Highland Township in Bradford County Injection Well fight……
An environmental law firm is defending a Highland Township ban on injection well activity, even after a federal agency approved the very project the ban was created to prevent.
Wednesday’s meeting of the Highland Township Supervisors included a presentation by members of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. The environmental law firm wants to represent the township in its ongoing battle against natural gas corporation Seneca Resources over a planned injection well near a municipal water supply in James City.
Prior to the start of the meeting, Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund said the injection well project will not move forward given his firm’s legal defense of a local law banning the practice — even with the project obtaining U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permitting earlier this month.
Price refers to a 2013 ordinance adopted by the Highland Township Supervisors which banned injection wells in the township. The ordinance labels the underground injection method used in disposing of natural gas drilling wastewater a threat to health and public safety as it has been linked to earthquakes and groundwater pollution.
The ordinance still stands and trumps even state law and EPA approval, according to Price, who said an EPA permit cannot be used to violate local law.
“It says so right in the issuance of the permit,” Price said, adding, “it really doesn’t make much difference whether (the project) is approved, the community has a right to protect its rights. Supervisors take an oath to protect the community and the EPA doesn’t have the authority to nullify that oath of office or those obligations.”
Seneca Resources Corp. has previously dismissed the Highland Township ordinance as a violation of state oil and gas legislation, and threatened litigation to invalidate it.
Price said the company’s stance matters little to a defense of the township’s position and code.
“It’s not relevant whether Seneca Resources Corp. believes the law is legal or not, they don’t have the option to decide what laws to obey,” Price said. He argues that fundamental rights to clean water supersede state administrative law, although the matter may be left to a judge’s discretion.
For his part, Highland Township Supervisor Jim Wolfe said on Wednesday the township is considering its options, including filing an appeal to the EPA’s permit approval.
Before Wednesday’s meeting, Wolfe said he looked forward to public input on the subject.
“We don’t know what to expect … it’s a big controversy,” Wolfe said.
Price points to the City of Pittsburgh’s successful ban on fracking in 2010 as well as 160 communities with “rights abuse laws,” similar to Highland Township’s injection well ban, as evidence of the odds being in the township’s favor.
“It’s not a done deal yet,” Price said of Seneca’s injection well plans and the EPA approval.
Seneca Resources had no planned attendance at Wednesday night’s meeting.
Seneca has announced no timetable for the injection well becoming operational and says the project remains in the regulatory phase. The company has said it is looking to cooperate with Highland Township officials as the project progresses. ƒƒƒ OCCUPY BRADFORD
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