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Allegheny County Council members to seek say in natural gas drilling in parks

| Monday, May 5, 2014, 11:00 p.m.

Some members of Allegheny County Council said they will make a final push on Tuesday to add the terms of an oil and gas lease to legislation that would permit drilling under Deer Lakes Park.

Amendments from two council members — Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, and Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon — would require the full lease between the county and Range Resources to be included in the legislation that leases the oil and gas rights and permits drilling under the 1,180-acre park in West Deer and Frazer.

Council is scheduled to vote on the agreement on Tuesday.

“It puts control over changes into council's hand as opposed to the county executive's,” Heidelbaugh said.

Council members have voiced concerns that authorizing drilling without including the full lease would allow county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and his successors to negotiate changes to the lease without seeking council's approval.

Council's parks committee amended the ordinance last week to include the financial terms, environmental and safety provisions and other key lease provisions. The amendments mean council's approval is needed to change those terms.

If approved, the county would receive $4.7 million upfront and 18 percent royalties, which could yield $3 million a year for 20 years.

Fitzgerald, who opposes including the full lease, stopped short of threatening a veto.

“Council, being a part-time body, doesn't have the time, doesn't have the inclination to get involved with the level of detail that you get into when you start to micromanage a lease,” Fitzgerald said.

For example, giving council such power could require a vote before allowing Range Resources onto park property to put out a fire, he said. Range isn't permitted inside the park's boundaries, and the lease says drilling on the surface of park property is not permitted.

In Washington County, the commissioners vote on changes or revisions to the lease between the county and Range Resources that allows drilling in Cross Creek Park, said Lisa Cessna, the county's planning commissioner. When the three commissioners approved drilling in the park, they voted twice: once to select the bidder and once to approve a lease.

Heidelbaugh's amendment includes additions to the lease based on a legal review she commissioned from Downtown law firm Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky, including a provision that would prohibit Range Resources from using roads or water in the park.

Robinson's amendment requires Range Resources to develop a plan to hire women and minorities and to use Community College of Allegheny County for hiring and training.

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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