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Gas Well at Allegheny County Steel Mill Faces Zoning Setback

A proposal to put an unconventional gas well on the site of the Edgar Thomson Steel Works in Allegheny County illustrates how residents of adjacent communities may view fracking differently.

The steel mill site sits on property in the small Mon Valley communities of North Versailles and East Pittsburgh and adjacent to North Braddock. Merrion Oil and Gas began the process of seeking permits to put a well on the Thomson site more than two years ago.

While most of the property is in North Versailles, which has approved the development, several acres of the well site would be in East Pittsburgh and lateral lines would run under property in North Braddock.

The project involves construction of an unconventional gas well pad, two access roads, and five freshwater storage tanks on about 13 acres of property owned by U.S. Steel at the Edgar Thomson plant, which would use the gas produced. The company initially is planning one well to be drilled to a depth of 6,700 feet with lateral lines extending 10,000 feet, but with the possibility of expansion. The project has been opposed by some community groups who are concerned about potential health effects in area already dealing with smokestack emissions from the mill.

Act 13 was passed by the state Legislature in 2012 to regulate unconventional gas development. While it does not allow municipalities to ban fracking, it does allow them to set certain conditions on development, including items such as setbacks from property lines or buildings, and to require approval as a conditional use in certain zoning districts.

Merrion in 2017 received conditional use approval from East Pittsburgh council for the work, and Merrion continued to work its way through the state Department of Environmental Protection approval process. However, borough council in January determined that the conditional use had expired because no work has started in two years, as called for in the borough zoning ordinance and revoked the permit, according to PublicSource. The company still has not received approval from DEP to drill, and East Pittsburgh Zoning Hearing Board recently voted to deny an appeal to extend the permit.

The fact that the site for the well crosses municipal boundaries could happen more often as parcels of at least several acres are required for well sites and multiple acres for lateral lines. It also illustrates how a change in municipal attitudes can potentially affect gas development and how residents can make their views known.

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