Over the years, it has been fascinating to watch a David-and-Goliath situation play out in tiny Highland Township over an oil company's plan to drill an injection well not far from its supply of clean, fresh water.

Many big-time issues are at play nationally as the federal Environmental Protection Agency is being systematically dismantled, but the controversy in Highland Township offers some local insight on state government's hypocritical effort to "protect" the environment.

While political fortunes have shifted over the years, the little Elk County municipality now stands at the center of a lawsuit which focuses on the rights of local government when it comes to oil and gas drilling.

The township, at one time keen on protecting its drinking water, went so far as to write a home rule charter to give the citizens a say in siting a disposal well so close to the supply. Although the charter was approved by the voters, the township remains embroiled in a lawsuit brought by Seneca Resources. A national environmental group rose to its defense.

We understand the oil company's concern, not so much about this particular situation but about how allowing local governments to create their own mishmash of laws and regulations would be a nightmare to navigate. Further, the state government has signed off on and provided Seneca a permit to proceed.

On the other hand, of course, we understand the township’s desire to protect its drinking water.

Perhaps to blame is the State Legislature and previous governor, who essentially gave oil and gas companies a blank check to conduct business as they see fit, and with virtually no local input.

Their early eagerness to accommodate the fracking industry in Bradford, if you recall, caused deadly house explosions and one street where well water customers could literally set their tap on fire. Frackers perhaps failed to realize that much of McKean County, below ground, is a network of pathways left over from previous drilling and a perfect place to allow gas to migrate to the surface.

Fortunately for those residents, Bradford Water Authority stepped in and extended city water to them in a lengthy and expensive project. How is this not corporate welfare when water customers, essentially, footed the bill more properly given to the oil company in question?

This region has long been home to the oil industry. If anyone "gets it," we do. But since the days of wildcat drillers and crude oil and its sheen in virtually every stream, most people have come to accept a balance between the oil industry and the environment. Or, at the least, the government usually has forced industry to behave better.

But back to Highland Township. It was disheartening, to say the least, to see the number of institutions piling on to ensure that "Goliath" comes out on top, as usual. Perhaps worst of all was the state Department of Environmental Protection joining the lawsuit — on the side of the oil company.

We heard once the DEP workers had an inside joke that its initials actually stand for, "Don't Expect Protection."

The joke, this time, is on Highland Township.

(Marty Robacker Wilder lives in Marshburg.)

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