After several hours of heated debate, drilling under Deer Lakes Park approved 9-5

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PITTSBURGH —

Allegheny County Council members have approved a plan to drill for natural gas under Deer Lakes Park.

The council voted 9-5 early Wednesday to allow energy companies Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to extract natural gas from beneath 1,180-acre Deer Lakes Park from well sites on neighboring private properties.

The proposal includes a $4.7 million bonus for the county, a $3 million donation to a park improvement fund and 18 percent royalties that county officials estimate would generate $3 million.

Range Resources said the wells could produce natural gas for 30 to 40 years with about half the production occurring in the first eight years.

The vote followed seven hours of testimony and debate. At one point, a petition with 7,000 signatures opposing drilling was shown to council.

Nearly 100 people on both sides of the issue took to the podium to argue their points. At one point, a council member actually walked out.

After the vote was approved, some opponents shouted "Shame!" at council members.

“It’s outrageous, classless and I have no words for this,” Loretta Weir said. “It’s an embarrassment to be part of Allegheny County. It truly is.”

Despite protests, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald called the vote a victory.

“In the 15 years I’ve been in county government, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an issue where more support was had,” Fitzgerald said.

Drilling could begin later this year.

John Valentine told Channel 11 News he’s been fishing at Deer Larks Park for 50 years, and he’s not worried about natural gas drilling as long as there’s no damage.

“If it doesn’t mess with the environment, I have nothing against it. Everyone I know, most of the people I talk to, have the same opinion,” Valentine said.

A spokesman for Range Resources said there are already 100 wells surrounding the park that have been fracked.

Here is a breakdown of how council members voted:

Against -- Councilwoman Danko (Regent Square), Councilwoman Heidelbaugh (Mt. Lebanon), Sue Means (Bethel Park), Jan Rea (McCandless) and Bill Robinson (Hill District).

For -- Councilman Futules (Oakmont), Councilman Defazio (Shaler), Councilman Macey (West Mifflin), Councilman Finnerty (Scott), Councilman Maroni (Swissvale), Councilman Ellenbogen (Banksville), Councilman Palmiere (Baldwin), Councilman Baker (Ross) and Councilman Kress (Shaler).

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