State review of a proposed natural gas well at an Allegheny County steel mill has been suspended after the developer’s municipal permit for the project was rescinded.
The state Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter in early December to Merrion Oil and Gas, which proposed the unconventional gas well on the site of the Edgar Thomson Steel Works in Allegheny County, on property in the small Mon Valley communities of East Pittsburgh, North Versailles and adjacent to 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 in its steel-making operations. 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 concerned about potential health effects in area already dealing with smokestack emissions from the mill.
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 had started in two years, as called for in the borough zoning ordinance and revoked the permit. East Pittsburgh Zoning Hearing Board in October voted to deny an appeal to extend the permit.
Merrion appealed that decision to Allegheny County Court, arguing that the zoning board’s decision is “based on a wholly tortured interpretation of the zoning ordinance.” It also claims that Merrion did commence work at the site, including surveying, core borings and seismic work, as well as working with the DEP on permits. The company spent more than $2.6 million in pre-drilling work, the appeal claims.
But, because Merrion lacks the permit and starting work “would violate operative law,” DEP is “suspending its review of the pending well permit and (erosion and sediment control permit) applications unless and until Merrion obtains zoning approval from the appropriate government entity,” wrote Scott Perry, deputy director of DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas Management.
“We are reviewing this administrative action to temporarily pause permit review until resolution of the zoning matter with East Pittsburgh, which previously granted approval,” said Ryan Davis, operations manager for Merrion, in an emailed statement. “This project is an important investment in the Mon Valley and we, along with our local partners, are committed to seeing it through and ensuring the community benefits for East Pittsburgh, North Braddock, and North Versailles are fully realized.”