Warren City, Warren County, PA
Resisting shale drilling wastewater dumping in our City, our River and our rural roads.
2010 – 2019
I was simply a resident in the West Side neighborhood of the City of Warren, not involved in any political action, until 8 years ago when we learned through a reporter’s “leak” of a “secret” plan to place a Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater plant in our neighborhood, actually on our street! An outside developer had partnered with our city officials secretly to put these plans into place.
In September 2010,two next door neighbors delivered flyers to every address in the West Side, asking residents to come to a community meeting to find out about this. 44 neighbors came to that first meeting. We formed the West Side Alliance as an informal group of neighbors, friends and residents in the City to protect our homes and our neighborhood.
After having our Right to Know requests ignored, we held a public forum and invited the developer to present his plans and answer questions from the public. He warned that the plans involved “private businesses” and that the residents’ concerns about the degrading or their quality of life, health and property had no place in the process.
We investigated these plans, discovering 3-1/2 years of secret planning and business deals with our city government, and a funding stream of taxpayer dollars from the state. We discovered investor groups with secret members. We studied Marcellus Shale waste practices and technologies. We talked to people who did this work “hands on”. We learned that the chemicals used are trade secrets and that the wastewater contains carcinogens and radioactivity which would be brought here to our street and would threaten the health, air, water and quality of life of all Warren residents.
We could get no response from any elected representatives. We looked for an organization that could help – we found the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. They had helped the City of Pittsburgh and other communities, in many cases getting it on the ballot for the citizens to decide and we liked that idea! We obtained 432 voter’s signatures to put a question on the local Ballot in our Home Rule City. It was a rocky road. City government fought it all the way to Commonwealth Court.
The City muscled the County Board of Elections into keeping it off the ballot. Our group, represented by Tom Linzey of CELDF, brought suit against the Board of Elections for acting improperly, who then endorsed the ballot question. The City sued the Board of Elections. We joined as a third party intervenor in County Court, which found in our favor. The City appealed to Commonwealth Court to stop the referendum. That court refused to accept the case, stating that plaintiff action must wait until after the election. The referendum was on the ballot by October 20th for the November 8th election. With very little time and even less money we bought 22 signs and no paid ads. We canvassed voters’ homes and wrote letters to the newspaper. We were opposed by an industry trade group who spent thousands of dollars and put up hundreds of signs. The newspaper supported the developer’s claims on the front page. We won 37% of the vote; not winning the election but winning the battle: no new plant and the developer in the wind along with many thousands of state grant monies. The missing money was taken up by a statewide grand jury based in Pittsburgh less than a year later. But that’s another story.
What started out as “grass roots” action to save our homes and neighborhood grew into something on-going in Warren. Two years later we stepped up again to prevent further destruction in our section of the Allegheny River from 7 years of shale drilling wastewater discharged into it by a local “old” oil brine plant. The destruction of the river had been tested and proven by extensive federal and state studies. The EPA designated our part of the river as “impaired”. US Fish & Wildlife described it as a “dead zone”. The Duncan Blvd neighborhood across the river, just downstream from the plant, joined in fighting to clean up and protect our river. By reaching out to groups downriver, we provided the testimony and local “standing” for a federal lawsuit against the plant, based on the destruction of federal protected mussels. Federal district court allowed mediation to require the plant to upgrade their facilities to the tune of 1.8 million dollars. They had a deadline to stop discharging into the river until that was accomplished. The end result was the plant closed in early 2017. The 2.64 miles of the Allegheny River directly downstream from the plant remains a “dead zone” with no life. The Duncan Blvd group submitted a plan to dredge the worst part of the radiated sediment to a grant agency in Pittsburgh. We have not received funding and continue to seek ways to update testing of the sediment and apply for funds to dredge the area. This continues with a “new” local group, the Ad Hoc Environmental Group of Warren, who supported the work to establish a moratorium on spreading of “brine” from oil and shale drilling on local dirt roads. That moratorium is statewide since early 2018.The action is on-going as the PA state legislature continues to craft bills to radically rewrite oil and gas regulations to benefit the industry.
In conclusion, I express my heartfelt gratitude to CELDF. This is what it’s like to work with CELDF: every step of the way they inject you with fearlessness, bolster your resolve, offer insights that make things clear, and stand right by you, unflinching, with unconditional support. A partnership like that is incomparably valuable, as it extinguishes fear destroys limits and makes everything possible.