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Opponents line up to speak against fracking on Allegheny County park land

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Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 11:29 p.m.

Opponents of extracting natural gas beneath Deer Lakes and other Allegheny County parks urged County Council members Tuesday to ban drilling on county park land before a proposal reaches their desks.

“Fracking on any level is a dangerous practice. Fracking waste, the noise, the water that is taken from our drinkable water supply, the compressor stations and the exposure of our wildlife to these open pits of toxins, these do not belong anywhere, let alone near our parks,” Carrie White of Fawn, a member of Fawn Against Marcellus, told council. More than 50 signed up to speak at the meeting.

County officials are weighing an offer from Huntley & Huntley Inc. to extract natural gas under Deer Lakes Park from wellheads outside the park's borders. It could be months before council considers a proposal to permit drilling. The park spans West Deer and Frazer.

“We need to have our voice heard now,” said Jennifer Myers of Lawrenceville, a member of the Protect Our Parks coalition. “We need to interrupt them even getting it on the agenda.”

The county could receive $40 million to $96 million if Monroeville-based Huntley & Huntley teams with Range Resources to drill for natural gas under Deer Lakes, a Tribune-Review analysis found. Initial offers involving three wells could generate between $5 million and $8 million for the county, money that could go toward maintaining county parks, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.

“We're going to take a look at it and see if it makes sense for the taxpayers,” Fitzgerald said. “All of our parks are in dire need of improvements.”

Huntley & Huntley wants an answer from Allegheny County by year's end, said Michael Hillebrand, executive vice president. Fitzgerald did not anticipate a problem with meeting the year-end deadline.

“This is one of those kinds of issues that people get excited about,” Council President Charles Martoni, D-Swissvale, said before the meeting. “It's something that could maybe create a lot of wealth in the region and it could potentially devastate the region.”

Protect Our Parks contends the Wagman Observatory at Deer Lakes would be “crippled” by light pollution. It asked for public hearings on the matter.

Last week, members of council and Fitzgerald toured Cross Creek County Park in Washington County, where Range Resources drills. Council Vice President Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont, was impressed by the drilling operation and what Washington County was able to fund with money from drilling.

“We'll be able to pave roads. We'll be able to put up pavilions and grandstands,” he said.

Staff Writer Tim Puko contributed to this story.

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