Gas well company sues over Grant Township's banning of oil, gas waste



A Warren company has filed a federal lawsuit against a township in Indiana County that has banned the disposal of oil and gas waste within its borders.

In its lawsuit filed Friday, and assigned to U.S. District Court in Erie, Pennsylvania General Energy Co. asked District Judge J. Frederick Motz to invalidate Grant Township's Community Bill of Rights ordinance, and to impose damages.

The ordinance, approved by Grant's supervisors in June, bars corporations from "depositing of waste from oil and gas extraction" and invalidates federal and state permits that conflict with it, according to the lawsuit.

Corporations that violate the ordinance "shall not be deemed to be 'persons,' nor possess any other legal rights" that would trump the ordinance, according to the lawsuits. Violators must pay "the cost of restoring the ecosystem or natural community to its state before the injury," with their payments dedicated to "the full and complete restoration of the ecosystem or natural community," the lawsuit indicated.

Pennsylvania General Energy has a deep gas well on the Yanity Farm in Grant, and wants to convert it to an injection well, into which it would "inject produced fluids from its other oil and gas development operations," according to the lawsuit.

The company has an Environmental Protection Agency permit to convert the well, but that permit award has been appealed to the federal Environmental Appeals Board, the lawsuit indicates.

The company believes the township ordinance is aimed at least in part at preventing the conversation of the well, regardless of the appeal result.

 

Pennsylvania General Energy argued in the lawsuit that the ordinance violates the Supremacy Clause, which makes the U.S. Constitution "the law of the land." The lawsuit noted that under the Constitution, "corporations are considered persons" with certain civil rights.

The lawsuit (explore below) also contended that the ordinance violates the company's right to equal protection, to petition the government for redress of grievances and to due process. Further, according to the lawsuit, the ordinance interferes with contracts and violates several state laws, including the Second Class Township Code, which lays out the police powers of municipalities including Grant.

Pennsylvania General Energy wants an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the ordinance, plus payment of damages and attorney costs and fees.

"I don't want to speak to the lawsuit," said attorney Robert F. Manzi Jr., who represents the township. "I haven't seen what was filed in court."

He said the township supervisors will meet tomorrow evening for "general conversation about the ordinance and what they're going to do about it."

Attorney Kevin J. Garber, representing Pennsylvania General Energy, could not be reached for immediate comment.

Judge Motz, of Maryland, is handling cases in Erie pending the appointment of a new judge.

 

 

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published August 11, 2014 12:00 AM

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