Energy. Environment. Economy.

Towns take on gas industry, at their own peril

Protestors of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline link arms before they are arrested by police for trespassing on private property in Conestoga, Pa.


Protesters of the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline link arms before they are arrested in Conestoga, Pa in January. They later pleaded guilty to trespassing charges.

Local governments all over the country are trying stop the surge in oil and gas development by embracing a novel legal tactic–community-based rights ordinances. It’s a strategy that carries risks.

In rural Conestoga Township, Lancaster County concerned residents want to stop a $3 billion interstate gas pipeline from coming through their community. Oklahoma-based Williams Partners Atlantic Sunrise project is one many proposed pipelines in Pennsylvania facing intense opposition. If approved, it would cut through 10 counties and carry Marcellus Shale gas as far south as Alabama.

As Williams prepares its formal application for federal regulators, Conestoga Township residents are fighting for more local control.


“A direct challenge to existing law”

Conestoga resident Kim Kann fears her wooded lot will never be the same. As she looks out at the trees and horse paddock, she worries. Although she opposes the Atlantic Sunrise project, her land could be taken by eminent domain.

“We’ve used the land for horses and had goats over the years,” she says. “The kids 4-wheel and camp–all the things we thought they’d be able to do forever on a property like this.”

She knows the community rights ordinance is a long shot, because pipelines like this one are regulated by the federal government.

“We are pursuing it as a direct challenge to existing law.”

Late last year Conestoga Township’s supervisors unanimously rejected an ordinance to ban the pipeline. Their solicitor called it “ineffective” and  “unenforceable.”

Many similar ordinances have been spearhead by a Franklin County-based nonprofit called the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). They work with communities around the country. It’s part of a broader effort to fight corporate power and the notion of corporate personhood.

“It’s not a fracking problem. It’s a democracy problem,” says CELDF organizer Chad Nicholson. “The people most affected are not the ones that have the power to make decisions about how and when the activity takes place.”

In 2010 CELDF helped Pittsburgh become the first major U.S city to ban fracking. But it was a largely symbolic move that was never legally challenged, since no one wants to frack downtown Pittsburgh.

“Their approach doesn’t win cases”

More recently the group helped Mora County, New Mexico pass a similar ordinance. But in this case, it was sued.  A federal judge recently sided with drillers. Now the poor, rural county may be on the hook for the industry’s legal fees.

Mora County Commissioner Paula Garcia (D) doesn’t support drilling. But she also opposed CELDF’s ordinance and has mixed feelings about the group’s tactics.

“They have a very powerful message, and they’re contributing to a very important movement,” she says of CELDF.  ”At the same time—from a pragmatic standpoint—their approach doesn’t win cases. Their approach doesn’t give us tools we can actually use.”

A judge in Ohio recently ruled against another CELDF inspired anti-drilling ordinance. The group began working on community-based rights ordinances in the early 2000′s. So far, they’ve helped write more than 160 across the country. According to Nicholson, none of CELDF’s ordinances have been upheld by appellate courts, because they haven’t made it there yet.

These efforts deliberately conflict with the reality of the legal structure—which often gives power to state and federal regulators. That’s why both industry and environmental observers see CELDF as more of a political movement than a sound legal strategy.

Feds feel pipeline pushback

But political action is gaining some ground. The anti-pipeline movement has not gone unnoticed in Washington D.C. Cheryl LaFleur heads the Federal Energy Regulatory commission (FERC), which oversees interstate pipelines.

Cheryl LaFleur, commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

AP Photo/Nati Harnik

Cheryl LaFleur heads the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate gas pipelines.

“These groups are active in every FERC docket,” she says. “As well as in my email inbox seven days a week, in my Twitter feed, at our open meetings, and literally at our door.”

Last summer protesters were arrested for blocking the entrances to FERC’s offices.

LaFleur recently spoke to the National Press Club and said people will need to learn to live with new development.

“I think that our nation is going to have to grapple with our acceptance of gas generation and gas pipelines if we expect to achieve our climate and environmental goals.”

But many pipeline opponents feel FERC isn’t listening and simply rubber-stamps projects. For example, Williams has never had FERC say ‘no’ to its pipelines, but the company has withdrawn applications.

Opponents argue the pipelines won’t serve the public good and much of the gas is destined for overseas markets. That’s part of the reason people like Kim Kann are backing community rights ordinances.

“We haven’t found anything else that has any teeth to it,” says Kann.

But Williams Partners spokesman Chris Stockton says the ordinances don’t have any teeth.

“We are regulated by the federal government,” he says. “As a result, we are exempt from a lot of those local ordinances.”

