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Proposed Hydraulic Fracturing at U.S. Steel Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock, PA, USA


Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, Pennsylvania was originally built in 1872 by Andrew Carnegie and was called Carnegie, McCandless & Company. This mill quickly became the largest producer of steel in the world [1]. The steel produced at the plant influenced the onset of the industrial revolution [2]. Both the raw and completed materials are transported by rail attached to the 176-acre property.

The mill transformed the 19th-century town from a predominantly agrarian community to one thriving with immigrants - consisting of mostly Northern Europeans, Italians, and African Americans [1]. The workers that were considered unskilled, mostly people of color, lived in an area referred to as “the bottom” in tenement-style housing near the mill, segregated block by block from their whiter, higher up colleagues [1][2]. These individuals were given jobs that were called “man-killing jobs" in which they were paid a lesser salary and put into poor working conditions that would kill them later on. These conditions often exposed them to carcinogens and other pollutants that caused lung diseases [2].

Competition rose and Carnegie, McCandless & Company was no longer the largest producer of steel, and in 1901, the company was sold to J.P. Morgan’s United States Steel Corporation. The company town continued to flourish with a population of 18,000 after World War II [1]. Over the next few decades following 1940, 88.2% of residents left to escape the pollution of the mill, leaving the population of Braddock to be less than 2,200 people [1][3][4].

Pennsylvania defines an environmental justice community as “any census tract where 20 percent or more individuals live in poverty, and/or 30 percent or more of the population is minority [5]. Following this definition, Braddock, PA is an environmental justice community with 61 percent Black individuals, and 30.3 percent below the federal poverty line [6]. While the population of Braddock may only be about 2,200 people, more than 21,000 people live within a two-mile radius of the proposed fracking pad in the communities of Braddock, Braddock Hills, Chalfant, Duquesne, East Pittsburgh, Forest Hills, Munhall, North Braddock, North Versailles, Rankin, Turtle Creek, Wilmerding, Whitaker, and West Mifflin [7].

By the time U.S. Steel proposed the plan to frack (drill for methane gas) on their property, the community trust in the company had already been damaged. When fires burned in 2018 and 2019 at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, it was not until two weeks following them that the community was told that air pollution levels exceeded federal limits [8]. Between 2012 and 2015, Clairton Coke Works had 6,700 air permit violations [3]. Since Braddock is located about 12 miles away from Clairton, the town also felt the effects of air pollution [3]. One resident was upset with U.S. Steel saying “We’ve been dealing with U.S. Steel’s poor environmental record here for 150 years, we have had enough” [9].

Beginning on December 27, 2017, the first news was released with U.S. Steel’s plan to frack for natural gas on their property [7][10]. The company decided to sign a lease with Merrion Oil and Gas Corporation, a New-Mexico based company that has drilled more than 400 wells that are mostly in the Rocky Mountains [10][11][12]. Merrion has never fracked in Pennsylvania, nor have they ever drilled an unconventional drill, such as the ones being proposed [8]. In 2012, the U.S. Department of the Interior filed a $1.76 million fine against Merrion for “knowing or willing failure to make timely royalty payments” on 18 federal oil and gas leases in Colorado [7]. Despite all of that, Merrion is in charge of the proposed future hydraulic fracking plan, which includes fracking six horizontal wells that would go down 6,700 feet and then extend laterally 10,000 feet into Marcellus Shale [10][11]. Merrion is moving to permit one well, located at the Edgar Thomson Plant. They are also building a fracking pad that will be approximately three acres, but overall 13 acres will be used by the project for things like equipment staging, water sourcing and storage, road access, and stormwater management features [11]. The fracking pad will be used to drill through other rock formations such as Utica shale [10]. Merrion Oil and Gas Corporation leased the land in July 2017 from U.S. Steel and the Union Railroad Company LLC, who owns the site, to build the fracking pad which will straddle the North Versailles-East Pittsburgh Border, just inside the property line of Edgar Thomson Mill [7]. Should the proposal have gotten all the correct permits, the construction would have begun in 2020, taking about one year of construction, and the wells would produce natural gas for 20-30 years with gas lines going straight into the Edgar Thomson Plant, to run the facility [8].

