Final pleas made for, against Deer Lakes Park drilling at council meeting

by: Aaron Aupperlee, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Updated:

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PITTSBURGH - Allegheny County residents took full advantage of their last chance to urge council members to vote yes or no on allowing drilling for natural gas under Deer Lakes Park even after nine months of debate and lengthy meetings.

Nearly 100 residents signed up to speak at Tuesday's 5 p.m. council meeting at which members were expected to vote on a proposal to allow Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to drill under the 1,180-acre park in West Deer and Frazer. Five hours into the meeting, council members had not taken a vote.

Six council members previously told the Tribune-Review they will vote yes or are strongly considering voting for the proposal. Three members said they will vote no or are leaning toward voting no.

 


This article was written by Channel 11's news-exchange partners at TribLIVE.


 

At least eight council members must vote for the proposal for it to pass. If council approves drilling, Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley hope to start this year. If council rejects the proposal, the companies intend to drill under private property surrounding the park.

Under the proposal, Range Resources would drill five wells under the park from a well pad about 800 feet outside the park's boundary on private property owned by Ken and Christine Gulick. The county would receive $4.7 million upfront, a $3 million donation to a parks improvement fund and 18 percent royalties from gas production that could be worth $3 million a year for 20 years, according to estimates.

“I really feel that we need to do this project just to prove to people that drilling can be done right,” James Converse, a member of Friends of South Park, said, drawing laughter from a crowd populated with many opponents to the proposal. “We have a tremendous amount of problems in all our parks and the money needs to come from somewhere. Are we going to raise taxes?”

Opponents to drilling under county parks have spoken at County Council meetings since August, asking members to reject the proposal before it even crossed their desks.

On Tuesday, members of Protect Our Parks, a coalition of people and organizations against drilling under county parks, unrolled a scroll of more than 7,000 signatures — wrapping around the council chambers twice — from county residents opposed to the proposal.

Aaron Booz of Whitehall warned council that its decision could be legally costly, suggesting a lawsuit could follow a vote to allow drilling. Kathleen Conlogue of Russellton often uses Deer Lakes Park and said drilling would pose risks to air and water quality.

“There are horror stories of families that can't sell their land or can't let their children out to play,” said Russell Fedorka of Elizabeth. “Why can't we protect at least our parks? If you vote to protect the park, you can tell your children that you stood up for the beauty of Deer Lakes Park.”

Labor officials and others touted the benefits the natural gas industry brings to the area.

Dana Dolney of Polish Hill told council members their vote wasn't about jobs or money.

“This is about fracking a park, to frack a park or not to frack a park,” Dolney said.

At one point during Dolney's comments, Councilman Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, snapped back at her and then walked out saying, “I'm not going to sit here and be insulted.”

His exit drew boos from the crowd. Ellenbogen returned to his seat by the end of Dolney's comments.

This article was written by Channel 11's news-exchange partners at TribLIVE.