The company is moving forward with plans to file a formal application with FERC. Meanwhile, people in Conestoga Township are pushing a ballot initiative so they can move forward with adopting an anti-pipeline ordinance.


  • Fracked

    FERC serves the industry. Period.

  • Concerned Lancaster resident.

    So if they continue with this path of “Home Rule” they will have to pay legal fees for Williams. Why on earth would they pursue something so detrimental to their community.

    • hmontaigne

      Pipelines are detrimental to communities.

      • Concerned Lancaster resident

        So you say let’s pay attorney’s fees? The issue is that home rule doesn’t appear to be a sound legal method for stopping the pipeline. Pittsburgh hasn’t challenged because “no one wants to frack downtown Pittsburg” every example given where companies challened home rule the communities lost and may soon be bankrupt. Sounds pretty stupid to me.

        • hmontaigne

          Communities lose because it’s a fixed game.

        • Guest

          Reread please. It iss not home rule that will fight the pipeline. It is home rule that will allow citizens in a community decide if and how we want to fight the pipeline. Decisions are made by those effected. That’s democracy.

        • Kimberly Cummings Kann

          Reread please. Home rule will not stop the proposed pipeline. Home rule will allow those most affected to decide if and how we want to fight the pipeline. Democracy.

      • FrackmanGasser


  • AlSever

    Look at picture–Note absence of hands? Typical Pennsylvania inbreeds–probably more than 6 digits on every hand.
    Up here in Lycoming County we can hardly wait until this September when because of out-of-state gas workers breeding with locals , we will finally have school buses carrying kids that don’t all look alike. Same thing could happen in Lancaster county after the pipeliners move in.

  • paulroden

    FERC is no “check and balance” to the oil and gas pipeline industry. They just give them what they want and just go through the motions for a permit, saying how wise and wonderful everyone is in protecting the environment and doing the right thing. The FERC just rubber stamps their application and tells them to have a nice day.

  • Kimberly Cummings Kann

    Dear Concerned Resident,
    We have carefully researched the guaranteed harm of having this proposed pipeline and right of way dissecting our community, and the potential harm of a lawsuit. Recent statements indicate that the 4000 miles (that’s 12 pipelines) in the predevelopment stage will be routed through existing rights of way. That will be us. Most miles of Williams rights of way have 3 pipelines. This proposed pipeline is 42″ and 1580psi, which is unprecedented. Three of those would site our community on top of a potential disaster that could dwarf Hiroshima or Nagsaki. Additionally, Williams intends to use eminent domain to seize private property for their financial gain. This pipeline does directly to an export facility. It is not intended to provide domestic natural gas. In fact, it has been stated that massive exports will reduce the current glut of gas, increasing local prices and making more money for the gas industry, at the expense of customers. No American should sit back and let this happen. We will use every tool we can find to fight this. And communities all over Pennsylvania and the US are supporting us. Today the second legal ruling came down in our favor, giving our communities the right to put the Home Rule initiative to the vote of the public. The first of many steps to fixing our democracy problem and reclaiming our rights.

    • August Braun

      Do you also protest solar farms as well as those eagle killing wind turbines?
      Oh, and be sure to start ranting that everyone who USES nat gas, including yourself, to call their utility tomorrow and have them shut off the gas.

    • Concerned Citizen

      I would like to see the proof that a disaster with the pipeline dwarfing Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Seems like a pretty radical statement to me…

  • Kimberly Cummings Kann

    Hey Al…..our organization is full of doctors, lawyers…..and we have an Indian Chief. We have business owners, veterinarians, educators, surgeons, executives, and some “good country folks” that are absolutely brilliant. Your comment…full of bigotry and ignorance….doesn’t earn the significance of being addressed……but I couldn’t resist putting out there how proud I am of the eclectic, passionate, ambitious, brave group of warrior citizens I have the pleasure of working along side.

  • drill baby drill

    Drill baby drill !!!

  • Perryjeff

    I agree that a community needs to work to protect its citizens and the environment. Unfortunately, the CELDF approach to pass a ban on drilling or associated facilities such as pipelines is a losing strategy. As the news story says, it is only a symbolic approach. PA case law has many precedents that local bans on otherwise legal activities get struck down. The PA Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) require that each municipality provide some location for all legal activities.

    A more effective approach, which CELDF rejects, is to adopt enforceable limits on drilling and associated facilities. This approach was upheld by the PA Supreme Court during the legal challenge to Act 13. The PA MPC allows local governments to zone certain areas, such as residential or conservation zones, to exclude drilling and associated activities. They can establish set-back requirements that are more protective than the minimum state rules, etc.

