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DeFazio to offer amendment to Deer Lakes Park drilling proposal

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Friday, April 25, 2014, 4:24 p.m.
 

Allegheny County Council President John DeFazio wants to give the council more control over proposed natural gas drilling operations beneath Deer Lakes Park in West Deer and Frazer.

DeFazio, D-Shaler, intends to amend an ordinance authorizing the leasing of Deer Lakes to Range Resources to add financial terms and lease provisions. The ordinance awaiting a council vote mentions only that no drilling activity would take place on park property.

Range Resources and energy company Huntley & Huntley want to drill under the park from well pads outside the 1,180-acre park's boundary.

Opponents and some members of council worry that without making the lease part of the ordinance or without enacting a more detailed ordinance, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Range Resources could ignore environmental controls and lease requirements.

“This way, council will have more input,” DeFazio said. “If something happens to Rich (Fitzgerald), or if he were to have a change of heart, this way he can't do that.”

Amie Downs, spokeswoman for Fitzgerald, said DeFazio and Fitzgerald talked and agreed to include major components of the lease in the ordinance.

DeFazio said he has significant support on council for the amendment. He plans to introduce it at a Parks Committee meeting on Tuesday or Wednesday.

A proposed lease between the county and Range Resources includes provisions on water testing and noise and light pollution control. It also stipulates that the county would receive $4.7 million in upfront payments, a $3 million donation to a parks improvement fund and 18 percent royalties from gas produced over the life of the wells.

Tim Ludwig, an Etna resident opposed to drilling under the park, has called the ordinance a “blank check” for drilling under the park, saying that if council approves the ordinance, county officials could do what they want without council's approval.

Ludwig said on Friday he is waiting to see which provisions from the lease are included in the ordinance.

County Solicitor Andrew Szefi has said that council approval would be needed only to change provisions specifically mentioned in the lease. Provisions not mentioned in the lease could be changed without the agreement of county officials and Range Resources, Szefi has said.

Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, has asked that the lease become part of the ordinance. Barry Osborne, vice president of land for Range Resources, has said that the company does not want the lease attached to the ordinance.

“I don't think this ordinance has a chance of passing if you don't attach the lease,” Heidelbaugh said during a Parks Committee meeting on Wednesday. “There is a hesitancy about this whole thing because there is too much control of the terms within the auspices of the county executive.”

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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