Seneca Resources Corp. is preparing to move forward with the next step of constructing a wastewater injection well in Highland Township, Elk County, but the township’s residents say they’re ready to fight.
In a letter dated Nov. 3, the Texas-based company gives formal notice of plans to convert a working well in Highland Township into a Class-II injection well, at a site roughly 2,200 feet from the local water source.
The location and perceived risks, chief among them water contamination, have prompted appeals and legal challenges from community members and elected officials, including the passage of a township-wide injection well ban in 2013. So far, the attempts have failed to stop the well, or project permits, from moving forward.
Rob Boulware, spokesman for Seneca, defended the project and its location last week, saying they meet guidelines and standards set forth by the Environment Protection Agency. He went on to explain that in 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) allowed the EPA jurisdiction over Class-II injection wells, like that planned by Seneca outside of James City in Highland Township.
“The EPA requires applicants to test a one-fourth-of-a-mile radius from any water source,” Boulware said. “Inside that radius is their area of concern. This well will be located nearly one half of a mile away from the local water source.”
Boulware insisted that the drinking water for the township would be monitored, and safety measures will be taken to ensure township residents will have clean water. He said that Seneca will use three monitoring wells to protect Highland Township’s water, and will “provide regular notification of any migration problems.”
“The disposal well would have real-time pressure monitoring,” Boulware said. “If the pressure moved outside of the acceptable range, an alert would go automatically to Seneca. Each monitoring well has sensors that provide real-time data and alerts should a problem occur.”
While Boulware said that legal protocols have been created that dictate what Seneca’s responsibilities are to “report, investigate and resolve any water problems caused by its operations,” he did not indicate whether or not any notifications would be made to or received by Highland Township officials.
Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Mercersburg environmental legal assistance group retained by the township in its fight against the project, said the group has been made aware of the situation and will be in regular contact with township officials and residents. Price indicated that whether or not Seneca Resources reports water data back to the township officials is a moot point, saying that if the injection well goes into the township, Seneca’s corporate officers are breaking the law, in this case the local ordinance banning the activity.
“(Violating the prohibition) assumes that violating the law is a legal option,” Price said. “It is not.”
Marsha Buhl of the local activist group, Highland Township Citizens Advocating a Clean Healthy Environment, echoed Price’s sentiments and summed up the feelings of the township residents.
“We have the right to govern our own township,” Buhl said.
The injection well method, typically, forces large amounts of oil and gas drilling wastewater at high pressures underground, to either dispose of the waste or stimulate productivity of nearby wells.
The practice has drawn national scrutiny after studies linked it to increased seismic activity and threats of ground water contamination.
(Era Reporter Colin Deppen contributed to this report.)