County executive: Allegheny risks losing millions with delayed decision on park drilling
Allegheny County leaders must decide soon whether to allow natural gas drilling at Deer Lakes Park or risk losing a chance to make millions, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said on Tuesday.
The oil and gas company Huntley & Huntley Inc. signed leases surrounding the park in Frazer and West Deer and plans to build a well pad to drill just outside of the park early next year. If county leaders make a decision within seven months, the company could add wells reaching under the park from that spot, Michael Hillebrand, the company's executive vice president, said last week.
If not, they could drill through the area in a year or two and be gone, Fitzgerald said in a meeting with Tribune-Review editors and reporters.
“We're kind of forced to make a decision,” Fitzgerald said. “If we don't, we may lose that and it may never come back.”
That is possible, Hillebrand said. The company wants to start gathering comments from parks advocates and residents to find out whether they would support the plan, he said.
“We can't rope-a-dope and dance around forever, but we'll surely give every business courtesy possible to examine all timelines available,” Hillebrand said. “I'm a big Pittsburgh and Allegheny County fan. We wouldn't strong-arm the county into anything.”
The county could make anywhere from $40 million to $96 million in gas royalties and other fees from drilling there, based on current gas prices, the Trib estimates.
“We've been talking to some of the groups out there in Deer Lakes Park to see if there are any improvements they may want or like, or if they would be supportive if the county would decide to participate,” Fitzgerald told council on Tuesday evening.
“Preliminarily, there's some support,” he said. “Because the drilling is going to occur anyway no matter what the county does.”
Fitzgerald said he would ask the county law department to issue a request for a proposal “to see what kind of opportunities that we can take a look at and to see if this is something worthwhile.”
Drilling is revving up again in many places across Pennsylvania and companies are geographically consolidated, meaning a lot of Marcellus shale landowners will find themselves in situations where their hands are forced, said Kent Moors, scholar in residence at Duquesne University's Institute for Energy and the Environment. Landowners have fewer choices and competition for their land, reducing their leverage.
“They're going to be under an intense amount of pressure” because of the timetable, Moors said. “If (Huntley) already controls the leases, then there's really nothing you can do about it.”
The best thing the county can do is start engaging Huntley & Huntley's partner, Range Resources Corp., which oversees drilling for Huntley, Moors said. The county should ask for guarantees that Range will limit its use of open-air pits for storing wastewater and use its best pipe system to contain drilling water, Moors said.
“We will continue working with Allegheny County and Huntley to include the county in an adjacent unit that we are moving forward with as well as leases we have that surround the park, allowing them to participate with no surface impacts,” Range's Cecil-based spokesman Matt Pitzarella said in an emailed statement.
Officials from both companies will meet on Wednesday, as they do each month, Hillebrand said. He wants to start working on a formal offer for the county, saying the Deer Lakes plan is getting more traction than they expected.
Fitzgerald said he will attempt to set up a meeting for council members with officials in Washington County, which “has been doing this” (drilling) in and around county parks.
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pittsburgh airport improvements noted as CEO tries to expand activity
- Developers share their vision for Garden Theater block on North Side
- Volunteer tutors boost adult literacy in Allegheny County
- National Night Out ‘a start’ for violence-prone Homewood
- Snake bites on the rise in Western Pa.
- Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s banding program a labor of love for avian expert
- Roman Catholic Church in midst of culture clash over gays
- Downtown Macy’s building to lose OASIS to closer parent organization
- Allegheny County Council candidates chosen for District 11 ballot
- Newsmaker: Harry J. Gruener
- 2 killed in single-vehicle crash in Pittsburgh