Ferlo to hold town hall meeting on fracking in parks

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 7:02 a.m.

For state Sen. Jim Ferlo, there's nothing more relaxing than being able to drive a few miles out of Pittsburgh and visit an Allegheny County park.

But the Highland Park Democrat, whose district winds through the Alle-Kiski Valley, fears his relaxation spots may soon be marred.

“These are pristine parks that people value greatly,” Ferlo said. “To leave your urban core and be able to go out and enjoy nature is priceless.

“If we allow fracking in our parks, they will change. I don't think people realize that.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is used to squeeze natural gas from Marcellus shale about a mile below the earth's surface.

Because of his concerns about fracking in Allegheny County's parks, Ferlo will hold a town hall meeting on Wednesday night in Harrison.

“The (natural gas) industry has spent millions of dollars in propaganda,” he said. “In Pittsburgh, you can't watch a television show without being inundated by paid advertising from certain coalitions.

“I hope this meeting shows people the other side,” he said. “The goal of my meeting is to have a creative forum where our side can be heard and show how life will change from the practices of the industry.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald opened up bidding for the right to drill in Deer Lakes Park on Sept. 27. Those bids were due by Oct. 25, but Fitzgerald's office has refused to disclose details about the bids.

Fitzgerald's office did not return calls for comment on this story.

The county potentially could get $40 million to $96 million if it allows drilling, a Tribune-Review analysis found.

“I respect and have the privilege of working with our county executive but the fact of the matter is, we part issue on this,” Ferlo said. “The (gas) industry always attacks folks who care about our quality of air, our quality of water. They want to create the sense this is no big deal, fracking.

“It is a big deal.”

Felrlo said he understands the allure of the county cashing in on its parkland, but believes the cons outweigh the pros.

“You're talking about an idea where roads have to be created, and (public) roads are destroyed,” he said. “Everyone of these wells is a mini-steel mill in terms of its pollution output.”

Erika Staaf, a Clean Water Advocate for PennEnvironment — which is teaming with Ferlo to host the town hall — said the nonprofit is excited about the opportunity to talk about the downside of fracking.

“It's important that we make sure the public has all of the information and access to what it means to drill in our county parks,” she said. “We don't want a rush to drill without true public participation.”

Staaf said fracking poses multiple environmental hazards. “This issue cuts across every environmental category,” she said. “Ground water, surface water, air quality, the quality of life nearby to where fracking is taking place.

“I mean, the whole process of drilling the well, disposing of waste water, readying the gas, processing the waste. At every phase, there is potential for harm to the environment or health.”

Like Ferlo, Staaf said her group advocates putting a moratorium on drilling in the state until more research can be done on potential hazards.

“Can gas development be done safely?” she asked. “If it can be, we haven't seen it done in Pa.

“We have to look at cumulative impacts — not just the immediate economic benefits.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer.

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