Feature photo by Mike Belleme of Rolling Stone
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 10, 2023
Chad Nicholson, Pennsylvania Director
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Grant Township, Indiana County, PA: Last week, Pennsylvania General Energy, LLC (PGE) notified the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that it intends to plug its proposed toxic frack-waste injection well in Grant Township after this Memorial Day. Multiple violations have been issued by DEP for problems at the proposed well site in recent months.
To date, not a single drop of frack waste has been injected within the Township due to hard work, resistance, and resilience.
This development comes after nearly a decade of efforts by Township residents in an epic ant-and-rubber-tree tale. The community’s concerns have been vindicated. Their fight to protect their water and what they love – despite all efforts to punish them by corporations, courts, and taxpayer-funded governmental “environmental protection” agencies – are on display for all to see, and for all to learn from.
For those unfamiliar with Grant Township’s story, there are links footnoted below that detail timelines, court documents, and media stories. But in short, Grant Township has been fighting to keep out this frack-waste injection well since 2013. About 700 people live in this rural community in western PA, with an annual tax revenue of around $30,000.
Grant’s efforts have included the passage of multiple ordinances and a Home Rule Charter (local constitution) that we at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) have worked to draft with them, and defend in court, since 2014. These laws have asserted rights for nature, the right of the community to local self-government, and the right to be free from the dumping of frack waste to protect those rights.
Grant Township Supervisor and Chairman Stacy Long said, “What a development. The notice to finally plug this well really does illustrate how hard communities have to work to protect themselves. We passed a law that protected Grant Township from this injection well, and have been taken to court repeatedly for doing so. We await the full understanding of why this plugging is happening with great interest. We didn’t have the benefit of cookie-cutter laws so enjoyed by these huge corporations that don’t work for the rest of us.”
Two cases – one federal, and one state – are still active, and the implications of this well-plugging are not yet clear. There will be much more to come, but a quick litigation overview:
- Grant Township has been sued twice in federal court by PGE. In the first case, brought in 2014, the judge – who owned stock in the oil company KBR, Inc., a division of Halliburton, until just before taking the case – held two attorneys working for CELDF, as well as the Township, liable for sanctions and fees in the tens of thousands of dollars after ruling against the Township. Given the latest news about well-plugging, the ongoing second federal case currently has a status conference scheduled for May 22.
- Grant Township has also been sued in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court by DEP. The PA DEP sued Grant Township for trying to protect its environment in 2017, claiming that regulation of oil and gas wells was a matter of state concern, not a local issue. Grant Township was sued by the PA Department of Environmental Protection for trying to protect its environment. Grant Township countersued, claiming DEP has failed to adequately protect people and nature in PA, and that it absolutely is a right and responsibility for local officials to protect the environment under Article 1, Section 27 of the PA Constitution, the Environmental Rights Amendment. That case was set for trial last year, but in July 2022 a Commonwealth Court judge tossed out Grant’s Home Rule Charter before Grant Township could get its day in court. That case is currently on appeal before the PA Supreme Court.
Grant Township has refused to submit to repeated coordinated assaults by corporations, state agencies, and the judiciary. In September 2020, an article in Marcellus Drilling News, a pro-industry publication, described community members as, “Unrepentant. That’s the best single word we can think of describing the attitude of ‘leaders’ in Grant Township.”
Unrepentant for sure, and also vindicated. PGE is a multi-million dollar oil and gas corporation, and has been listed as one of the top permit-violators in PA by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Everything that Grant Township has been fighting for, and against, has proven what it has always known: that it is on the right side of this fight, on the right side of protecting what is truly important, and on the right side of history. And right for refusing to doubt its convictions when nearly every “official” has said that Grant Township was full of shit and it absolutely did not have the right to protect itself, its community, and its environment.
“This is what resistance, resilience, and success can look like,” said CELDF’s Chad Nicholson. “The community in Grant Township has demonstrated true courage in the face of a legal, political, and economic system stacked against them at every turn. We are proud to continue to stand with those in Grant Township. There is more to come, and this fight is not over, yet this news is a major victory for the rights of people, communities, and nature.”
About Grant Township
For more information on Grant Township’s fight, here is a link to much more background, a timeline, and court documents. Grant Township has also been featured in national media, including Rolling Stone and The New Republic, as well as two documentaries, Hellbent and Invisible Hand.
About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is building a movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international level.
Webinar on Community Resilience on May 18, 2023