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Deer Lakes School District considers allowing natural gas drilling on property

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 11:18 p.m.
 

Drilling for natural gas under Deer Lakes School District property may hinge on whether Allegheny County allows drilling under Deer Lakes Park.

The cash-strapped district is waiting for Allegheny County Council to decide whether to allow energy companies Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to drill under the 1,180-acre park in West Deer and Frazer before making its decision, school board members said Tuesday.

County Council could vote next month. The district's high school is a mile west of Deer Lakes Park's western boundary.

“It has to start there,” school board Vice President Jodi L. Banyas-Galecki said. “Otherwise, there is no sense talking about it.”

Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley, which have leased about 40,000 acres in the region, want to drill five wells stretching across the northern half of the park from a well pad about 800 feet from the park's eastern boundary. Well pads reaching away from the park are already permitted.

The Deer Lakes School District owns about 100 acres and serves nearly 2,000 students in East Deer, West Deer and Frazer, according to the district's website. School officials have predicted the district will be broke in four years. The board last week cut elementary school guidance counselors and some courses.

Board member Clara Salvi said Huntley & Huntley presented board members with information about the company and hydraulic fracturing before a meeting in March but did not talk about leasing district land.

Huntley & Huntley and district Superintendent Janet R. Ciramella declined to comment.

The Butler Area, Seneca Valley and South Butler school districts have leased land for natural gas development. The Mars Area School Board last month rejected an offer from State College-based Rex Energy.

Huntley & Huntley and Rock Ferrone, owner of the Rock Airport south of the park, have talked about leasing the airport's 253 acres. No agreement is in place, said Ferrone and Michael Hillebrand, executive vice president of Huntley & Huntley, but Ferrone favors drilling and hopes gas revenue could help pull the airport out of bankruptcy. Wells from the airport's pad could reach into the southern part of the park, he said.

“We're literally next door,” Ferrone said. “If we're getting revenues, why shouldn't the county?”

Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley have refused to disclose the locations of additional well pads that could reach under the park.

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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