WCDems speak up for communities resisting fracking industry

West Chester Dem Committee letter to Governor Wolf, below. For more on Grant and Highland municipalities’ resistance against the fracking industry and PA DEP, see “The Rights of Nature Movement Goes on Trial” in Rolling Stone, 1/10/18, and “How a Small Town Is Standing Up to Fracking” also in Rolling Stone, both by Justin Nobel.

37 S. High St.
West Chester PA 19382
November 28, 2017

Governor Tom Wolf
Office of the Governor
508 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Dear Governor Wolf,

As active citizens in the county seat of Chester County, we are very concerned by the Commonwealth’s actions in promoting pipeline construction in our environs.

As you well know, homeowners’ rights are being overridden, plans are being made to route a pipeline virtually underneath the Chester County Public Library in Exton, and many properties are threatened or already devastated (see, e.g., “Sinkhole opens up during pipeline drilling in West Whiteland“).

Just as upsetting to us, the PA DEP has joined with fracking operators to sue the municipalities of Grant and Highland PA. Those communities’ apparent offense is to stand up for their civic and environmental rights in just the way that West Chester and other PA municipalities are doing and intend to continue doing.

We call on you as our Governor to support community environmental rights and to call off the PA DEP from actively supporting pipeline construction and from suing our fellow municipalities.

Thank you for your attention and for any reply to our concerns,

Sincerely yours,

Stephanie Markstein, Chair
Democratic Committee of West Chester PA
letter approved by vote at our Nov. 27, 2017, Committee meeting


Sinkhole opens up due to pipeline construction

[This article from the WCU student newspaper shows, through local residents’ reactions, some of the types of personal impact from the rushed and rule-breaking Sunoco pipeline construction just north and east of the Borough: yards are destroyed, homeowners could need to evacuate, real estate values may fall… and all that without the feared catastrophic gas release or explosion.]

Kelly Witman, Special to the Quad, December 4, 2017

West Whiteland resident Thomas Allen suffered the consequences of a sinkhole that opened up in his backyard on Nov. 11 during a drilling for Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline.

The incident, referred to as an “inadvertent return,” was caused by Sunoco’s horizontal directional drilling (HDD) that released about 1,500 gallons of drilling mud—a mixture of bentonite clay and water—on Allen’s property, forming an eight-by-eight-foot sinkhole.

“This isn’t just a spill or inadvertent return, I might have to move out of my house,” said Allen. “My house may be condemned.”

Allen explained that after the incident, Sunoco’s cleanup crew came for one day to contain the spill but did not perform a complete cleanup. Sunoco fenced in the backyard and placed a piece of wood over the hole. “There’s still mud all over my yard. My backyard is unusable and I can’t even get to my shed,” said Allen.

Allen expressed dissatisfaction with the way Sunoco and the Department of Environmental Protection have been handling the situation.

“I haven’t heard from the DEP at all,” said Allen. “All I’ve got from the DEP was a Notice of Violation saying Sunoco knew about this since August and has been lying about it.”…

read more at the Quad

Companies persecute lawyers defending environmental rights

And what is the state doing to protect the citizens’ rights to fight off environmental contamination? Unfortunately, the PA Department of Environmental Protection has itself sued Grant and Highland municipalities for trying to fend off fracking waste injection through their Home Rule Charters. Our state protecting the polluters: totally unacceptable!

Press release from CELDF, Jan 5, 2018

Court Awards $52,000 to Oil and Gas Company and Calls for Disciplinary Action Against Attorney

MERCERSBURG, PA: Today, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania issued an order imposing sanctions on two attorneys defending a Community Bill of Rights Ordinance adopted by Grant Township, Pennsylvania. The Township has spent years fighting to stop frack wastewater injection wells from being sited in the community with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).

Injection wells – which involve the high pressure underground dumping of millions of gallons of frack wastewater, which contains toxins, carcinogens, and other chemicals – cause earthquakes, can contaminate drinking water, and bring other environmental and public health impacts.

Today’s ruling comes as part of a lawsuit in which Pennsylvania General Energy, LLC (PGE) is suing Grant Township to overturn the Township’s ban on frack wastewater injection wells. (Pennsylvania General Energy Company, LLC v. Grant Township)

Not satisfied with suing the community and questioning its authority to protect the people and environment of Grant Township from injection wells, the company decided to punish its lawyers by seeking monetary sanctions against them.

“At a time when Americans more and more are looking to the courts for reason and justice, today we find neither, as corporate forces once again have been able to wield our institutions of government to punish those working to elevate the rights of communities over fossil fuel corporations,” stated CELDF’s Associate Director Mari Margil.

