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DEP pulls gas waste disposal well permit in Indiana County pending review

| Thursday, March 19, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

State environmental regulators have revoked a permit they issued last year for an Indiana County gas waste disposal well involved in a federal legal fight.

The revocation of the Pennsylvania General Energy Co.'s permit for disposal well in the rural community of Grant is a rare move by the Department of Environmental Protection. The agency said it wanted to review concerns raised in an appeal filed by two women opposed to the well.

“In looking at the appeal, they brought up issues involving the Clean Streams laws,” DEP spokesman John Poister said Wednesday. “We thought we probably needed to take a look at what would be injected and its impact on the environment.”

That part of approving and regulating deep disposal wells — into which companies inject drilling wastewater for long-term storage — is generally handled by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which issued a permit for the well. The DEP permitting process concentrates on well construction and surface issues such as controlling pollution and erosion.

Poister said the department wants to examine its procedure for approving such wells, though the review will not affect the other 10 disposal wells in the state that have or are seeking federal permits.

“DEP is reviewing the state permit and we expect a decision from the department relatively soon,” said Downtown attorney Kevin Garber, who represents Warren-based Pennsylvania General Energy. He said he could not comment further because of the ongoing federal lawsuit over an ordinance Grant supervisors passed to block the well.

“I certainly am glad that my clients' voices have been heard,” said Greensburg attorney Jesse Walker, who appealed the DEP permit on behalf of Indiana County residents Judy Wanchisn and her daughter, Stacy Long. They withdrew the appeal to the state Environmental Hearing Board when DEP revoked the permit March 12.

Wanchisn organized a group opposed to PGE converting the 7,500-foot-deep well into a disposal well over concerns it could taint nearby Little Mahoning Creek. To fight the well, they appealed the permits and got Grant supervisors in June to pass a so-called Community Bill of Rights to ban it. PGE sued in August, claiming the ordinance violates its right to do business that is otherwise regulated by federal law.

A federal judge will hear arguments on motions in the case April 14.

The U.S. Environmental Appeals Board rejected the appeal of the EPA permit. Walker's appeal of the DEP permit claimed the department failed to consider “the implications, dangers, risks and harm done to the residents of Grant Township.” The well that PGE wants to convert is within a protected watershed.

Poister said he could not specify which issues raised in the appeal prompted the second look at the permit. The company could still get the permit after the review, he said.

“We're happy, though we wish it were a permanent decision,” Wanchisn said.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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