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Deer Lakes Park driller to limit light for astronomers

Aaron Aupperlee
| Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, 11:12 p.m.
A Range Resources drilling site is partly visible near the entrance of the site along Fairfield Road near Deer Lakes Park on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015.
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
A Range Resources drilling site is partly visible near the entrance of the site along Fairfield Road near Deer Lakes Park on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015.
The Range Resources drilling site is visible from Fairfield Road near Deer Lakes Park on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015.
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
The Range Resources drilling site is visible from Fairfield Road near Deer Lakes Park on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015.

Amateur astronomers heading to the Wagman Observatory in Allegheny County's Deer Lakes Park won't have to worry about lights from a natural gas drilling rig distracting from views of the stars Saturday night.

Range Resources, the Fort Worth-based company that leased the oil and gas rights under Deer Lakes Park, said Thursday it will begin horizontal drilling operations this weekend but will pause boring under the park in the evening and turn off its lights to accommodate the observatory's star party.

“This costs us money, but it's the right thing to do,” Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range Resources, wrote in an email.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that two red lights remain lit atop the 150-foot drilling rig.

Limiting light pollution was a condition of the lease between the county and Range Resources. The lease required Range to coordinate with the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh to minimize the impact of lighting during star parties at the observatory.

“They really have bent over backwards to be cooperative and work with the community,” said county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who pushed his plan to drill under the park through County Council.

The council approved leasing the oil and gas rights under Deer Lakes Park to Range Resources in May 2014. Range Resources will drill under the park from a pad on private property across the street from the park's boundary.

People who opposed the plan and natural gas drilling lobbied council for more than a year. Protect Our Parks, a group formed during the debate, still speaks at council meetings and asks members to prevent drilling under the county's eight other parks.

Fitzgerald has said he has no plans to allow drilling under other parks. He wants to monitor drilling projects at Deer Lakes and Pittsburgh International Airport.

Fitzgerald said the project with Range Resources has been positive. The company has not interfered with activities at the observatory or elsewhere in the park. Residents living around the park and near the drilling site have not complained, Fitzgerald said.

Range paid the county $4.7 million when the deal was signed, agreed to donate $3 million to a parks improvement fund and will pay 18 percent in royalties once production starts. Pitzarella said he does not know when that will be.

In addition to the donation, Range Resources will help the observatory pursue becoming more handicap-accessible, Pitzarella said.

“We have several employees who attend these events and live nearby, so it's a particularly important facility to us,” he said.

The county has installed a bathroom and walkways around the observatory with some of the money Range paid, Fitzgerald said.

Range Resources will use compressed natural gas instead of diesel fuel to power the park drilling rig. The company started using “field gas” to power the drilling rigs in 2013 and its use has expanded as natural gas infrastructure expands. Six years of drilling near the park means there's infrastructure to power the rig with natural gas, Pitzarella said.

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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