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Fracking foes speak against drilling in Allegheny County parks

| Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

A town hall meeting on Thursday evening in Harrison attracted more than 100 people who are concerned about a fracking proposal in Allegheny County parks, particularly Deer Lakes Park in West Deer and Frazer.

County officials are considering an offer from Huntley & Huntley Inc. to extract natural gas under Deer Lakes Park from wellheads outside the park's borders.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Pittsburgh, who also represents portions of the Alle-Kiski, sponsored the town hall meeting at Highlands Middle School that featured a panel of people opposed to fracking in Allegheny County parks, including representatives from Penn-Environment and the Pipeline Safety Coalition.

“The urgency of this problem cannot be overstated,” said Ferlo, who is calling for a moratorium on state-issued fracking permits.

Marcellus gas well drilling uses hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” That entails pumping water, sand and secret chemicals under high pressure in order to crack shale about a mile underground. That releases the natural gas trapped within the rock.

Opponents of the practice are concerned about the amount of air and water pollution caused at the drilling sites, as well as the extra truck traffic and potential degradation around the drilling areas.

Ferlo doesn't deny the economic benefits of tapping into the Marcellus shale but wants more time to study the impact. He's adamant about opposing such operations affecting the county parks, which see an estimated 12 million visitors annually.

Allegheny County's nine parks are treasured for their beauty and were set up as a “country club” for average working people, Ferlo said.

Speakers at the meeting took issue with well operations potentially fouling the air for park users, especially children, who are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution.

Kathryn Strang, 8, of Frazer said, “Why are we using a community park as a means to get money instead of a park?”

Kathryn, her sister and some other local children have formed their own chapter of Earth Kids to volunteer and focus on environmental issues.

Denise Garrott from Cowansville is concerned about well operations close to other public places such as schools.

“There is a deliberate risk to our children and to our schools from an unhealthy industrial practice without any protection or monitoring,” Garrott said.

The town hall meeting reviewed some of the nuts and bolts of the issues, such as legalities surrounding drilling near county parks.

One of the speakers, Lynda Farrell, executive director of Pipeline Safety Coalition, noted that there weren't a lot of gas pipelines near most of the county parks, which could make the areas less attractive for Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, who opposes fracking near county parks, said she expects the county council vote on allowing the drilling will be “very close.”

She expects Executive Rich Fitzgerald to enter legislation for the fracking near county parks in the next three months.

Danko recently entered legislation calling for a three-year hold on drilling under county parks to first study the impact of such projects.

Ferlo said he believes the issue is still in play, as council hasn't decided about the drilling proposal.

Ferlo expects residents concerned about the drilling to show up at county council's next meeting on Nov. 6 in Pittsburgh.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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