Penn Twp About to Adopt Meaningless (?) Injection Well Ban

Last November we updated you on a lawsuit filed by a group of anti-fossil fuelers in Penn Township (Westmoreland County), PA (see Penn Twp Ninny Nannies File Lawsuit to Block Apex, H&H Wells). A group calling themselves Protect PT, backed with money and legal help from Big Green group PennFuture, filed a lawsuit to try and stop Apex Energy and Huntley & Huntley (H&H) from drilling wells in the township.

The lawsuit finally made it to a county judge who heard testimony in April (see Penn Twp Antis Try to Use PA ERA to Block Shale Drilling). The peril with Protect PT’s lawsuit is that it uses Pennsylvania’s so-called Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA), which liberal PA judges have, in recent years, breathed new life into. The argument is that fracking denies those who live near this temporary activity their “right” to enjoy Mom Nature, therefore it should be banished forever. Protect PT is attempting to pull off a total frack ban in the Penn Township. Meanwhile, Protect PT is working on a parallel effort.

They’ve convinced (pressured, bullied) the town board to adopt an injection well ordinance that essentially bans injection wells in the town. Here’s the thing: Nobody has even whispered the hint of wanting to locate a wastewater injection well in Penn Township–ever. It is a meaningless gesture–unless you consider that Protect PT calls the injection well ordinance a “victory” and (our inference) if they can get this injection well ordinance passed, then maybe they can get a more restrictive drilling ordinance passed too. That is, the injection well ordinance is the back door to getting a wider frack ban enacted by a now-susceptible and weakened town board…

Penn Township leaders and Protect PT, a local environmental group, frequently butt heads over fracking, but the two groups have reached a consensus on the controversial topic of injection wells.

Township commissioners on Wednesday will vote on an injection well ordinance that incorporates several of Protect PT’s suggestions.

“The commissioners finally have not missed the mark on this one, and they’re trying to do the right thing,” said Gillian Graber, executive director of Protect PT. “We’re going to accept it as a victory.”

Injection wells are used to dispose wastewater — a by-product of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — deep underground.

Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey found certain types of wastewater injection wells can cause earthquakes.

There are no active injection wells in Penn Township, and municipal leaders don’t know of any plans to create one, township manager Alex Graziani said.

“We’ve heard nothing from anyone in the industry about any of these things being imminent … but we want to be proactive and adopt the proper precautions,” he said.

The proposed ordinance would limit injection wells to industrial zones. At the suggestion of Protect PT, it will require anyone looking to drill an injection well to study the impact to the environment and traffic, test the nearby soil and get site plans by licensed engineers.

These rules are in line with state and federal regulations, Graber said.

“We’ve incorporated almost all of their suggestions,” Graziani said.

The only suggestion that didn’t make it into the draft ordinance was a large minimum setback that would have made it almost impossible to create an injection well in the township, Graziani said.

Graber said she was pleasantly surprised her organization’s suggestions were so readily accepted.

“I’m not really sure why this subject matter is different from the fracking subject matter,” she said. “I feel like maybe they drew the line at the township being the toxic waste dump for all these materials.”

Though they agree about injection wells, Protect PT’s battles with the township continue on other fronts.

Protect PT is in the midst of an ongoing court challenge against the township’s zoning ordinance, which allows fracking in both industrial and rural areas.

There are two active unconventional fracking wells in the township, with several others in various stages of planning and construction.

Court hearings will be held next month.*

*Pittsburgh (PA) Tribune-Review (May 11, 2018) – Penn Township leaders, environmental group find rare consensus on injection wells

Posted: 05-15-2018


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