Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection revokes permit for frack waste injection well in Grant Township

Sign: Vote Yes for Home Rule. Another sign: No Toxic Waste
Photo by Keith Boyer, the Contently Foundation

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection enforces local Grant Township law in revoking permit for dangerous frack waste injection well

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revoked a permit for a frack waste injection well in Grant Township. DEP officials cited Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter banning injection wells as grounds for their reversal.

Township residents popularly adopted a Home Rule Charter (local constitution) in 2015 that contains a “Community Bill of Rights.” The Charter bans injection wells as a violation of the rights of those living in the township and recognizes rights of nature. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted in drafting the Charter.

In 2017, DEP issued a permit to legalize an injection well in Grant, and simultaneously sued the township. The agency claimed that Grant’s Home Rule Charter – which protects the local environment – interfered with the DEP’s authority to administer state oil and gas policy.

Yet, in a stunning about-face, DEP enforced Grant’s law and rescinded the injection well permit, last week. “Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter bans the injection of oil and gas waste fluids,” the DEP writes. “Therefore, the operation of the Yanity well as an oil and gas waste fluid injection well would violate that applicable law.”

Since 2014, Township residents have faced a variety of intimidation tactics, including lawsuits, from the corporation behind the injection well (Pennsylvania General Energy based in Warren, Pennsylvania), the oil and gas industry, and their own state government and agencies. They have not backed down, even in the face of potential municipal bankruptcy. They have continued to assert and protect their community’s rights. 

“We are over the moon that the permit was rescinded,” said Grant Township Supervisor Vice-Chair Stacy Long. “However, we know the permit should never have been issued in the first place. We can’t forget that DEP sued us for three years, claiming our Charter was invalid. Now they cite that same Charter as a valid reason to deny the industry a permit. It’s hypocritical at best. Add this to the pile of reasons Grant Township did not trust the DEP to protect our environment, and why we’ve had to democratically work at the local level to protect our community.” 

“This decision does not validate the actions of the DEP, but rather vindicates the resistance that communities like Grant have engaged in to force governmental agencies into doing the right thing,” says CELDF Pennsylvania Organizer Chad Nicholson. “DEP has been acting in bad faith. I’m glad they revoked the permit. But it took them too long to do what all governments should be doing: enforcing democratically-enacted local laws that protect public health and safety.” 

Grant Township is aware that the industry and/or state agencies, such as DEP, may sue them again.

As of today, there is still no injection well in Grant Township.

The Other Side of the Story–Pennsylvania General Energy vs. Grant Township Federal Court Case

[Editor’s Note: The following was originally published in The Guide, a direct-mail weekly normally filled only with advertisements and want-ads. However, The Guide is sometimes used in Warren County to publish clarifications and rebuttals that address the “other side of the story” left out of articles published in the local newspaper, the Times Observer. In this instance, on April 4, 2019, the Times Observer published “PGE reduces legal fees in Grant Township case“. The article focused on Warren-based PGE’s seemingly merciful reduction of legal fees sought in their federal suit against Grant Township, but neglected coverage of the Township’s perspective. When the Grant Township authors of this article requested that the Times Observer provide more fair and balanced coverage, or even publication of a Letter to the Editor, they were denied. So a Grant Township citizen group, The East Run Hellbenders Society, paid to have the following published in The Guide on May 20, 2019.]


The Other Side of the Story Pennsylvania General Energy vs. Grant Township Federal Court Case

On April 4th, the Warren paper provided a brief report on this case, presenting an expression of support for the plaintiff (PGE), as front‐page “news”. The ongoing case, along with other facts, was not considered to be newsworthy, apparently.

We are the defendant in the case, representatives of Grant Township. Here is an explanation of the serious issues involved: We are defending our local right to block an oil and gas wastewater disposal well here using our right to self‐government. Our residents voted to adopt a Home Rule Municipal Charter which gives our community a broad right to self‐government. Our Home Rule Charter prohibits radioactive oil and gas waste dumping via injection wells in our township in order to protect residents’ fresh water wells. (There is no common township water supply; we all maintain our own wells for our own homes.) We also value our streams and the wildlife that depend on the streams including game fish and the eastern hellbender salamanders’ habitat. We believe PGE’s harmful project will ruin the watershed for Indiana County, as PGE’s record for environmental violations ranked 11th as a fracking company with the most violations of rules meant to protect the environment and public health*. It will be a slow poison for everyone. After our first ordinance to support local community rights was passed unanimously, PGE, the gas drilling company headquartered in Warren, brought suit against Grant Township in federal court. PGE asked the court to rule that protecting the community’s rights violated the corporation’s civil rights. While the case continued, the U.S. District Court has consistently ruled in PGE’s favor.

However, our case remains very much alive because of our Home Rule Charter. As in Warren’s own Home Rule Charter, this is law established by the people, not by the township officials. Judge Susan Baxter recently ordered our township to pay the legal expenses of PGE. The$103,000 order hits our township—a township too rural for streetlights, sidewalks and public water‐‐that must make ends meet on an annual $140,000 budget. Township Supervisor Jon Perry wrote to the court last year that Grant Township’s general fund revenue, mostly from property taxes, was projected at $147,000 and its general operating expenses were projected at $138,000, leaving less than $9000 before taking into account a $16,000 general fund deficitfrom the previous year. Other money that the township receives is restricted to specific uses, like road and bridge maintenance.

Grant Township does not have the means to pay attorney’s fees to PGE in any amount – not $500,000, not $100,000, and not $1000”, he wrote. Our county commissioners and our township’s state senator and representative also asked the court not to punish the township “for taking actions they believed were in the best interests of the community they represent”.

The idea that our rural township has damaged PGE is astonishing. What we are doing is fighting back – BEFORE the harm of the proposed project hits our residents. This court’s rulings so far have indicated a preference for protection of the corporation’s “civil” rights above our inalienable rights as human beings. When and if the water is contaminated in Grant Township, our only recourse would be to depend on the DEP or “sue the operator”. Neither of those scenarios protects our health, safety and welfare, but our Charter does.

As of today, there is no injection well in Grant Township. As of today, the Home Rule Charter that our residents voted for remains on the books protecting our health and safety. We will continue to carry out our sworn duty to protect the welfare of this community.

You are welcome to join us in protecting our communities, by contacting us at Grant Township Municipal Building, 100 East Run Road, Marion Center, PA 15759.

* Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Oil and Gas Management, Oil and Gas Reports, December 2016.

Respectfully submitted,

Jon Perry, Chairman, Grant Township
Stacy Long, Vice Chair, Grant Township
Ron Jarvie, Supervisor

“[Original article in The Guide] Paid for by The East Run Hellbenders Society”