Oil Firm Fights Township’s Anti-Fracking Laws

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – An oil company claims a Pennsylvania township’s charter illegally bans its drilling activities despite its permit to do so from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Seneca Resources Corporation sued Highland Township in the Western District of Pennsylvania over the township’s new “Home Rule Charter,” which the Board of Supervisors adopted Nov. 8.

The charter forbids disposing of wastewater from fracking and other related activities anywhere within Highland Township.

“The Home Rule Charter attempts to ride roughshod over the comprehensive regulations set out in the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act,” the 24-page, Nov. 30 complaint states. “It strips corporations of their rights in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. It vitiates the protections afforded Seneca by the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. And it restricts the establishment of UIC [underground injection control] wells which are necessary to the environmentally sound disposal of natural gas brines and produced waters resulting from natural gas operations in Pennsylvania.”

According to the lawsuit, portions of the charter are identical to the township’s earlier ordinances, which also stated that any injection well drilling within the township would be unlawful. Those ordinances were ultimately found to be unconstitutional just three months ago in a similar case.

Seneca currently has EPA permits to conduct fracking, also known as underground injection, in the area. But the charter “purports to nullify the extensive and comprehensive review of [fracking] well permit applications conducted by the EPA,” Seneca says.

This is not Seneca’s first time suing the township. When Seneca filed suit in February 2015, Highland amended the ordinance “in an effort to escape its repeal in litigation,” according to the current complaint.

The charter also attempts to give its own ordinances priority over state law. According to the complaint, the charter states that, “All laws adopted by the legislature of the State … shall be the law of Highland Township only to the extent that they do not violate the rights or prohibitions of this Charter, or limit the authority of Highland Township or the people of Highland Township to adopt and enforce greater protections for these rights than afforded by the Pennsylvania legislature or Congress.”

Seneca is suing for preemption by the Safe Water Drinking Act and the Oil and Gas Act, impermissible exercise of police power and legislative authority, Supremacy Clause violations, exclusionary zoning, First Amendment violations, and substantive and procedural due process violations.

Neither Seneca nor the Highland Township Municipal Office returned calls requesting comment.

Seneca is represented by Brian Wauhop with Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.