contamination are greater than the rights of township residents to have ‘clean air and clean water,’ CELDF spokesman Chad Nicholson wrote. in this press release.
CELDF said the decision was made last month. Last week, on behalf of the township, the CELDF filed its appeal with the highest court in the state.
“Our community has been asserting our rights through our self-reliance charter for over six years, and we are waiting to show why Grant Township is willing to risk what little we need to be heard in court,” said Supervisor Stacy. Long. “I can’t help but observe that this decision was made over the phone and is simply not profitable for the industry or the state – for our community, it is enough to exist as it is, with clean water and the quality of life that we are working so hard to save.”
Past efforts to get input from the DEP and EMP on the issue have elicited responses that don’t comment on ongoing litigation. PGE also sued the township in the U.S. District Court in Erie.
“In 1997, Pennsylvania General Energy Corp., the predecessor of PGE, brought a deep gas well into production in Grant Township on a property known as Yanity Farm, pursuant to Well License No. 37-063 -31807-00-00 issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (the “Yanity Pit”),” according to PGE’s 2014 complaint. “PGE is in the process of obtaining federal environmental permits and authorities to convert the Yanity well from a production well to an underground injection well.”
The lawsuit noted that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency issues underground injection control permits under the Safe Drinking Water Act “to authorize the injection of brine and fluids produced to be eliminated”.
He also noted that the DEP “does not have the primacy to administer the UIC program and issue UIC permits”, so on May 2, 2013, PGE applied to the EPA for a UIC permit.
“The EPA issued the UIC permit to PGE on March 19, 2014,” according to the federal court filing.
On January 30, 2015, Federal Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter issued a preliminary injunction against the township.
In October 2015, Baxter ruled that the Community Bill of Rights Ordinance in some respects exceeded the legal authority of the township.
“Oil and gas development (which necessarily includes the management of waste generated at a wellsite) is a legitimate business activity and land use in Pennsylvania,” Baxter wrote. She ruled that municipalities must authorize all legitimate uses.
The decision was appealed to the Third Circuit Court, which upheld Baxter’s decision on July 27, 2016.
Ultimately, Baxter awarded PGE $100,000 in attorneys’ fees.
“Pennsylvania General Energy is committed to treating people fairly and honestly and to forming partnerships based on trust and mutual success,” the company states on its penngeneralenergy.com website. “Our commitment is reflected in our relationships with the people and those who regulate our operations.”