    When a community chooses to follow the CELDF ban approach, they are setting themselves up for an eventual court case they will lose. Then the community will be on the hook for legal expenses, and CELDF will be off convincing some other community to adopt a ban to further their own political agenda.

  • Jack Wolf

    If we don’t take them on, the perils are much worse. Fossil fuel driven climate change is only getting worse, and we face utter catastrophe. As far as I’m concerned, its a do or die situation.

  • winterarrives

    “I think that our nation is going to have to grapple with our acceptance
    of gas generation and gas pipelines if we expect to achieve our climate
    and environmental goals.”What does this mean? What are their environmental and climate goals? Gas production contributes to the climate crisis in multiple ways CH4, CO2, NOx, VOC’s and through deforestation.Fossil fuels must stay in the ground.

    • FrackmanGasser

      Obviously you have no idea of the environmental disasters that are associated with so-called ‘green’ energy such as solar or wind. Acre for acre they require a far greater impact on forests and farmland than the right of way for a pipeline. Solar cell production requires vast amounts of toxic chemicals, and the panels must be treated as toxic waste wihen disposed of at the end of their lifespan. Wind turbines use rare earth magnets, and the largest source of these rare earths are China and Russia, neither of which is known for environmental concerns. Depending on climate, wind turbines will drip toxic glycols onto the ground to prevent icing in winter. Also, due to concerns regarding safety, nothing can be done with the land in close proximity to a wind turbine – just imagine losing a blade, or perhaps the result of a 50-ton nacelle falling to the earth in the event of a tower failure. Bottom line, nothing is without a cost.

      You do know, of course, that US greenhouse gas emissions are DOWN over the last several years, due in part to the switch from coal to natgas.. Check with the EPA!

    • August Braun

      You want to see some “deforestation”? Check out these massive solar farms –



  • OurRight

    Okay so did ya’ll walk there? Are ya trespassing?
    TRESPASSING: Knowingly going on land that is OWNED by someone other then yourself. Forget about it I don’t expect you to understand its an American pride thing.
    Wait are those clothes made up of chain of custody oil and gas free from cradle? I get it, you are board to death living in grandmas basement. Its even nice of you to drag her out in the cold,but something tells me you needed her car and she is the only one with insurance and a valid licence. I’m sure if grandpa was around he would kick your ass before letting you use grandma this way.
    You want to take a real stand? Start by leading by example. Take some real time to get to know yourself. Go volunteer for the Amish. They are true to their belief. Most everyone respects them. You…not so much. You protest what it is you support?
    If enough of you practiced what you preached there would be less demand for fossil fuel .
    Here is the lesson…read slowly …. No demand… NO NEED! the big greedy corporations will have no money to employ the industrious hard working American and bingo it collapses and no need. You win. Now explain this to grandma in the photo. but have a back up plan when she catches on that you are freeloading in her basement!

  • August Braun

    These groups are receiving vast sums of money from the Park Foundation, Heinz and William Penn Foundations to name a few. The Rockefellers are also footing the bill for these professional protesters. Here’s a great spreadsheet from the Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin showing that Park alone has given over $5,000,000 up to 2013 – Strange how the people protesting the pipelines are quiet as church mice when the earth and trees are ripped apart to make room for those eagle – killing wind turbines and acre gobbling solar farms? As far as human health concerns,
    this PA physician says the NY ban is a hoax and a lie based on human health concerns – Dr. Theodore F. Them, Chief of Sayre, Pa
    Guthrie Medical Group’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Dept. who has
    an M.D., PhD in theoretical inorganic and bioinorganic chemistry, and a Masters
    of Public Health. Dr. Them did research as an environmental analytical chemist
    specializing in forensic chemistry and has been in environmental and occupational medicine since 1991 who states that he has seen ZERO adverse human health issues after his 18 month study of 9 Marcellus Shale state’s depts. of health and conservation data bases as well as email communications to those states or in his practice at Guthrie. A 4.5 minute video of Dr. Them – Dr. Them’s house is also situated among numerous drill pads with multiple gas wells in Bradford County and there has been no change in his health or his water or in any of the patients that he sees. More facts on high volume hydraulic fracturing at and on Facebook at

    • Bradcores

      Dr Them is choosing to ignore many facts. Ask the Phillips, McMickens, Spencers, Leightons, and on and on if there are any averse health effects or if their water changed in any way? Also ask Dr Them how he is the hospital financially benefiting from the industry? Also did you know they hired Jane Clements-Smith as Annual Giving and Fundraising Event Officer. she will be responsible for developing financial giving opportunities in the form of appeals and events for both the community and Guthrie employees. Sounds like the Guthrie has just a few conflicts of interest- wouldn’t you think????? Truth be known it has affected many people both in compromising or damaging their health and/or water.

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