Just Say ‘No’ — Locals Ban Frack Waste in Pa.

Correction: Originally stated the Triple Divide waste treatment facility is permitted for 700 trucks per day, as was indicated in a local paper in December of 2012. Another local paper has indicated 01/17/13 that the truck load is more like 70 per day, but it’s unclear how accurate this number is. An update will be posted soon.
Update: While the total number of trucks will likely vary, the facility is permitted for around 700.

Dr. Stephen Cleghorn of Paradise Gardens and Farm, who recently formed an easement on his property to ban the development of unconventional gas wells. © J.B.Pribanic

Dr. Stephen Cleghorn of Paradise Gardens and Farm, who recently formed an easement on his property to ban the development of unconventional gas wells. © J.B.Pribanic

On January 9, 2013, in otherwise quiet Highland Township in Elk County, Pennsylvania, officials signed a community rights bill into law stopping the deposit of fracking waste within the township.

Seneca Resources, the drilling and fracking arm of National Fuel Gas of Williamsville, N.Y., had planned to inject its “production fluids” (oil and gas drilling and fracking waste) into an injection well about 2,200 feet from Crystal Springs — a main source of water for James City — according to the Kane Republican.

Injection wells have a history, both long and recent, of failing to contain waste and increasing the risk of exposure to drinking water supplies. So, residents of Highland Township asked their municipal officials to say “No.”

A Community & Environmental Rights Movement

Highland Township is the latest on a list of over 140 other communities that have said ‘no’  to factory farms, waste incinerators, corporate water withdrawals, and now fracking by passing rights-based ordinances. Marsha Buhl, president of the Highland  Township Recreation Association, collected signatures from more than 230 township residents in order to ban the injection well.

The new ordinance “bans the depositing of waste from the extraction of shale gas within Highland Township” because it  “violates the civil rights of Highland residents, and because it threatens the health, safety, and welfare of residents and neighborhoods of Highland.” But the ordinance doesn’t just ban injection wells. It also removes all legal power and authority of corporations “involved in the disposal, storage, surface or subsurface injection or ‘treatment’ of waste products.”

Highland Township Community Rights and Protection From Injection Wells Ordinance 010913 (Text)
Rights-based ordinances are simple but formal, and they’ve been penned with the help of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). CELDF is a non-profit, public interest law firm that provides free legal services to “communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, the local economy, and quality of life.” The mission — “to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”

“Production fluids” – aka Fracking Waste

So what’s so bad about oil and gas “production fluids” that would make a community ban them?

Well, for starters, they’re exempt  from being classified as “hazardous waste” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). In other words, oil and gas industry waste is only regulated as “residual” which requires much less precaution and protection than if it had to play by the same rules as everyone else.

Oil and gas waste from unconventional deep shale wells is also extremely toxic and can contain both naturally-occurring and technologically-enhanced radiation. Once an oil or gas well is fracked, a muddy mixture of chemicals, rock fragments, and of course oil or gas, comes back to the surface and has to be disposed of.

In the first six months of 2012, according to Bob Magyar’s crunching of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) numbers, unconventional oil and gas companies reported that in Pa.:

  • 617,000 tons of fracking wastes were dumped into landfills;
  • More than 67 million gallons of toxic fracking fluids were injected into the ground into high pressure deep injection waste wells;
  • And an additional 9.2 million barrels of fracking fluid were somewhat vaguely defined as “Reuse other than road spreading.”

That’s just for six months, in an otherwise slow year for gas development in the state where roughly 40,000 barrels of hydraulic fracking waste was produced per day. And all that waste has to go somewhere, right?

Not in Highland Township, where in the spirit of the American Revolutionaries, their new law recognizes that “all power is inherent in the people” and quotes Article I Section 27 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution, which guarantees that all people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.

You Call That “Freedom?”

It’s not really “freedom” if you can’t say “No.”

Dr. Stephen Cleghorn, proprietor of certified-organic Paradise Gardens and Farm, has declared his land off-limits to fracking, drilling, or any other dangerous activity.

This may not seem very significant, except for the fact that Stephen doesn’t own his mineral rights. If someone else leased the gas under his farm, Pennsylvania law would currently favor the mineral rights over the rights of the surface owner in cases where there is a “split estate.”

But Cleghorn has taken a stand, formally in the form of an “easement” instead of an ordinance. “No activity that threatens [this place]…will be allowed on this place in perpetuity,” he recently told Public Herald.

Goats on Paradise Gardens and Farm, in Reynoldsville, Pa., where an easement was recently formed by Dr. Stephen Cleghorn to ban the development of unconventional gas wells on the property. © J.B.Pribanic

Goats on Paradise Gardens and Farm, in Reynoldsville, Pa., where an easement was recently formed by Dr. Stephen Cleghorn to ban the development of unconventional gas wells on the property. © J.B.Pribanic

Critics of the community and environmental rights movement are quick to say that rights-based ordinances won’t “hold up in court.” But Cleghorn makes a good retort: “The law is one way for us to go. Civil disobedience is another…let’s get [companies] into the courts and make them argue that we and nature have no rights.

“[Companies] ought to be scared of me and what I’m capable of doing nonviolently to resist,” he said during a recent interview for Public Herald’s upcoming documentary, Triple Divide.

Massive Waste Facility Slated for “Triple Divide”

The headwaters where three rivers are born, the triple continental divide in Potter County, Pennsylvania, is slated for a massive toxic waste processing plant permitted to handle up to 700 (see correction and update at top of article) truck loads of unconventional oil and gas “production fluids” per day. Unless…armed with information and determination, the communities through which all this waste will be transported stand up and just say, “NO.”

The web of companies involved in the placement of this new waste facility a few miles from Triple Divide is splintered and strange. Probably most odd is the following statement from the website of the first company behind the project, Sionix:

“Costly and risky transportation of these highly toxic wastes no longer need to cross the busy highways and byways of rural America threatening told and untold catastrophes.”

Sionix is referring to it’s mobile, on-sight waste treatment machines in the quote above. So why are “subcompanies” of Sionix building a huge facility requiring “risky transportation” of “highly toxic wastes?” That’s one of the questions we’re about to uncover.

Stay tuned for more from Public Herald about the Triple Divide waste facility. Ground has been broken, but construction of the facility itself hasn’t started…yet. 

About Melissa Troutman

  • http://www.nepagasaction.org Vera Scroggins

    good news; people power; encouraging; thanks, to all that made this possible.