As an elected official, it is Stacy Long’s sworn duty to protect her constituents. As a resident, and now as a supervisor of Grant Township in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, she and her fellow citizens have taken bold steps to fight against government and industry who want to force oil and gas waste into their rural community.
“This isn’t a game. We’re being threatened by a corporation with a history of permit violations, and that corporation wants to dump toxic frack wastewater into our Township,” Long told Public Herald last year.
In 2015, Grant Township adopted the nation’s first municipal charter establishing a local bill of rights with help from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). The Bill of Rights asserts environmental and democratic rights and bans frack wastewater injection wells as a violation of those rights:
Half a year later, Grant Township once again entered new territory and became the first community in the United States to legalize civil disobedience. According to Grant’s civil disobedience law, anyone who commits a nonviolent act in order to protect the community’s Bill of Rights has the legal right to do so – but not only that – the law also prohibits “any private or public actor from bringing criminal charges.”
As Public Herald reported in 2014, these groundbreaking laws are being tested in an ongoing legal battle with the industry — “Pennsylvania Ecosystem Fights Corporation for Rights in Landmark Fracking Lawsuit.”
And now the state is joining the fight — to benefit industry.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued two new permits for frack wastewater injection wells – one in Grant Township and another in Highland Township in Elk County.
Highland has also adopted a local bill of rights banning frack waste injection wells.
“There aren’t many of us, and that’s why I think [the company] chose us,” Highland Township resident Marsha Buhl told Public Herald. “They probably think small communities are easier to bully or buy off.”
Suing communities is not something DEP does — Public Herald has found no record of the DEP suing townships over permits related to fracking — which makes it quite unprecedented.
At the same time the Department is suing communities who don’t want to become dumping grounds for industrial waste, DEP’s Environmental Justice Committee announced it’s hosting a series of listening sessions across the state to find out if current environmental justice policies are adequately representing the needs of communities.
Neither Highland nor Grant Township are included in the locations of DEP’s upcoming environmental justice tour.
“How ironic is it that the Department of Environmental Protection is coming at Grant Township with the full of its might,” Long said, “precisely because we want to protect our environment?”
According to DEP, “The permitting and operation of wells for the disposal of brine, `produced water,’ `frack water,’ flowback, and other waste or by-products of oil and gas extraction and other fluids is exclusively and comprehensively regulated within the commonwealth by the department.”
Pennsylvania currently has only six active injection wells.
But injection wells have a dangerous history that DEP hasn’t discussed in press statements or in its fact sheet.
Class II injection wells, like the ones permitted for Grant and Highland, have been linked to groundwater contamination and earthquakes by the USGS and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA states that “injection wells may threaten ground water resources.”
In 2012, ProPublica found that “from late 2007 to late 2010, one well integrity violation was issued for every six deep injection wells examined — more than 17,000 violations nationally. More than 7,000 wells showed signs that their walls were leaking.
“Records also show wells are frequently operated in violation of safety regulations and under conditions that greatly increase the risk of fluid leakage and the threat of water contamination.”
That’s a huge concern for the people in Grant Township, where all 700 residents rely on private water wells.
“You can’t drink money,” said Long. “What happens if the injection well leaks into our groundwater?”
It is also no secret that waste injection wells are causing earthquakes, as evidenced by Oklahoma and Ohio. In fact, DEP has added special requirements for the two new injection well permits in order to detect seismic activity.
But that doesn’t make Long feel any better.
“It doesn’t protect us from earthquakes, it just means they measure them” she said in an interview earlier this year.
“DEP isn’t going to shut down the injection well unless there’s an earthquake greater than 2.0. So the permit isn’t just for injecting waste, DEP is also permitting them to create earthquakes, as long as they’re under 2.0.”
Long’s colleague, Township Supervisor and Chairman Jon Perry, summed up Grant’s ongoing battle:
But ask residents of Grant and Highland townships if the United States is ‘free,’ and you’ll get a starkly different perspective.
“We’re not a free country,” said Buhl during a phone call with Public Herald.
“Think about it, do we really have a voice? We may vote, but even if our vote counts, the government gets bought off by corporations. They always tend to side with money over people.”
Disclosure: Public Herald is producing the documentary film ”INVISIBLE HAND” which features Grant Twp. and their community bill of rights. For more information about this project and upcoming screenings please visit http://invisiblehandfilm.com/press-kit. Public Herald will continue to report this story only with your help. Please consider donating today to become a member, and join our mission – investigative journalism in the public interest.