What would evacuation look like?

On February 14, 2018, in Belmont County (OH), a fracking well being completed by XTO Energy experienced what the company described as a "loss of containment," accompanied by an explosion and fire. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for a one-mile radius of the well pad, with some consideration of extending it to two miles. (See our related story.) If a similar incident were to occur at the proposed Edgar Thomson site, the corresponding evacuation zone would encompass parts of 17 different municipalities.

Belmont County is semi-rural, whereas Allegheny County is densely populated. One other consideration is worth noting: In the Belmont County incident, XTO picked up local hotel bills for the evacuees, and opened a "claims" office in nearby Powhatan Point, offering assurances that all landowners would be compensated. XTO is a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, and has fracked approximately 300 wells in Pennsylvania, and more in 15 other states.

By contrast, the proposed operator for well(s) at Edgar Thomson is a small private company, Merrion Oil & Gas, from Farmington, NM. Public information on Merrion is sparse, but it has never drilled a shale gas well, and has never operated in Pennsylvania. It lists six individuals as the members of its Board of Directors, every one of whom is named "Merrion." There is no bonding requirement for a drilling permit from Pennsylvania DEP, and the only municipal approvals (from North Versailles Township and East Pittsburgh) have already been granted.

So, not only are there vastly more people at risk in Allegheny County than in Belmont County, but there is no assurance that comparable "deep pockets" could be found to ensue that damages would be covered.

Click here to see an enlarged map of the evacuation footprint around the proposed Edgar Thomson well pad.