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Gas firms not deterred by slowdown in Deer Lakes Park drilling talks

| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 12:15 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
A sign at Entrance 1 listing the amenities at Deer Lakes Park in West Deer on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014.

Negotiations over a proposal to drill for natural gas under Allegheny County's Deer Lakes Park have slowed but are not in danger of falling apart, a gas company official said.

Michael Hillebrand, executive vice president of Huntley & Huntley, said the process has “bogged down” though not because of demands the county made.

He would not offer more details about the negotiations because they are ongoing. He said there was no risk that either Huntley & Huntley or Range Resources, the only companies to submit a joint proposal to drill under the park, would abandon the effort.

Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range Resources, said negotiations continue as expected. He said he could not comment further.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the process has pleased him so far. Fitzgerald said he hopes to bring a contract proposal to the Allegheny County Council in the “next month or two.”

Huntley & Huntley and Range Resources propose to drill under Deer Lakes Park, a 1,180-acre county park in West Deer and Frazer, from well pads on private property outside the park. Drilling could generate $2.5 million in upfront payments to the county and $35 million to $74 million in the coming decades, according to initial offers.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling striking down sections of Act 13, the state's drilling law, has not disrupted negotiations, Fitzgerald said.

“They lived without Act 13. They did business during Act 13,” Fitzgerald said of gas companies. “My sense is in some areas where (drilling) has been going on, where it's accepted, like in this part of the county, it will continue.”

Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, whose proposed moratorium on drilling under county land was voted down last year, expressed concern: “The (state) Supreme Court decisions should definitely give the county pause as to whether we can go forward right now.”

Lori Ziencik, chair of the Frazer Township Board of Supervisors, said the township has no intention of rewriting zoning regulations as allowed by the court's decision.

Fitzgerald has offered to take council members on tours of the park and nearby well sites on Feb. 3 and Feb. 11, according to an email to council members.

Council Vice President Nick Futules, D-Oakmont and chair of the parks committee, requested the tours so council members can see conditions at the park, where restrooms are boarded up and pavilions are caving in.

“They need immediate repair,” Futules said.

The county intends to spend nearly $500,000 on shelter renovations and $250,000 on restroom renovations, according to the 2014 capital budget. Fitzgerald has said half of any revenue from drilling will go toward county parks.

“Is this what we have to do to fix some broken toilets? Ruin our parks?” asked Mel Packer, 68, of Point Breeze, a member of Protect Our Parks and a regular opponent of drilling at county council meetings.

Packer and other antidrilling activists have called for negotiations to be public.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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