Fracking project at US Steel Plant denied local permit extension

  • Reid Frazier

A controversial natural gas well at a US Steel Plant near Pittsburgh suffered a setback Thursday night. The East Pittsburgh Borough zoning hearing board denied an appeal by a fracking company to have a lapsed permit for the well reinstated. 

New Mexico-based Merrion Oil and Gas received a permit from East Pittsburgh Borough for a conditional use to drill and frack a well at US Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works in 2018. 

But the company didn’t drill the well because it did not receive permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to begin work. In several deficiency letters sent to the company, the DEP outlined problems with the company’s plans.  

The local conditional use permit expired earlier this year, but the company appealed to have it extended. The East Pittsburgh zoning board voted by a 3-2 margin Thursday night to deny the appeal. 

It was a victory for some local residents and environmental groups who have been fighting to have the project killed over health and safety concerns. The Edgar Thomson facility is one of Allegheny County’s largest polluters.  

“We are sick and tired of our lives being put on the line in order to make profits for giant corporations,” said Megan McDonough, Pennsylvania Organizing Manager at the group Food & Water Action, in an emailed statement. “Not only had Merrion never drilled a well in Pennsylvania, they could not even fill out the permit paperwork correctly.”

US Steel spokeswoman Meghan Cox referred all comment to Merrion. 

Ryan Davis, operations manager for Merrion, said the project was a “win-win” for the company and the community, since a portion of the well’s state “impact fee” would be re-distributed to surrounding municipalities. 

There will be funds generated for the local municipalities from the impact fees and the project helps support local jobs,” Davis said, in an email. “Merrion is very proud of this project and intends to continue to move forward.”

The company’s attorney, Harlan Stone, said Merrion will appeal the decision in state Common Pleas Court. “This is not the final word,” he said. “Just one step in what promises to be a very long and drawn out legal process.”

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