On March 27, 2019 approximately 200 residents crowded into the Braddock Volunteer Fire Department #2 Social Hall for about three hours with the Department of Environmental Protection Office of Environmental Justice, Merrion Gas and Oil, and U.S. Steel representatives. Ryan Davis, the operations manager of Merrion for the proposed project, was hoping to give a presentation to inform the residents of the drilling plan. The presentation was followed by questions, with dozens of people waiting in line for the microphone to voice their concerns and questions. They questioned why they should support the proposal, and why would they want it in their neighborhood. The representatives argued that construction would bring business to local hotels and restaurants. They claimed that steel-making is a very energy-intensive process. Since gas lines would be going straight into the mill, they would be using that gas to help manufacture steel, arguing that it would make them more competitive [8]. Residents left still worried about the negative health implications that are related to hydraulically fracked wells [9].

Data has shown that babies born to mothers who lived within 1 km of a well site, 0.6 miles, are 25% more likely to have low birth weight than if they lived beyond 3 km, about 2 miles. Babies born to mothers who lived further than 3 km experience little to no impact from the well site [13]. With fracking comes a lot of noise pollution, lights, and odors. Research conducted by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 23% of their research pool suffered from migraines, 25% experienced severe fatigue, and 24% had current symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis, defined as three or more months of nasal and sinus symptoms. No single health condition was associated with proximity to an active well, however, those who had two or more of the listed health conditions were approximately twice as likely to live closer to more or large wells. Another study done by Schwartz and colleagues was able to link fracking with an increase in premature births, asthma attacks, and indoor radon concentrations [14]. Considering that 35% of children that live near the mill have asthma, another industrial process linked to increasing asthma attacks could be dangerous to the community [3].

Municipalities tried to restrict certain zones of East Pittsburgh with certain conditions, including 7 acres of the proposed well construction site. In November 2017 Merrion applied for a conditional use permit to disturb the land and store water on those 7 acres. The following month, East Pittsburgh borough’s five-member council voted on the proposal to drill for natural gas on the Edgar Thomson Mill site, and it passed with only one dissenting vote. Many on the council believed that the borough would gain around $60,000, which could be used to demolish some of their 400 abandoned buildings and build new homes. Ryan Davis stated that municipalities would stand to gain bonuses for signing leases, royalties based on well production, and impact fees determined by a state formula [15]. Back in 2017, Davis said that Merrion would pay $45,000-$50,000 per well in impact fees to the state Public Utility Commission and that East Pittsburgh and North Versailles would split 60% of that fee paid to local municipalities, splitting $27,000-$30,000 per well [7].

On January 24, 2020, the state Department of Environmental Protection sent Merrion a second letter that its’ Erosion and Sediment Control Permit application was still deficient. The four-page list sent to them stated that they needed to work specifically on its erosion and sedimentation plans, site drawings, geotechnical reports, and hydrology calculations [15]. The permit granted by East Pittsburgh borough expired in January 2020. Merrion sent an appeal to have the permit extended, and on October 22, 2020, the East Borough zoning hearing board denied the appeal to have the permit reinstated with a 3-2 margin. While this was taken as a victory for some residents and environmental groups, the Merrion attorney, Harlan Stone, stated that the company would appeal the decision by the borough in state Common Pleas Court. He stated, “This is not the final word, just one step in what promises to be a very long and drawn-out legal process” [16].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Proposed Hydraulic Fracturing at U.S. Steel Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock, PA, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:PA
Location of conflict:Braddock
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Shale gas fracking
Specific commodities:Steel
Natural Gas
Raw Materials

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Edgar Thomson Mill has the ability to generate 2.9 million net tons of raw steel annually [17]. The process to produce steel is quite energy intensive, so in 2017 U.S. Steel signed a lease with Merrion Gas and Oil company to build hydraulically fractured methane wells on site to help power their steel production [8,10]. The plan is to frack 6 wells, some on site near the mill, and some with a fracking pad along the eastern edge of the property, and then have gas lines go straight to the mill. While Merrion and Oil has never fracked unconventional wells, nor in Pennsylvania, all 6 wells would be unconventional horizontal wells, going 6,700 feet down and 10,000 laterally [10][11]. Ideally, seismic testing would be done in North Braddock and East Pittsburgh to more accurately predict where the gas-rich shale is.

