Motion Follows Second Industry Lawsuit Claiming a Corporate “Right” to Inject Frack Wastewater in Highland Township, PA



Chad Nicholson

Highland Township, Elk County, Pennsylvania: Today, Citizens Advocating a Clean Healthy Environment (CACHE) and the Crystal Spring Ecosystem filed to intervene in the federal case Seneca Resources v. Highland Township. CACHE and the Ecosystem are fighting to defend Highland Township’s Home Rule Charter – a local constitution – adopted by Township voters in November 2016.

CACHE is a community group of Highland Township residents whose mission is to protect and secure the people’s right to clean air and pure water. The Crystal Spring Ecosystem includes a natural spring that provides community drinking water. It also supports the surrounding hillside and riparian forests, soils, bedrocks, and the inhabitants who drink from the Crystal Spring itself.

Highland residents and the Crystal Spring Ecosystem are threatened by Seneca Resources’ plans to site a frack wastewater injection well within the Township. The project threatens drinking water sources. In addition, injection wells have caused earthquakes and raised water contamination concerns in other states.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted residents in drafting their Home Rule Charter, which elevates community and ecosystem rights above the claimed “rights” of corporations. Frack wastewater injection wells are prohibited as  a violation of those rights.

The Charter’s passage was a direct rebuke to the Township’s locally elected officials, who had previously betrayed the community. In August 2016, against the will of residents, Township Supervisors settled a previous lawsuit with Seneca Resources regarding the injection well.

After the Home Rule Charter’s passage, Seneca promptly sued the Township a second time. Seneca claims the Township does not possess the authority to prohibit the proposed injection well.

Seneca has a history of violating permits. According to a report from State Impact Pennsylvania, “Regulators fined Seneca Resources Corp. the second largest total amount in 2013: $377,000 in seven fines that encompassed 59 violations from February 2010 to March 2013.”

John Guras, a member of CACHE, said, “Our Supervisors have been failing to protect the health and safety of Highland Township residents. In addition to settling a lawsuit with Seneca Resources, our Supervisors sued our county Board of Elections in an attempt to keep us from even voting on our Charter. That lawsuit failed, and residents voted in our Charter. We want to protect all the residents of Highland Township, and uphold our democratically enacted Charter, and so today we are filing to intervene in the case.”

Chad Nicholson, Pennsylvania Organizer for CELDF, stated, “We are proud to stand with Highland Township residents to assert and defend their rights. Their  federal, state, and local elected officials have failed to help, and so the People are intervening to protect their community from the proposed injection well.”

Additional Information

Highland Township residents are part of a growing number of communities across Pennsylvania and the U.S. who are advancing Community Rights and the Rights of Nature. These communities are using a rights-based strategy to protect themselves from fracking and other corporate harms, secure their right to local community self-governance, and create the sustainable communities they envision. For additional information regarding Highland Township, contact CELDF at

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.

Photo: By S. MacMillen, via Wikimedia Commons; Highland Township, Elk County, PA waterfalls.

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