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Would-be drillers quizzed by Allegheny County Council committee

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 11:12 p.m.

What will likely be a lengthy discussion between Allegheny County Council members and the energy companies asking to drill under Deer Lakes Park started on Wednesday.

Barry Osborne, a vice president with Range Resources, and Ed Valentas, a land manager with Huntley & Huntley, fielded a majority of the questions during council's first Parks Committee meeting on a proposal to drill under the 1,180-acre park in West Deer and Frazer. Two more meetings are scheduled this month.

Osborne said Range Resources will give a presentation at a meeting on April 23 based on questions from council members. A meeting on April 30 will deal with economic factors.

The companies will host a public open house on May 1 in West Deer.

“You don't have a great image with a lot of people in this area,” Councilman John Palmiere, D-Baldwin Township, told Osborne, mentioning that many customers at his barbershop do not like the company's television commercials.

Council members, who will vote on whether to allow drilling under the park, have heard for eight months from residents opposed to the proposal.

Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley want to drill under the park from a well pad on property owned by Ken and Chris Gulick. The well pad will be about a quarter-mile outside the park's south boundary. The companies could build two other pads north of the park that would also reach under park land, Osborne said.

Council President John DeFazio, D-Shaler, and Councilman Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, asked several questions about safety and health concerns, many raised by past speakers. Ellenbogen said it is unacceptable to wait for workers from Texas to put out a well fire. DeFazio asked about water contamination.

“We have 150 years of drilling wells in Western Pennsylvania, and every one of these wells has penetrated the fresh water reservoir,” Valentas said. “The scare tactics, the doom and gloom, the sky's falling, it hasn't happened.”

The companies have drilled more than 100 wells in the area. Many of them have been shallow wells, but 19 have been deep wells similar to what could reach under the park.

Alan Eichler, an environmental program manager with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said of the thousands of wells drilled in Pennsylvania, “only a handful” have had an impact on the water supply.

Joining Osborne and Valentas were two geologists, representatives from the county health department, and county Manager William D. McKain and county Solicitor Andrew Szefi.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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