A U.S. District Magistrate Judge has dealt a blow to a southwestern Pennsylvania township's more than year-long fight to stop an underground injection well from operating inside its borders, striking down an ordinance it passed in June 2014 to ban oil and gas waste disposal wells.
The case pitted producer Pennsylvania General Energy Co. (PGE) against Grant Township in Indiana County, PA. PGE sued the township just two months after it enacted an ordinance with a community bill of rights to protect "local self-government, pure water and clear air." PGE argued successfully that Grant's ordinance was a violation of state law that sought to ban legal infrastructure.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter agreed, saying in her ruling that "although defendant wishes it were not so, the development of oil and gas is a legitimate business activity and land use within Pennsylvania."
PGE has already received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to convert a former natural gas well into an injection well. It welcomed the judge's ruling in a statement, saying it was pleased with the court's ruling "affirming that Grant Township's ordinance aimed at prohibiting a legitimate business activity within its borders is invalid and preempted by state laws."
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has pushed the ordinances throughout Ohio, where they have been adopted in communities removed from the Utica Shale boom, voted down by others or challenged in court (see Shale Daily, Sept. 21; Sept. 15).
In a statement, the group said the judge's ruling was another example of collusion between the federal and state governments and the oil and gas industry.
"Yesterday's decision coldly illustrates the perverse relationship between corporations and our own state and federal governments," CELDF said, adding that the judge used "nearly identical language in part of her opinion" to that included in PGE’s lawsuit.
CELDF, which is providing legal counsel for the township, said it would consider an appeal to the Third Circuit Court. PGE still needs permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection to operate the injection well.