Members of Allegheny County Council heard last week from those who oppose gas drilling in or near public parks -- an inevitable, even welcome, example of democracy in action. It is possible to disagree with the dozens of anti-drilling protesters who came Tuesday night and still be encouraged that people care.
That's because parks are indeed places worthy of special attention -- they are the green lungs of healthy communities that provide sanctuaries for urban dwellers. Whatever is done in these spaces should be done with a regard to environmental sensitivity.
So does that mean fracking, the controversial method of deep drilling that has revolutionized natural gas production, should be banned in county parks? The answer may depend on one's attitude to fracking everywhere.
It's a fair bet that most if not all of those who came to protest the county's plans to allow gas drilling in Deer Lakes Park, situated in Frazer and West Deer, are against fracking in general, believing it to be fundamentally destructive of a clean environment wherever and however it is done. As one speaker said: "Fracking on any level is a dangerous practice."
That is not our position. The Post-Gazette believes that competent and responsible drilling companies subject to strict regulation can reduce the dangers -- inherent in every industry -- to a safe and reasonable level.
Moreover, we don't think that the natural bounty of natural gas should be ignored. If done right, this is a blessing for Pennsylvania, not a curse. The economy needs jobs, government needs revenue to provide services and the environment needs a cleaner energy source than coal. Unless everybody is prepared to go back to the Garden of Eden, practical policies informed by best practices must win out. The county is right to consider this.
That doesn't mean that every park in Allegheny County should be the site of a gas well. That would be a problem, but it isn't likely. The county's plans for drilling in relation to parks are still in the formative stage, but for Deer Lakes the wells would be outside the park with the drills angling off and tapping into the reserves deep beneath it. Visitors should not even be aware that drilling is going on.
While the protesters were premature, they are right to demand a public hearing. Each park must be treated as an individual case worthy of special scrutiny. There may be arguments why a particular park should not be a candidate for drilling -- not because all drilling is bad, as the protesters claim, but because some parks may be more vulnerable than others and warrant more caution.