Magistrate Judge Susan Baxter earlier found that the Township’s prohibition on injection wells violated the corporation’s constitutional rights. The case is scheduled for a jury trial in May, at which PGE will seek hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Township, claiming that it suffered harm because the company has been prevented from dumping frack waste in a residential area next to the Township’s sole source of drinking water.

Mari Margil
(503) 381-1755

Has Sunoco no shame?

Sunoco seems determined to make life around here untenable. And if the PA Department of environmental Protection lets it proceed, shame on DEP! The following is an email from activist Bernie Greenberg, under the title “Comments Needed – Sunoco Open Trench in Exton”:

This is a critical issue that needs our attention and action. Sunoco, who is building the Mariner East 2 pipeline, plans to do open trenching instead of horizontal directional drilling due to restrictions in a recent ruling. This liquefied natural gas pipeline with run through densely populated areas in Exton, Chester County, PA next to the Exton Shopping Mall, the main branch of the Chester County Library, through wetlands, streams and forest land, as well as park land and ball fields. Please state your concerns by commenting to the PA DEP by November 20 by email at ra-eppipelines@pa.gov or Virginia Cain’s direct email at DEP: vicain@pa.gov. Thank you very much and spread the word!

Here’s the comment I submitted. Suggest you comment in your own words.

It is appalling to me that the DEP would even consider Sunoco’s request to be permitted to route the Mariner East 2 pipelines directly through Exton by open trenching. The agreement reached this past August with the Environmental Hearing Board proposed that Sunoco modify their HDD method to prevent further damage to local water sources or relocate the pipeline. Instead Sunoco wants to use trenching through the most congested part of central downtown Exton close to the busy library and two major shopping centers. This would create not only massive congestion problems but unnecessary risks to thousands of people in the area if the pipeline should rupture.

Sunoco’s rationale for this route is totally unacceptable since it will result in the most disturbance and risks to the residents and customers in this area. They have not provided any valid rationale for not relocating the pipeline to a nearby less congested route which would result in far less damage to our environment and expose far fewer residents to the risks from pipeline leaks or ruptures.

For these reasons I urge you to disapprove Sunoco’s request to trench through central Exton.

– Bernie Greenberg, Sierra Club, Southeastern PA Group, Pipeline Cmte Chair

Read about this sinkhole that recently formed in a backyard in Exton.

See also: “Sunoco files its new plan: trenching through the heart of Exton,” Dragonpipe Diary, 11/9/17

Sunoco workers respond to an inadvertent return during pipeline work in a Lisa Drive backyard in West Whiteland Township. SUBMITTED PHOTO from Daily Local News, 11/13/17

Mayor Comitta’s testimony on oil and gas well standards

West Chester Public Hearing
Proposed Chapter 78 Environmental Protection Performance Standards at Oil and Gas Well Sites Regulations before the DEP

January 9, 2014

Carolyn T. Comitta, Mayor
Borough of West Chester

Good evening members of the DEP. I am Carolyn Comitta, Mayor of the Borough of West Chester. Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on concerns of fracking waste pits and the potential harmful impact to the people of West Chester.

There are many communities who think all the issues of Marcellus Shale are not their problem. They live outside the Shale region and are not impacted by drilling and fracking wastewater. This thinking is naïve, ignorant and short-sighted.

Although West Chester and Chester County are not located in the Marcellus Shale region, we are downstream from the regions where fracking operations are underway and growing rapidly. Not that many years ago, it was common for people to think about only their own backyards, and not worry themselves about the problems of their neighbors. We have learned through too many tragedies, starting with the Chernobyl nuclear accident, that toxins when released indeed can blow and flow around the world. Air and water pollution does not respect national, state or regional boundaries. We all live downstream.

West Chester’s water sources and public health are at risk from regional pollution. In addition, West Chester’s economic development is directly connected to the success of our region and our state. My sense is that the Chapter 78 sections on “Waste Management at Well Sites” and “Off-site Issues” are the most relevant for residents of Chester County who are concerned about downstream impacts (including regulations for pipelines). It is from this perspective that I urge you to take the time necessary to make careful scientifically-based decisions on waste management at well sites and off-site.

It is important to note that the DEP considered other changes. For instance, they considered eliminating pits and underground tanks for managing wastes, but felt such restrictions were impractical. Are they really? I contend that the health of our people, our children, should be at the top of any list of standards for practicality.

The science appears to support a ban on fracking waste pits at this time. In addition, while many of us want all fracking to cease, we must stop expansion until the FULL effects of drilling are fully understood. Others will outline the science. I speak for the children who are the future of West Chester. I urge you to slow down, study the science and choose only those options that are deemed to be scientifically safe for the children of West Chester and the Commonwealth. Thank you.