On November 19, 2019 by the East Pittsburgh council denied the request after Edith Abeyta from "North Braddock Residents for Our Future" argued that seismic testing could damage the roads. North Braddock’s council said that Merrion could do testing with conditions. However, Merrion decided to cancel all seismic testing and move forward without it [15]. The project was supposed to start construction in 2020, but some permits were denied and some expired [16]. When the project will begin, is still "to be determined." Since the project is still in the planning phase, any costs are negligible in comparison to how much the actual project will cost.

Project area:>5.26
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectNegligible
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:>21,000
Start of the conflict:27/12/2017
Company names or state enterprises:Edgar Thomson Steel Mill/Plant from United States of America - Stakeholder
Merrion Oil and Gas from United States of America - Stakeholder
US Steel Corporation from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Zoning and Hearing Board of East Pittsburgh
State of Pennsylvania Government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Braddock Inclusion Project (
North Braddock Residents for Our Future (
NoPetroPA (

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Fires, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Other Environmental impactsParticulate matter 2.5, methane, benzene, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and formaldehyde
Health ImpactsPotential: Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other Health impacts, Accidents
Other Health impactsPotential for fracking related illnesses: premature births, decreased birth rates, migraines, sinus infections, severe fatigue, asthma attacks, and cancer.
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Displacement


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:Since the project had permits expire and it was unable to gain permits from the State of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the project is temporarily suspended. An alternative to this would be canceling any possibilities of the project altogether or exploring ways to transition the project from fracking to being based more on renewable energy.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project applicants were unable to receive a permit from the State of PA due to a deficient permit application. The East Pittsburgh permit expired and corporations were denied an extension. Applicants plan to go to the State Common Pleas Court to appeal the decision, with the project possibly still moving forward. The US Steel Edgar Thompson Plant is still in operation, and Braddock residents as well as neighboring towns will continue to experience the air pollution impacts.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[5] PA Environmental Justice Areas

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Braddock, PA

[1] In the Shadow of Steel Mill

[3] Environmentalists by Necessity

[4] Environmental Racism. Small Towns. Huge Pollution

[6] What Does Environmental Racism Look Like? Come to Braddock, PA

[7] Company Planning to Drill for Gas at U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Mill

[8] Hundreds Show up at a Raucous Hearing to Oppose Fracking Wells at U.S. Steel's Plant in Braddock

[9] Residents Shout Down Oil and Gas Execs Over Fracking at U.S. Steel Mill

[10] U.S. Steel Agrees to Allow Fracking at Steel Mill

[11] Merrion Oil and Gas

[12] Exclusive: Hear from the company that wants to drill at U.S. Steel plant

[13] Study: Low birth weights linked to fracking sites

[14] Study: Fracking associated with migraines, fatigue, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms

[15] The well next door: East Pittsburgh and North Braddock diverge on the local impact of proposed fracking

[16] Fracking project at US Steel Plant denied local permit extension

[17] Mon Valley Works Edgar Thomson Plant

Meta information

Contributor:Erin Jacoski, Skidmore College, [email protected]; Andrew J. Schneller, Skidmore College, [email protected], Jessica Plotnick, Skidmore College, [email protected]
Last update15/02/2021
Conflict ID:5228



Edgar Thomson Plant

Edgar Thomson Plant

Braddock Community Meeting

Approximately 200 members of the community displayed and voiced their opposition to fracking at Edgar Thomson Mill at a local meeting with representatives of U.S. Steel and Merrion Oil and Gas.