Drilling in parks condemned
By Jodi Weigand
Published: Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
A Western Pennsylvania group that opposes Marcellus shale gas drilling practices is encouraging Allegheny County residents to speak out at a council meeting against drilling underneath county parks.
The initial focus of potential drilling activity is Deer Lakes Park in West Deer and Frazer.
“Next, it's Harrison Hills ... and they're going to continue to try to make a profit on what belongs to the people,” said Carrie White of Fawn, a member of Fawn Against Marcellus. “This is a public park and it needs to be protected.”
White said she plans to attend the Aug. 20 county council meeting with members of Marcellus Protest, a regional coalition of groups and individuals who oppose shale gas drilling because of potential environmental and health impacts.
Allegheny County leaders are weighing an offer from oil and gas company Huntley & Huntley Inc., which has signed leases around Deer Lakes and plans to drill just outside the park early next year.
If county leaders make a decision by January, company officials say it could add wells to extract gas from under the park. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said if the county doesn't act it could lose out.
A Tribune-Review analysis found the county could receive between $40 million and $96 million from drilling under Deer Lakes.
West Deer and Frazer officials said they feel they'll have little say on whether drilling extends under the county park. But they are hopeful that the county will do what is in the best interest of residents.
“When Range (Resources) came to us about leasing township park property, we made it crystal clear to them that they could have pipes under the park, but not have any well pads in the park, itself,” said West Deer Township Manager Daniel Mator. “I would hope that the county follows that same line of thinking.”
Frazer Township Supervisor Lori Ziencik said she believes drilling will have little impact on the park.
“It's not going to be the first Marcellus well in our township,” she said. “We haven't seen impact above ground.
“I could understand if the drilling site was smack in the middle of the park, but no one will even know that the drilling is going on.”
Members of Marcellus Protest believe otherwise.
The group says that the water and chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process are dangerous and have the potential to leech into groundwater supplies. They also feel that the proliferation of drilling operations, which include high-volume truck traffic, tree cutting and expansive well pads can hurt the environment.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, whose district includes Deer Lakes and Harrison Hills parks, said he is introducing legislation soon that would place a moratorium on new Marcellus shale wells.
He said he's not happy about the proposal to drill under county park lands.
“I'm very concerned about continued drilling on public lands and parks,” he said. “I don't deny that it's creating income and wealth and jobs, but at what cost?
“Given the large amount of drilling and what's in the permitting stage, I think a moratorium is warranted.”
Gas companies say that, typically, a horizontal Marcellus shale well extends down about 5,000 feet and then 3,000 and 4,000 feet sideways. They say that because the well is so deep, there is little chance of impact to the water table or the surface.
Drilling companies must follow state Department of Environmental Protection regulations on how they store and treat fracking waste water and now must follow air quality standards.
“It doesn't need to be in the park to pollute the system,” said Elayne Eckman, 40, of Carrick, a Marcellus Protest member. “When they do that drilling it diminishes the air quality. It's not like there's some barrier that prevents air from coming into the park.”
Eckman attended two stargazing parties at Deer Lakes over the weekend to hand out pamphlets letting people know about the drilling proposal and the upcoming council meeting.
“There's already concern that if you have all these lights from drilling, you won't be able to see the stars as well,” she said.
George Kurn, chairman of Friends of Harrison Hills Park, a group of volunteers that helps maintain and improve the park, said until he knows more he can't support any drilling activities near the park.
“I think the public needs more truthful information on where the water is being discharged, its contents and effect on health,” he said.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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